Studying to become a nurse is a noble pursuit. Not only are you dedicating your career to giving back to those in your community, but you’re helping contribute to a critically understaffed profession where extra hands are always needed. With reports projecting that 1.2 million new registered nurses will be needed by the year 2030 to address the current shortage, there’s never been a better time to follow your calling into healthcare. But you can’t just become a nurse overnight and the hurdle of higher education can often seem hard to clear, especially when it comes to affording tuition.
Luckily, our country’s serious need for more skilled nurses has resulted in a number of programs aimed at getting passionate students into nursing programs, despite their financial situation. While the thought of taking out a student loan and ending up in post-grad debt might turn your stomach, student debt forgiveness programs created especially for nurses can help ease the burden in a big way. Discover how student debt forgiveness programs are helping nurses across the nation, learn about eligibility requirements, and find out how much of your debt could be forgiven.
Understanding Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
Nursing school can be a significant investment, especially if you rely on student loans to finance your education. A 2017 report published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that nearly 70% of nursing graduate students, such as those enrolled in traditional or online MSN programs, took out student loans, with most borrowing $40,000-$50,000. Over 75% of those same students also carried a significant amount of undergraduate debt.
Those enrolled in in-person or online RN programs faired a bit better, borrowing just under $25,000 to finance a bachelor’s degree or similar credentials, according to NerdWallet. Either way, with median salaries at just over $75,000 for RNs and $115,000 for advanced practice RNs (APRNs), graduates could spend years paying down their debt.
The good news is that help is available. Aware of the cost of nursing school and mindful of the growing need for nurses, many organizations and federal agencies offer relief or repayment programs. Here are the best options available, along with information on how you may qualify.
The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced their Student Debt Relief Plan that will forgive up to $20,000 worth of student loan debt for Pell Grant Recipients and $10,000 worth of student loan debt for non-Pell Grant recipients for borrowers with loans held by the Department of Education. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for households.) For more information about how to qualify, head to the US Department of Education website.
Additionally, this plan proposes to lower student loan repayments for current and future borrowers. For example: A typical nurse (making $77,000 a year) who is married with two kids would pay only $61 a month on their undergraduate loans, compared to the $295 they pay now under the most recent income-driven repayment plan, for annual savings of more than $2,800.
As of March 20th, 2023, courts have issued orders to block the Biden-Harris Administration student debt relief plan. New applications are currently not being accepted and previous applications have been placed on a hold. To receive updates on the status of the one-time debt relief plan, subscribe to notifications at the official U.S. Department of Education website.
Head to the US Department of Education FAQs for more information on all of these new plans available to help with debt relief.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
A federal program managed with assistance from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) initiative helps students entering service-related professions such as nursing. The program focuses on students with federal Direct Loans–low-interest loans obtained directly from the government–and does not cap amounts based on factors including income or debt ceiling.
Established by Congressional action in 2007, PSLF discharges the remaining debt for eligible students who make qualifying monthly payments under an approved repayment plan. The program also offers consolidation options for eligible students with multiple loans, including loans that may not qualify on their own, like Federal Perkins Loans and Federal Family Education Loans dispersed prior to 1998 (private student loans do not qualify). This makes it easy for borrowers to responsibly consolidate their debt and still take advantage of PSLF benefits.
Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program (NCLRP)
Unlike PSLF, which targets a broad range of public servants including nurses, the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program focuses solely on nursing student loan forgiveness. Managed by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NCLRP forgives up to 85% of unpaid student loan debt for nursing faculty, registered nurses, and advanced nurse practitioners.
A service-based program authorized by the Public Health Service Act, NCLRP preference is usually given to RNs and APRNs with the greatest financial need, though the HRSA also considers the type of facility in which you work (more on that below). For nursing faculty, preference is given to those with the greatest financial need and those working at nursing schools where at least 50% of students are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Recipients receive repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year service commitment, with the option for a third year.
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program
The NHSC Loan Repayment Program also provides HRSA-backed assistance to licensed nurses with student debt. It targets working professionals in HPSAs but uses narrower eligibility criteria based on the NHSC’s primary care focus. Part-time nurses can receive up to $25,000 in repayment and full-time nurses up to $50,000 in exchange for a two-year service commitment in disadvantaged rural or urban communities.
Recipients can also petition to receive broader assistance–an additional $50,000 in some cases–through a contract extension when their initial service commitment ends. Open to certified nurse midwives and nurse practitioners from all specialties, the program prioritizes applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, NHSC scholarship recipients, and those likely to remain employed in an HPSA across their career.
Perkins Loan Cancellation
Named after a former Kentucky Congressman, the Perkins Loan Program provided subsidized, low-interest financing options for students with exceptional financial need. The program technically ended in 2017 due to budget concerns, with final disbursements occurring through mid-2018. But even though new students cannot receive funds, scores of borrowers continue to manage Perkins loans in repayment.
