Updated August 20, 2018

10 Grants to Pay Off Student Loans

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It's possible to pay down student loans without money from your own pocket. Graduates in certain fields have free money waiting for them. You just have to know where to look.

You may have thought you were stuck with your debt burden - but you may qualify for grants or scholarships after graduation that can help you make good on your debt. You may even be able to secure money for studying abroad post-graduation.

What could be the catch? You do have to go out and find the free money and apply for it. We did some of the research for you below, including 10 grants for paying off student loans.

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Learn How to Pay Off and Conquer Your Student Loans

This Student Loan Resource You Should Not Ignore
  • The average student takes over 20 years to pay off their student loan. This guide shows you 24 shortcuts.
  • Learn about the common mistakes almost everyone makes, so you can avoid them.
  • Learn how student loan forgiveness works, if consolidation or refinancing is right for you, and the difference between forbearance and deferment.

1. NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

The Health Resources and Services Administration offers aid for nurses. You may qualify for the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment program if you:

  • Are a licensed registered nurse, advance practice nurse, or nurse faculty member
  • Received your education from a licensed and accredited U.S. college
  • Work in a critical shortage area

Eligible nurses may receive up to 85% of their student loans paid. A few other requirements include:

  • You must work at least 32 hours a week
  • Your loans must be for your nursing degree
  • You must have completed the degree

You may be ineligible for the NURSE Corps program if you:

  • Defaulted on any federal debt
  • Have federal liens against you

Apply for deferment or forbearance if you can't afford your payments.

The NURSE Corps program pays 60% of your student loans each year for 2 years. Some nurses are also eligible for an extended third year. If approved, they receive an extra 25% of the loan's balance.

Working as a nurse is hard work. Working in an underserved community is even harder. The NURSE Corps program rewards nurses in the field with this scholarship. It's a rewarding career with a financial benefit.

The program recycles each year. Check the website for specific dates as they change yearly.

Don't qualify? Most grants are for those in specific careers, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and military personnel. If you don't qualify for one of these grants, consider student loan refinancing. It can help make your payments more manageable because you can potentially get a lower interest rate and better term options. This could save you thousands in interest. At least check out rates to see if they're better than what you're currently getting.

2. National Institute of Mental Health Loan Repayment Program

The National Institute of Mental Health provides grants for medical research. The grants help bring highly qualified graduates into the field. The grant pertains to specific research fields, including:

  • Biomedical
  • Behavioral/Social
  • Clinical

Eligible applicants sign a contract to conduct 2 years of research. A nonprofit domestic agency must fund the research.

Your student loan debt must also equal at least 20% of your starting salary. Your future salary doesn't affect your eligibility, though.

Qualified applicants get up to $35,000 for student loan repayment.

Applicants have from September 1st to November 15th each year to apply. After this period, the enrollment closes until the following year.

3. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

The National Health Service Corps offers aid for certain medical professionals. You may be eligible for the National Health Service Corps Program if you:

  • Work as a primary care doctor, dentist, or mental health professional
  • Work at an NHC approved site for at least 2 years (located in an underserved area)
  • Are eligible to provide service for those on Medicare or Medicaid

You must have unpaid student loans before you apply. They can be undergraduate or graduate student loans. The student loans must also be in repayment.

You are ineligible if:

  • You default on your federal loans
  • You have any federal liens against you

Full-time (40 hours a week) recipients may receive between $30,000 and $50,000 for loan repayment. Recipients working half-time (20 hours a week) may receive between $15,000 and $25,000.

All recipients receive payment in one lump sum. They receive it within 90 days of the contracted start date.

You can reapply for the program after you satisfy the 2-year requirement. As long as you work in an underserved area, you may remain eligible. Some recipients receive enough to pay all of their student debt.

4. Pediatric Research Loan Repayment Program

The National Institute of Mental Health rewards those in pediatric research. You may be eligible if you:

  • Work in biomedical or biobehavioral pediatric research
  • Possess a doctorate degree from an accredited college
  • Sign a 2-year contract to conduct pediatric research

Eligible recipients receive up to $35,000 per year of service.

You are ineligible if:

  • You are in default on any federal debt
  • You have any federal liens against you

Your student loan debt must equal at least 20% of your initial salary. You must also work for a nonprofit agency.

5. Contraception and Infertility Research

The National Institute of Mental Health encourages work in infertility and contraception research. They offer a loan repayment program (CIR-LRP) for eligible recipients who:

  • Work in biomedical or biobehavioral research for infertility and conception
  • Possess a doctor degree from an accredited school
  • Sign a 2-year contract with a nonprofit agency

You are ineligible if:

  • You default on any federal loans
  • You have any federal liens against you

Your student loan debt must be at least 20% of your starting salary. If eligible, you may get up to $35,000.

