11 Best Grants to Pay Off Student Loans
Let’s face it – a college education is wildly expensive, and it’s not getting any cheaper. It should come as no surprise, then, that Americans owe an average of $28,650 in student loan debt. To make matters worse, the total student debt burden in the United States grows every year. For many students, it can take a shockingly long time to pay off student loans.
Fortunately, grant money is a fantastic means to help alleviate the cost of higher education. The catch is that many students, soon-to-be freshmen, and even recent graduates have no idea where to get started applying for grants. That’s why we put together this in-depth guide to the best grants to pay off student loans.
Grants to Pay Off Student Loans
We’ve reviewed the 11 top federal, state, and private college grant programs to help make your education more affordable. Here’s a summary, with more information about each below:
- Federal Pell Grant
- National Institute of Mental Health Loan Repayment Program
- Nurse Corps Repayment Program
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
- Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness
- John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
- Congress’s Military College Loan Repayment Program
- Harold Alfond Foundation
- Herbert S. Garten Loan Assistance
- TEACH Grant
Federal Pell Grant
The Federal Pell Grant system is probably the most well-known federal grant awarded to undergraduates in the United States. The esteemed Pell Grant is given out to undergrads at American colleges and universities who exhibit exceptional academic standing and potential. Pell recipients cannot have already completed a bachelor’s, professional, or graduate degree.
Federal Pell Grants are mostly based on the applicant’s financial need. For the 2019-2020 award year, the maximum that a recipient can receive via a Pell Grant is $6,195. The amount that you receive from a Pell Grant is determined by several factors, including:
- Family income level
- Full-time or part-time student status
- The cost of the academic program
- Long-term education plans
Applicants should note that Pell Grants are issued to low-income families evenly throughout the academic year. For instance, a Pell recipient awarded $5,000 would receive two installments of $2,500 each at the start of the Fall and Winter semesters.
While Pell Grant funding is a small fraction of the average cost of tuition (which is about $10,116 at an in-state public college for the 2019-2020 school year), it can be helpful if you’re looking for a fairly straightforward way to supplement educational expenses and reduce future loan repayment.
National Institute of Mental Health Loan Repayment Program
Healthcare professionals who work in the mental health field may be eligible for a grant or for scholarships from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This program is available to scientists and scholars who are in a clinical, behavioral, or social research position with a non-profit organization, university, or laboratory.
The NIMH grant program is considered difficult to receive but is worth applying for even if you don’t think you’re completely qualified. Since award money can reach as high as $35,000 annually, it can be a useful tool for eliminating your student debt and paying for the cost of a graduate school education.
Nurse Corps Repayment Program
Registered nurses in the United States can have over 90 percent of their student loans repaid by the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. This program, which is offered by the US Health Resources and Services Administration, is open to licensed nurses, nurse practitioners, and faculty members with a nursing degree.
Unfortunately, not every nurse is eligible for this grant. At present, only nurses currently employed in a healthcare facility with a staff shortage or at a college of nursing are eligible for this grant. For nurses, the Nurse Corps Repayment Program is one of the most sought-after grants to pay off student loans.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
Students whose parents served in Iraq or Afghanistan and died during service as eligible for over $6,000 in student loan payments. However, only those whose parents died in the line of duty while they were under the age of 24 are eligible for this grant. Also, applicants must have been enrolled in full or part-time studies at a college at the time of their parent’s death.
Those eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant can apply online at the Federal Student Aid website. It’s worth noting that only those whose parents died in active duty service with the US Armed Forces after the events of 9/11 are eligible for this grant. Military families should apply for these grants to pay off student loans.
Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program
Primary care physicians and dentists who work in rural regions of Pennsylvania are eligible for massive amounts of student debt relief. As one of the highest-value college grants in the United States, award recipients are eligible for up to $100,000 in student debt relief.
However, there’s a catch. Applicants can only qualify for this grant if they pledge to serve for a minimum of two years in an underserved or rural area of the state. Those working outside of Pennsylvania may still be eligible for similar funding if they apply for the NHSC Loan Repayment Program (NHSC LRP).
