Student Loan Forgiveness After 20 Years

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After paying down your student loans for months on end, it can be demoralizing to see just how large a balance you still have left. Depending on your repayment plan, you may even owe more now than you did when you first graduated.

The good news is that student loan payments don’t have to go on forever. If you have federal student loans and are making payments under an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, you may be able to have your loans forgiven after 20 years. That can give you hope, and a tangible goal to work toward as you continue to make your payments.

Here’s how to get your federal student loans forgiven after 20 years:

Are federal student loans forgiven after 20 years?

Yes, federal student loans may be forgiven after 20 years under certain circumstances. But only certain types of loans are eligible for forgiveness, and you must be enrolled in one of a few different types of repayment plans. You’ll also need to stay out of default on your loans.

In most cases, you must be a student borrower who took out Direct Loans from the federal government for undergraduate study. Then, you must have enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, where the amount you pay each month is determined by how much you earn.

You generally must make all your required payments during those 20 years for the time to count. When your loan is in forbearance, you won’t be making progress toward loan forgiveness.

Note: The Department of Education announced in April 2022 that loan servicers who advised borrowers to choose forbearance must have done so properly. Some periods of forbearance may be updated to apply toward loan forgiveness — check your loan account to see if you fall into this category.

Parent borrowers who took out PLUS Loans to pay for their child’s education generally aren’t eligible for loan forgiveness unless they consolidate their loans into a federal Direct Consolidation Loan. The same goes for Perkins Loans.

The rules for loan forgiveness differ slightly based on the type of loan you have and the repayment plan you chose.

Federal student loan forgiveness programs

The federal government’s 20-year loan forgiveness programs are part of the income-driven repayment plans they offer. These are special benefits provided to federal student loan borrowers, not available to people with private loans.

In general, income-driven repayment plans are intended to help people keep their payments manageable in their monthly budgets. Your monthly payment is based on a percentage of your discretionary income, or how much you make above 150% of the federal poverty line.

However, these plans also extend the length of time it takes to repay student loans and means you’ll pay significantly more in interest than you would if you were in a standard 10-year repayment plan.

You may be eligible for forgiveness after making 20 years of payments under the following IDR plans:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan: Under this plan, your monthly payment is set at 10% of your disposable income, which is re-evaluated yearly. The balance of your Direct Loans can be forgiven after 20 years if your loans were for undergraduate study, or 25 years if you have graduate school loans.
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan: Your monthly payments are capped at 10% of your discretionary income, but can’t be higher than they would be under a standard 10-year repayment plan. The balance of your loans is forgiven after 20 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: Your payments will be set at 10% of your discretionary income if you borrowed after July 1, 2014, or 15% if you borrowed before then. In either case, your payment can’t be higher than your payment would be under a standard 10-year repayment plan. The balance of your loans will be forgiven after 20 years if you first borrowed after July 1, 2014, or 25 years if you borrowed before then.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: In most cases, your payment is set at 20% of your discretionary income. Your balance can be forgiven after 25 years.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

If you work in the government or not-for-profit sector, you may be able to have your loans forgiven even sooner. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program can waive the balance of your loans after 10 years of payments while working full-time for certain types of employers. These include U.S. government agencies at any level, including the military, or 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

To qualify, you’ll need to be making payments under one of the four income-driven repayment plans listed above.

Student loan forgiveness by loan type

In general, you must have a Direct Loan to qualify for loan forgiveness after 20 years. These loans are issued directly from the U.S. Department of Education. The specific type of Direct Loan, though, can affect how the process works.

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: These loans are available to undergraduate students with financial need and have a key benefit — the government pays your interest while you’re enrolled in school. These loans are eligible for any of the four repayment plans listed above, and can be forgiven after 20 years of payments.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans can go to undergraduate or graduate students, with no requirement of financial need. You’re responsible for interest from the moment the loan money is sent to your school. These loans are also open to any of the four repayment plans, and you may have your loans forgiven after 20 years. However, if you have any loans for grad school, that time period is extended to 25 years under the REPAYE Plan.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: These loans are for graduate or professional students, or parents of undergraduate students. If you’re a student borrower with these loans, you can qualify for any of the four repayment plans. Because these are for graduate study, you’ll need to make payments for 25 years if you’re on the REPAYE Plan. However, if you’re a parent, you won’t qualify for loan forgiveness without consolidating your loans.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans: These loans let you combine multiple types of federal loans into a single loan with a single servicer. Unless you have parent loans in the mix, you can use any of the four repayment plans and qualify for forgiveness after 20 years. If you do have parent loans, you’ll only have access to the ICR Plan, which allows you to have your balance forgiven after 25 years.
  • FFEL or Stafford Loans: Federal Family Education Loans haven’t been issued since 2010. If you still have these loans, you can use the IBR Plan, and you may have your loans forgiven after 20 years if you’re a recent borrower.
  • Perkins Loans: Perkins Loans were made for low-income students with “exceptional financial need,” but they’re no longer available. These loans aren’t eligible for any of the four IDR plans. You have a maximum of 10 years to repay a Perkins Loan.