As with other programs, Perkins loan holders who work in certain public service positions may qualify for discharge or complete cancellation of their loans. Most of the relief efforts target educators, but federal provisions also include nurses and medical technicians. Qualified borrowers may be eligible to have some or all of their Perkins loans repaid. Some loan holders may even get further deferment while performing work that qualifies for cancellation.
Military Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses
Nurses with military experience may be eligible for additional student loan assistance that goes beyond federal programs open to civilians and the general public. Veterans, active-duty soldiers, and reserve members can take advantage of these and other benefits depending on the nature and duration of their service.
Each branch of the military offers its own loan forgiveness programs along with its own eligibility and application criteria. Whether you’ve served with the Army, Navy, or the Air Force, options are available to help you repay your student debt. Keep reading to find out more about available programs and what they require.
Army Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program
Active duty service members with a background in nursing may qualify for this program with the Army, depending on the length of their service. The initiative repays up to $120,000 in nursing educational loans across three consecutive years totaling $40,000 annually.
Recipients may also be eligible for an additional $10,000 accession bonus if they agree to accept a commission as an Army Medical Corps officer. Participation in this program does not affect eligibility for other benefits like health insurance, retirement investing, or housing.
Army Reserves Healthcare Professionals Loan Repayment Program
This program is similar to the previous one but supports nursing professionals in the U.S. Army Reserves and not on active duty. In addition to other benefits and incentives, it offers up to $50,000 in assistance for eligible loans secured during your nursing education and training. Participants receive $20,000 annually for two consecutive years of service with an optional third year covering an additional $10,000 in student debt.
Army Reserves College Loan Repayment Program
The Army also extends broader student loan relief options open to a wider range of applicants, including those with a background in nursing. Its College Loan Repayment Program accepts initial-term Army Reserve members. Eligible participants must decline GI Bill enrollment and plan to enlist for at least six years.
The program aids with student loans covered under the Higher Education Act of 1965 and repays 15% of the outstanding balance or $1,500 for each year of service, whichever is greater. All funds are subject to tax liability.
Navy Nurse Candidate Program
Nursing students serving full-time can receive up to $34,000 to help cover education expenses through the Navy Nurse Candidate Program. The program offers an initial $10,000 grant up front and then provides a $1,000 monthly stipend for up to 24 months.
Service obligations go into effect after training and education are complete. Once fully licensed and credentialed, participants are eligible for commissions as Navy Nurse Corps Officers.
Air Force Active Duty Health Professions Repayment Program
Like the Army, the Air Force administers a Health Professional Loan Repayment Program to help aspiring nurses early in their careers. If you’re a nurse on active duty with qualifying student loans that were used to finance your health education, you could receive up to $80,000 in relief, minus taxes (around 25%). The program repays a maximum of $40,000 each year for two years, covering principal balances and incurred interest.
Student Loan Forgiveness at the State Level
Many individual states also extend student loan repayment programs to qualified nurses and healthcare professionals. Use the table below to learn more about options specific to your state, including eligibility criteria, potential service obligations, and the overall scope of each program.
|Alaska||Sharp Program||Alaska offers partial educational loan repayment to licensed nurses who provide some form of direct patient care within the state. Open to full-time and part-time applicants.|
|Arizona||Department of Health Services Loan Repayment Program||Primary care nurses or those working in rural settings can receive loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year service commitment in underserved or shortage areas.|
|California||OSHPD Loan Repayment Programs||The Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) and its partners administer seven student loan repayment programs focusing on a range of licensed nursing professions (vocational/practical, allied health, RNs, mental health, and nurse practitioners).|
|District of Columbia||DC Health Professional Loan Repayment Program||DC residents with an active RN or APRN license may be eligible for up to $80,000 in student debt assistance if they work in a shortage area or underserved community.|
|Florida||Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program||LPNs, RNs, and APRNs in Florida can participate in this program, which provides $4,000 in repayment funds each year for up to four years.|
|Georgia||Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Loan Repayment Program||This program supports full-time nurse practitioners serving rural communities by providing up to $10,000 in relief annually. Contracts may be renewed for three additional terms ($40,000 total).|
|Hawaii||Hawaii Loan Repayment Program||Open to primary care providers like RNs and APRNs, this program repays some educational loans in full if you work in a shortage area for at least two years.|
|Idaho||State Loan Repayment Program||Nurses at every level of practice can receive $10,000-$25,000 in loan assistance each year in exchange for a two-year service obligation.|
