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Some Surprising – and Largely Hidden – Ways You Can Lower or Erase Student Loan Debt

Note: This blog has been re-published with the permission of one of our veterans education coalition partners, Veterans Education Success (VES). Stay tuned for more as IAVA will continue to bring about positive education outcomes for veterans in concert with partners like VES.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans, servicemembers, and their families have student loans. But most of us have no idea how much help is available to get those loans reduced or even eliminated entirely. Surveys have shown that more than one-third of service members, and half of junior enlisted service members have student loans. Even with their military education benefits, one-quarter of veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill have federal student loan debt when they graduate. Today, approximately 200,000 Active Duty members owe a collective $2.9 billion in student loan debt. All told, student loan issues are quickly becoming a crisis in America.

But there’s good news.

You probably didn’t know that you can get your loans reduced simply if you are not making enough money to pay your loans.

That’s okay. That’s why I’m here to help you discover the ways you can reduce or even erase your student loan debt!

While You’re Enlisted:

Your first chance at reducing or eliminating student loan debt is when you join the U.S. Armed Forces. There are service branch-specific programs to help alleviate student loan debt before you join the military. Even if you can’t take advantage of these programs, it helps to spread awareness of them to others. And be sure to ask your recruiter about them!

For anyone on Active Duty, and that includes National Guard and Reserve ordered to Active Duty, you have significant legal rights as well. No lender, private or federal, can charge you more than a 6% interest rate while you’re on Active Duty, and they must charge a 0% interest rate if you’re serving in a hostile area. This is ironclad, protected by federal statute, and often overlooked by many service members; don’t be one of them. Make sure your lender isn’t charging you more than 6% while on Active Duty. If you decide you don’t want to repay your loans on Active Duty then you’re entitled to postpone your loan payments.In addition, branches have specific programs to help with student loans: For example:

  • The Army Student Loan Repayment: Active Duty program offers military student loan repayment assistance to people who hadn’t enlisted previously.
  • If you’re in a qualifying Military Occupational Speciality, you could get assistance through the Army Reserve College Loan Repayment Program.
  • The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program for those joining the Army or Navy helps doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals on Active Duty or in the Army Reserve.
  • If you join the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, you could get up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance.
  • If you’re in the Navy, you could receive up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance.

Finally, Federal Perkins Loan holders who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in a hostile fire or imminent danger pay area for a period longer than a year qualify for up to 50% loan forgiveness if your Active Duty service ended before August 14, 2008, or up to 100% if your Active Duty service includes or began on or after August 14, 2008.

After You Leave the Military:

The opportunity to lower or forgive your student loan debt doesn’t end after you separate from the military.First off, anyone with student loan debt who isn’t making much money can apply to get into “income-based repayment” programs at the US Education Department. They have four programs to lower your monthly payments simply if the monthly payments are too burdensome in light of your income. Most students don’t know about it! Only a small fraction of Americans even apply, and many more are eligible. We can help you with the paperwork.You may have extra rights to loan forgiveness:

  • If you are 100% disabled or individually unemployable, you have a lot of rights. We can help make sure your rights are honored. The Education Department is supposed to give you complete forgiveness of your loans, but we can help you make sure they honor your rights. If you’re in default on your loans, call us right away because that means the Education Department is violating your legal rights and our free lawyers can make them stop.
  • If you’re working in a public interest job like at a nonprofit, government, or civilian military position then you may be eligible for loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
  • If you teach for five consecutive years in a low-income school or educational service agency then you may have up to $17,500 in student loan debt forgiven.

You also have rights if your school violated your legal rights. Our free lawyers can help you get your rights honored. For example, you have rights and options to reduce or eliminate your loans if a school took out loans in your name without your permission, defrauded or deceived you, or wrongly enrolled you in a program you couldn’t benefit from.

Also, of course, you have lots of rights to get our loans erased and some of your GI Bill back, if your school closed.

A word of caution though: beware of scams. Apply only through the programs and websites associated with ED, the U.S. Armed Forces, and the approved loan servicers listed here.

At Veterans Education Success, we’re here to protect you on the path towards prosperity and want every service member and veteran to know we’ve got their backs when it comes to understanding their rights! Free lawyers can help you figure out your rights and help you with the paperwork. Email us help@veteranseducationSuccess.org.

Final tip: For good tips on how to get out of debt, check out USAA Educational Foundation’s Destroy Debt videos.

Mike Saunders is Director of Military and Consumer Policy for Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit organization serving veterans’ educational needs. Mike can be reached at mikesaunders@veteranseducationsuccess.org.

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