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Although it’s not technically a “grant,” student loan forgiveness programs are still one of the best ways to pay for college. After graduation, consider launching a career in the public service or landing a job with a non-profit organization.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) is one of the leading student loan forgiveness and student loan refinancing programs in the country.
Those eligible for the PSLF (e.g., US federal government employees) can have the entirety of their student loan balance forgiven after ten years of service. However, qualified applicants must keep making payments on their student loans during this period to have their remaining balance forgiven after ten years.
John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program
The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program is a program available to state prosecutors and public defenders in the United States. Offered under the Office of Justice Programs, John R. Justice grants are recurring payments of up to $10,000 annually to help offset the cost of legal education.
Only public defenders and attorneys with three years or more of public service experience are eligible for this grant. However, attorneys may also be interested in the Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP), which is offered to all attorneys at law in the US. The ASLRP offers up to $6,000 per annum to practicing lawyers.
Congress’s Military College Loan Repayment Program
The Congress’s Military College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) is a grant program for US military members to redeem up to $60,000 to put toward their student loans.
While Navy and US Army members can receive up to $60,000 through the program, Navy Reservists and Army Reserve members are only eligible for $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.
Other eligibility requirements apply in order to qualify for loan repayment under the CLRP. Loans must be entered into before joining the military, and loan repayment is available only for enlisted non-prior military service members.
Harold Alfond Foundation
Residents of the state of Maine are eligible for the Harold Alfond Foundation Student Loan Debt Reduction Program. The Alfond Program selects 150 science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) leaders in Maine and provides them with up to $60,000 in student loan repayment assistance over a three-year duration.
Although the Alfond Foundation is highly exclusive and one of the most competitive grant programs in the US, it’s also one of the most valuable STEM awards in the world.
Herbert S. Garten Loan Assistance
Lawyers can rejoice knowing that the Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program offers debt-saddled attorneys with much-needed financial aid. The Garten Program awards up to $5,600 in total annual grant funding to practicing lawyers with at least $75,000 in federal student loan debt.
The Garten Program is an exclusive grant program offered to attorneys that work for one of Garten’s grantee companies. Those most likely to be eligible for the grant, are lawyers who work for non-profit organizations such as a state-level legal aid clinic or a community justice project.
If you plan to become a teacher for low-income students, you may be eligible for a boatload of grant money in the form of a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant. The TEACH grant provides up to $4,000 per year to those completing their course work in preparation for a career in teaching.
Potential applicants should note that the TEACH grant is eligible only to current students who are in a TEACH Grant-eligible program. Qualifying programs are those that prepare teachers to instruct students in a high-demand skill. To find out if your teaching program qualifies for this grant, check out the TEACH Grant website.
Income-Driven Repayment Forgiveness
Grants aren’t your only option when it comes to repaying your student debt. Student loan forgiveness is another great option that’s available to certain loan borrowers who have faithfully made minimum monthly payments on their debt.
For instance, the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness program is offered by the US Department of Education and covers the remainder of one’s student loan debt. However, the borrower has to have made monthly payments on their loan debt for at least 20 years before they’re eligible and cannot have entered into deferment or forbearance in that time.
In addition, an income-driven repayment plan will determine monthly payments based on family size. Upon review and approval of your application, you will generally be required to pay between 10 to 15 percent of discretionary income on your student loan debt. Depending on your income and family size, you may not have to make a monthly payment at all.
Consider Loan Refinancing
If you’re stuck juggling multiple private student loans to pay for your education, consider loan refinancing or work-study programs. Contact your loan servicer or lender to see if you can refinance your loans into a single loan with a lower interest rate and more favorable terms.
Loan refinancing can save you thousands of dollars in the long term if you can get a lower interest rate. If you want a more manageable loan repayment schedule, it’s worth inquiring about refinancing to see if you can save money on your payments.
Find Out What You Owe
Applying for a federal grant can be difficult unless you know how much you owe in student loans. To find out what you owe in student loans, and how to create a loan repayment schedule, check out Student Loan Hero. This website provides a database of student loan repayment options, including grant information and more to help you repay your student loan debt.
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