Student Loan Forgiveness & Repayment Programs for Nurses

Student loans stacking up? Discover the wide variety of loan forgiveness programs available especially for nursing professionals.

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Written By

Blake Huggins

- Bio

Blake Huggins is a writer, researcher, and educator based in New England. He writes widely on a range of topics with specific expertise in the higher education, healthcare, and technology spaces. An Oklahoma native, Blake holds a PhD from Boston University and has taught college courses in writing and composition, religion, and philosophy. 

last updated

Last Updated: 11/26/2021
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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.

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.

Eligibility

The DOE provides a useful PSLF help tool you can use to determine your eligibility. You’ll qualify based on your employer, not your job title, which means nurses at any level of practice may qualify depending on where they work (LPNs, RNs, APRNs, etc.). Eligible borrowers must be employed full-time by a qualifying employer.

Beneficiaries must also hold Direct Loans or loans consolidated into a Direct Loan and consistently make at least 120 qualified monthly payments. Qualified payments must be made on time during the repayment period, which doesn’t count deferment, forbearance, your grace period, or when you’re in school. Those payments must also be made using an income-driven repayment plan.

How to Apply

To get started, you’ll need to complete a PSLF Certification and Application form. The form asks for basic identifying and biographical information, along with additional data to determine your eligibility. Once processed and verified, the DOE will return the form to you indicating how many qualifying payments it believes you have made.

The running total for those payments is only updated when you notify the DOE, and it recommends that borrowers submit a new PSLF form annually to keep your status up to date. You can also check your qualifying payments using the online PSLF portal.

Requirements & Restrictions

Borrowers must keep their employment status up to date when moving from one qualifying job to another. If you become ineligible for PSLF at any time, or if some of your monthly payments do not qualify, you can pursue Temporary Expanded PSLF.

The DOE places no tax restrictions on the PSLF program. This means forgiven loan amounts will not count as income when tax season rolls around, ultimately reducing your liability. Normally, administrative forbearance periods keep borrowers from making qualified monthly payments. However, the DOE has recently rolled back some of those restrictions. Suspended payments made during COVID-19 relief, for example, still count as qualified monthly payments.

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.

Eligibility

Qualified borrowers must fulfill the following application requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Hold a current, unencumbered nursing license; a degree or diploma from a nursing school; and qualified outstanding loans (see below)
  • Maintain full-time licensed employment at an eligible organization

On that last requirement, the HRSA specifies eligible organizations as those designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) critical shortage facility. To locate a shortage facility or to see if your employer qualifies, consult the HRSA’s data tools. For nursing faculty applicants, eligible organizations include accredited public or private nursing schools.

How to Apply

The HRSA publishes an informative NCLRP program guide each year to help new participants navigate the application process. Interested applicants must submit their materials in February each year with final decisions to follow in September. Materials include an online application, supporting documents, and any additional documentation required.

Borrowers must provide their loan information on the application, along with biographical and employment information and self-certification. Required supporting documents include release authorization forms, transcripts, and a curriculum vitae or resume. Faculty applicants may need to provide certification that 50% of students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Requirements & Restrictions

Successful applicants must complete a two-year service obligation with their employer and cannot switch to a different service obligation during that period. In exchange, you receive loan payments covering 60% of outstanding debt. Recipients must also comply with other rules regarding worksite absences, transfer requests, and waivers. NCLRP loan payments are taxable.

One of the key advantages of NCLRP is its broad applicability and relative lack of restrictions. For example, borrowers can opt for an additional service year and receive an extra 25% in assistance (up to 85%). The NCLRP also covers a wider range of student debt. Qualified loans include federal and commercial loans, consolidated student loans, and Perkins loans not subject to cancellation.

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.

Eligibility

The program accepts licensed primary care providers with qualified student loan debt related to their nursing degree. In addition, applicants must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national
  • Be fully trained and licensed as a care provider
  • Provide or be eligible to provide care in state and federal programs (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.)
  • Work at a NHSC-approved facility within an HPSA

The program also welcomes military reserve applicants. However, military service does not satisfy NHSC’s service commitment. If deployed, the organization expects recipients to return to their service site afterward.

How to Apply

The application process takes three weeks to complete. Borrowers must submit an online application and provide information on their eligibility, employment, training, certification credentials, and loan status. In addition, applicants should be prepared to provide the following:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Loan verification and a disbursement report
  • Specialty certification
  • Other supporting documentation verifying an existing service obligation or a disadvantaged background

Selection factors in the application process include commitment to continued primary care service in a shortage area, previous service commitment history, and legal obligation history. NHSC prioritizes applicants with in-demand specialty training, NHSC scholarship recipients, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Requirements & Restrictions

Recipients working full-time at an approved site must log a minimum of 40 hours per week for 45 weeks each year to receive up to $50,000 in loan assistance. Part-time borrowers can receive up to $25,000, provided they work a minimum of 20 hours per week during the same period. All program participants must submit a service verification document every six months to indicate their compliance and attest to the number of hours worked.

NHSC loan repayments are not subject to tax liability. Participants may qualify for continued loan assistance if they still have outstanding eligible loans. Continuation is not guaranteed and applicants must have a demonstrated record of clear program compliance.

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.

Eligibility

Eligible applicants for Perkins loan assistance must have received their loan after 1998 and provide qualifying services during that same period. Funds associated with the Perkins loan must have covered training and education for the qualifying service professions. This means that if you plan to participate as a nursing applicant, your loan should have helped with your nursing education, not some other subject or profession.

Virtually all nursing occupations qualify, including RNs, practical or vocational nurses, and specialized nurse practitioners. Qualified applicants within the nursing profession must maintain full-time employment during their eligible service period.

How to Apply

Because Perkins loans are paid directly to colleges and universities–not the federal government–eligible applicants must apply through their school or its loan servicer.

The best approach here is to contact your institution’s financial aid office for more information. Administrators and loan officers will likely provide you with instructions and an official application. Be prepared to verify your employment status and prove your work history as a licensed nursing professional.

Requirements & Restrictions

Qualified full-time nurses can receive up to 100% in Perkins loan assistance for at least five years of eligible service. That figure covers the principal loan amount as well as interest accrued during each year of qualified service.

Recipients can also qualify for a complete discharge of their Perkins loan under certain conditions like bankruptcy, death, and permanent disability. Other school-based restrictions and requirements may also apply.

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.

Program Description
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.