|Illinois||Illinois National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program||Licensed nurse midwives and nurse practitioners in Illinois can collect up to $50,000 in repayment funds for two years of full-time service at an approved location.|
|Iowa||Health Care Loan Repayment Program||This program provides $6,000 annually or 20% of total qualified debt, whichever is less. Eligible participants must be RNs or APRNs who completed an Iowa nursing program.|
|Kansas||Kansas Loan Repayment Program||Kansas provides one-time annual payments of up to $20,000 to qualified nurse practitioners with outstanding student debt. Service continuation options are available.|
|Kentucky||Kentucky Loan Repayment Program||This initiative grants $20,000 in assistance to RNs and $40,000 to APRNs in exchange for a two-year service commitment at a Kentucky-based facility.|
|Louisiana||Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program||For nursing professionals working in a federally designated shortage area, Louisiana offers up to $15,000 in relief annually across an initial three-year service commitment.|
|Maryland||Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program||Available to all licensed nursing professionals with credentials from a Maryland program, this initiative provides up to $30,000 in repayment ($10,000 annually for three years of public service).|
|Massachusetts||Massachusetts Loan Repayment Program for Health Professionals||RNs, APRNs, midwives, and nurse practitioners working with underserved communities can receive up to $50,000 in assistance for a two-year service contract.|
|Michigan||Michigan State Loan Repayment Program||This program offers up to $200,000 in tax-free assistance over eight years for work in a healthcare shortage area. Available to nurse midwives and primary care practitioners.|
|Minnesota||Minnesota Health Care Loan Forgiveness Programs||Advanced practice nurses, faculty, and long-term care providers working in high-need areas are eligible for $6,000-$14,000 in repayment funds each year.|
|Missouri||Nurse Loan Repayment Program||Open to RNs and APRNs who graduated from a Missouri institution, this program offers $10,000-$20,000 annually in exchange for a multi-year service obligation.|
|Montana||Montana State Loan Repayment Program||APRNs and primary care RNs can receive up to $15,000 in assistance in exchange for two years of service with an option for extension.|
|Nebraska||Nebraska Loan Repayment Programs||This program aids qualified nurse practitioners by awarding $90,000-$100,000 in loan repayment to those working in a Nebraska shortage area.|
|New Hampshire||State Loan Repayment Program||Available to RNs with a focus on primary care, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services offers up to $75,000 in loan forgiveness if you complete a three-year service contract.|
|New Jersey||Primary Care Practitioner Loan Redemption Program||New Jersey primary care practitioners are eligible for up to $120,000 in loan repayment in exchange for a two- or four-year service obligation.|
|New Mexico||Health Professional Loan Repayment Program||An APRN and nurse practitioner initiative, this program offers contract-based loan relief to New Mexico residents working full-time in an underserved community.|
|New York||NYS Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program||In New York, nursing faculty can receive $40,000 in loan assistance paid over five years. Applicants must hold a master’s degree and maintain qualified employment.|
|North Carolina||State Loan Repayment Program||North Carolina offers up to $50,000 in tax-free education loan repayment to nurse practitioners who undertake a service obligation of at least two years.|
|Ohio||Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program||Ohio supports current and future nursing instructors by offering $5,000-$6,000 in student loan relief annually. Faculty members serving at least four years may qualify for 100% loan cancellation.|
|Oregon||Oregon Partnership Loan Repayment Program||RNs, APRNs, midwives, and practitioners can receive assistance equaling up to 50% of their debt in exchange for full- or part-time work at an eligible site.|
|Pennsylvania||Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program||Nurse practitioners and nurse midwives working in the Keystone are eligible for a two-year relief package: up to $60,000 for full-time employees and up to $30,000 for part-time workers.|
|Rhode Island||Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program||Nurses who provide direct patient care at an eligible facility can receive student loan assistance on a full- or part-time basis. Specific amounts vary each year.|
|Tennessee||Tennessee Loan Repayment Program||For a two-year service obligation in a healthcare shortage area, Tennessee-based APRNs benefit from up to $50,000 in repayment with a continuation option for an additional $20,000.|
|Texas||Nursing Faculty Loan Repayment Assistance Program||In the Lone Star , qualified nursing faculty with advanced degrees could be eligible for $7,000 in student loan relief across a five-year period.|
|Vermont||Vermont Educational Loan Repayment Program for Health Care Professionals||LPNs and RNs may qualify for this program, which provides up to $12,000 in repayment for services rendered in a shortage area.|
|Virginia||Virginia State Loan Repayment Program||Virginia RNs, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives can use this program and secure up to $140,000 in loan assistance.|
|Washington||Washington Health Corps||The program awards up to $75,000 in repayment to licensed health professionals who fulfill a three-year service contract in a high-demand shortage area.|
|West Virginia||State Loan Repayment Program||West Virginia offers $40,000 to nurse practitioners and nurse midwives who fulfill a two-year obligation. Participants can extend their agreement for an additional $25,000.|
|Wisconsin||Health Professions Loan Assistance Program||Qualified nurses in outpatient settings can receive up to $50,000 in loan assistance if they work full-time in a designated shortage area.|