You may receive 25% of your outstanding student loan debt up to $35,000 per year. Applicants with $140,000 in student debt receive the maximum $70,000 over 2 years.

You must reapply for the reward during your second year of service.

Contraception research: Helps develop new and improved ways to prevent pregnancy.
Infertility research: Helps treat specific conditions causing infertility in couples.

6. Iraq-Afghanistan Service Grant

This federal grant helps military families. You may be eligible for the Iraq-Afghanistan Grant if:

  • You would have met the requirements for a Federal Pell Grant if your expected family contribution wasn't too high
  • You lost a parent during post 9/11 events in Afghanistan or Iraq
  • You were 24 years old or younger and in college during the loss

EFC: Expected family contribution
Your parents must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. On it, they disclose their income, assets, and benefits. The Department of Education (DOE) uses this information to calculate the contribution from parents. If your EFC is too high, you may not receive a Pell Grant.

Recipients can receive the equivalent of the Federal Pell Grant award. The amount cannot be more than your actual cost of attending college. The maximum amount for 2016-2017 was $5,413.77.

7. John R Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

The JRJ Program is for state prosecutors and public defenders. You may be eligible if:

  • You work as a public defender or state prosecutor for 3 years
  • Owe Federal Family Education Loans or Federal Direct Loans
  • Work full-time as an attorney at a state or local government unit

You are ineligible if:

  • You are in default on your student loans
  • You have any federal liens against you

Note: Federal prosecutors and private practice attorneys don't qualify.

You may receive up to $10,000 each year of service. The maximum amount you may receive over the years equals $60,000.

8. TEACH Grant

The TEACH Grant stands for Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education. Teachers need specific coursework to qualify. They also must work in specific areas. The following rules apply:

  • Attend an eligible school that offers the TEACH grant
  • Enroll in a program of study for a high-need field that offers the TEACH grant
  • Sign an Agreement to Serve, which obligates you to work for at least 4 years at a low-income school

You must also complete TEACH grant counseling for each year you receive the grant.

High-need fields include:

  • Math
  • Science
  • Reading
  • Special education
  • Foreign language

Eligible participants may receive up to $4,000 per year. They can receive a maximum of $16,000 over 4 years. If you don't complete a 4-year service agreement, your grant becomes a federal loan.

9. Army Loan Repayment Program

The Army Loan Repayment (LRP) Program helps military members pay their loans. Only certain Military Occupational Specialty Codes qualify. The eligible codes change quarterly. Your local recruiter can verify the codes.

You must also meet the following:

  • Enlist for at least 3 years with the LRP agreement in the enlistment contract
  • Score 50 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test
  • Decline the Montgomery GI Bill (another education repayment program)

The Army pays eligible members 33 1/3% of their outstanding principal balance. The minimum paid is $1,500. Service members may receive benefits for 3 years and get a maximum of $65,000. Payments begin after completion of one year of service.

10. Veterinarian Medical Loan Repayment

The Veterinarian Medical Loan Repayment program helps vets pay their loans. You must meet the following to be eligible:

  • Have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree
  • Have educational debt tied to the degree
  • Work for or own a veterinary practice in a needy area

You are ineligible if:

  • You defaulted on your federal loans
  • Have any federal liens against you

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays up to $25,000 per year for education loan repayment. Eligible participants must also have at least $15,000 in qualifying debt.

Thinking of Refinancing?

If you do not qualify for these grants, consider refinancing your student loans.

Here are student loan refinance offers you should not ignore:

Flexible TermsEarnest
Advanced DegreesLaurel Road

Scholarships After Graduation

Did you know there are scholarships available after graduation?

Graduates not ready for work or graduate school may qualify. The scholarships help winners study or work on independent projects abroad.

  • Rhodes Scholarship: This scholarship helps fund a degree at Oxford University.

    • Winners receive a full scholarship for 2 years at the university. They can also apply for extension into a third year.
    • Scholarship recipients have an excellent academic history.
    • They also show good character and leadership.

  • Marshall Scholarship: This scholarship also funds study in the UK. As many as 40 undergraduates receive this scholarship yearly.

    • Winners must have a GPA of at least 3.7.
    • You don't need a specific area of study to qualify.
    • Winners receive a 2-year education abroad. Some winners may be eligible for a third year extension.

  • Watson Fellowship: This fellowship funds exploration abroad. The Watson Foundation partners with 40 colleges for this prestigious award.

    • Colleges nominate graduating seniors for the fellowship. They don't need a specific field of study.
    • Winners have good grades. They also show leadership, responsibility, and integrity.
    • Winners receive $30,000 in funding. They also receive health insurance and 12 months of student loan payments.