Read More: The Complete List of Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

How to apply for student loan forgiveness programs

Applying for student loan forgiveness programs happens through your loan servicer, the company that handles your payments. Contact your loan servicer if you’re interested in learning how to qualify.

To start, you’ll want to make sure you’re enrolled in one of the income-driven repayment plans you qualify for. This doesn’t happen automatically. Unless you choose otherwise, you’ll be put on the Standard Repayment Plan, which requires a payment that’ll pay off your loans in 10 years. You can switch your repayment plan at any point, for free.

During your 20 years of payments, you’ll likely need to recertify your income level and family size each year to make sure your income-based repayments are at the right amount. You’ll still have to do this, even if nothing has changed. Your servicer will be able to walk you through this process, so make sure you keep your contact information current with your loan servicer. You can also call them to make sure you’re still on track.

Tip: To find your loan servicer, log in to your student loan portal at StudentAid.gov. You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.

If you’re applying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, the process is a little different. You’ll need to fill out a special application for this program, which is available on the StudentAid.gov website.

Strategies for student loan forgiveness

Twenty years is a long time, but it’s important to stay on track toward your loan forgiveness. These strategies may be able to help you:

  • Set a reminder for paperwork deadlines. To stay in an income-driven repayment plan that qualifies you for forgiveness, you’ll need to recertify your earnings and family size each year. Put this deadline on your calendar and remind yourself a month ahead of time, so you have plenty of time to complete the process.
  • Consider renewing early. If your income goes down or if your family grows, you may want to recertify early. This can reduce the payment you’re required to make.
  • Make sure your payments qualify. In most cases, you must make a full payment by or within 15 days of your due date in order for your payment to qualify toward your 20 years.
  • Keep track of your progress. Your loan servicer will keep a record of your payments and your progress toward loan forgiveness and should let you know when you’re getting close. You likely can check up on this progress online through your loan account, making it easier to keep on top of any requirements you must meet.

Private student loan refinancing

Loan forgiveness applies to federal student loans only. If you have private loans, you’re not eligible. In most cases, private loans only offer repayment plans that fully satisfy your loans in a specified period of time — often five, seven, or 10 years.

However, you may be able to lower your monthly payment on your private student loans by refinancing. When you refinance your student loans, you take out a new loan that pays off and replaces the ones you currently have. If your financial situation has improved since you first borrowed, you may qualify for a lower interest rate that can dramatically reduce the amount you pay.

While it is possible to refinance federal student loans into a private loan, you should be extremely cautious before doing this. By refinancing, you’ll lose access to federal benefits — including income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness after 20 years.

The student loan consolidation companies in the table below are Credible’s approved partner lenders. Because they compete for your business through Credible, you can request rates from all of them by filling out a single form. Then, you can compare your available options side-by-side. Requesting rates is free, doesn’t affect your credit score, and your personal information is not shared with our partner lenders unless you see an option you like.

Lender Variable rates from (APR) Fixed rates from (APR)


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

N/A
2.94%+
  • Fixed APR:

    2.94%+
  • Variable APR:
    N/A
  • Min. credit score:
    Does not disclose
  • Loan amount:
    $7,500 up to $500,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    10, 15, 20
  • Max. undergraduate loan balance:
    $250,000 – $500,000
  • Time to fund:
    4 days
  • Repayment options:
    Immediate repayment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or noncitizen with proof of residency card, have an acceptable income and credit history or an approved cosigner, and have entered grace or repayment on the loans he or she wants to refinance
  • Customer service:
    Phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 12 months
  • Loan servicer:
    Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation
  • Max. graduate loan balance:
    $250,000 – $500,000
  • Credible Review:
    Advantage Education Loan review
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing :
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.


4.82%+

2.49%+
  • Fixed APR:

    2.49%+
  • Variable APR:

    4.82%+
  • Min. credit score:
    690
  • Loan amount:
    $10,000 to $400,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 7, 10, 15, 20
  • Repayment options:
    Military deferment, forbearance
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must have a credit score of at least 720, a minimum income of $60,000, and must be a resident of Texas
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Does not disclose
  • Cosigner release:
    No
  • Loan servicer:
    Firstmark Services
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $100,000 – $149,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    $200,000 – $400,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Does not disclose


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.


3.99%+1

4.49%+1
  • Fixed APR:

    4.49%+1
  • Variable APR:

    3.99%+1
  • Min. credit score:
    Does not disclose
  • Loan amount:
    $10,000 to $750,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 7, 10, 15, 20
  • Repayment options:
    Immediate repayment, academic deferment, military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay, loyalty
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have at least $10,000 in student loans
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 24 to 36 months
  • Loan servicer:
    Firstmark Services
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $100,000 to $149,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    Less than $150,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.


3.69%+2

4.49%+2
  • Fixed APR:

    4.49%+2
  • Variable APR:

    3.69%+2
  • Min. credit score:
    Does not disclose
  • Loan amount:
    $5,000 to $300,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 7, 10, 12, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    All states except for ME
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 24 to 36 months
  • Loan servicer:
    College Ave Servicing LLC
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $100,000 to $149,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    Less than $300,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.


5.91%+5

5.91%+5
  • Fixed APR:

    5.91%+5
  • Variable APR:

    5.74%+5
  • Min. credit score:
    700
  • Loan amount:
    $7,500 to $200,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 10, 15, 20
  • Repayment options:
    Immediate repayment, academic deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and submit two personal references
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 36 months
  • Loan servicer:
    Granite State Management & Resources (GSM&R)
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $150,000 to $249,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    $150,000 to $199,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing :
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.


2.48%+3

4.29%+3
  • Fixed APR:

    4.29%+3
  • Variable APR:

    2.48%+3
  • Min. credit score:
    680
  • Loan amount:
    $10,000 to $250,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20
  • Repayment options:
    Forbearance
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    None
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, have at least $15,000 in student loan debt, and have a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved school
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    No
  • Loan servicer:
    Mohela
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $250,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    $250,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.


3.67%+4

5.18%+4
  • Fixed APR:

    5.18%+4
  • Variable APR:

    3.67%+4
  • Min. credit score:
    670
  • Loan amount:
    $5,000 to $250,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 10, 15, 20
  • Repayment options:
    Academic deferment, military deferment, forbearance
  • Fees:
    Late fee
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Must be U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    Yes
  • Max undergraduate loan balance:
    $250,000
  • Max graduate loan balance:
    $250,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS refinancing:
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

N/A
4.5%+
  • Fixed APR:

    4.5%+
  • Variable APR:
    N/A
  • Min. credit score:
    670
  • Loan amount:
    $10,000 up to the total amount
  • Loan terms (years):
    7, 10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Military deferment, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    None
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have at least $10,000 in student loans
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    No
  • Loan servicer:
    AES
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    No maximum
  • Max. Gradaute Loan Balance:
    No maximum
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

N/A
5.49%+
  • Fixed APR:

    5.49%+
  • Variable APR:
    N/A
  • Min. credit score:
    670
  • Loan amount:
    $7,500 to $300,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 8, 12, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Does not disclose
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    None
  • Eligibility:
    Must be a U.S. citizen and have and at least $7,500 in student loans
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone, chat
  • Soft credit check:
    Yes
  • Cosigner release:
    After 12 months
  • Loan servicer:
    PenFed
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $300,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    $300,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Yes


Credible Rating


Credible lender ratings are evaluated by our editorial team with the help of our loan operations team. The rating criteria for lenders encompass 78 data points spanning interest rates, loan terms, eligibility requirement transparency, repayment options, fees, discounts, customer service, cosigner options, and more. Read our full methodology.

N/A
4.29%+
  • Fixed APR:

    4.29%+
  • Variable APR:
    N/A
  • Min. credit score:
    680
  • Loan amount:
    $7,500 to $250,000
  • Loan terms (years):
    5, 10, 15
  • Repayment options:
    Academic deferment, military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability
  • Fees:
    None
  • Discounts:
    Autopay
  • Eligibility:
    Available in all 50 states; must also have at least $7,500 in student loans and a minimum income of $40,000
  • Customer service:
    Email, phone
  • Soft credit check:
    Does not disclose
  • Cosigner release:
    No
  • Loan servicer:
    Rhode Island Student Loan Authority
  • Max. Undergraduate Loan Balance:
    $150,000 – $249,000
  • Max. Graduate Loan Balance:
    $200,000 – $249,000
  • Offers Parent PLUS Refinancing:
    Yes
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About the author

Andrew Dunn

Andrew Dunn

Andrew Dunn is an award-winning mortgage and finance writer with a decade of experience covering the industry with articles published at Fox Business, LendingTree, Credit Karma, Axios Charlotte, and more.

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