And if you're not sure if you qualify for these grants and scholarships, check out Student Loan Planner. Their team of planners has advised more than $400 million of student loans and they can make a custom plan for you. As a CreditDonkey reader, you get an extra 6 months of questions via email if you schedule a meeting through our link.

Alternatives to Grants

In a different field than the ones listed above? Or don't fit any of the criteria? You have other options to explore for making back your student loans. We discuss them below.

  1. Look into Loan Repayment Plans
    Loan repayment plans make student loans affordable. This doesn't happen automatically. Even if you default on your loans, you don't get them. You must discuss your options with your loan servicer.

    If you leave loans unpaid, it harms your credit. It could also result in judgments or liens against you.

    Following are the most common repayment plans available:

    • Income-Based Repayment Plans: You may pay 10% - 20% of your discretionary income per month. After you make payments for 10 years, the DOE forgives the balance. You must reapply for the program each year.

    • Graduated Repayment Plan: Your payments start low. Every 2 years, the payment increases. You don't reapply for the program each year. The increase occurs no matter how much you make at the time. You pay the loan off in 10 years.

    • Extended Payment Plans: Extended repayment plans extend your term. You must have at least $30,000 in student debt to qualify. You can extend the term up to 25 years to make the payments more affordable.

    Tip: Your discretionary income compares your AGI with today's poverty level. It's the amount exceeding 150% of the federal poverty level. Your loan servicer uses this amount for repayment plan calculations.

    Learn more about student loan repayment plans and how they work.

  2. See If You Qualify for Loan Forgiveness
    The DOE may forgive a portion of your student loans. Each program requires a specific number of payments. Some also require a specific career. Many offer aid for those working in low-income areas. Once you satisfy the requirements, the DOE may forgive a portion of your loans.

    The only loans eligible are federal student loans. Most programs exclude Parent PLUS programs. Your parents took these loans out. The DOE doesn't offer forgiveness of these loans. If you took loans from a private bank, they aren't eligible either.

    A few of the most popular loan forgiveness programs include:

    • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: This program requires 10 years of public service. Public service means you work at a government or non-profit agency. You can certify for the program each year. You can also retroactively apply at the end of 10 years. Your loans must be in a repayment plan to qualify.

    • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Teachers have a couple of options. They all require teaching at a low-income school. Teachers with Perkins loans may receive 100% of their loans forgiven after 5 years. Other federal loans may receive forgiveness after 5 years as well. You may receive $5,000 in loan forgiveness at the end of 5 years. Teachers in specialized subjects may receive up to $17,500.

    • Nurse Loan Forgiveness: Nurses with Perkins Loans may receive loan cancelation after 5 years of service. You must work full-time and for 5 consecutive years to qualify.

    Related Reading: Get detailed information about loan forgiveness plans in "How to Get Student Loans Forgiven."

  3. Consolidate
    Student loan consolidation differs from consumer debt consolidation. In this case, you bring your student loans together into one loan. You aren't refinancing. You receive the weighted average interest rate among the loans. In order to qualify, you must meet the following criteria:

    • Your student loans must be federal loans. They can be subsidized or unsubsidized loans.
    • You must be a graduate or stopped going to school. Your loans should be in the grace period or in repayment.
    • Your loans must be current. If you are behind, you must work with your loan servicer to bring them current.

    Loan consolidation may help make your payments more affordable. Some loans require consolidation before you can apply for loan forgiveness.

    Related Reading: Read our article "Should You Consolidate Your Student Loans?" We help you learn the pros and cons of student loan consolidation.

  4. Refinance
    Private student loans aren't eligible for any of the above programs. You can only refinance private student loans.

    Refinancing requires more work. You don't automatically qualify. You must prove you can afford the loan. Generally, you need the following to be eligible:

    • Good credit
    • Stable income
    • High interest rates on your current student loans

    Lenders have specific guidelines. You can apply with several lenders. Unlike repayment plans, you don't have to use the same loan servicer. You can shop around for the best rates.

    Be careful that you don't refinance federal student loans with your private loans. While it's possible, it takes away all possibilities of loan forgiveness or a repayment plan. Individual banks service private student loans. They may have deferment or forbearance programs. You must qualify for the program.

    Related Reading: Read our article "How to Lower Your Student Loan Payments." We help you learn how to lower your student loan payments.

The Bottom Line

You have a lot more options than you think for managing your student loans. Besides grants and scholarships, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness. Another popular option is to refinance your student loans through SoFi. The online application process is pretty simple. Eliminating student debt is possible (and affordable). You just need to do a bit of research to find the right option for you.

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