While student loan debt has become a real problem among American adults, a recent study from the Urban Institute shows that college debt falls disproportionately on borrowers of color. In fact, 42% of African Americans ages 25 to 55 carried student loan debt from 1989 to 2013, compared to just 28% of white adults.

Experts offer various explanations for this unfairness, including the fact that African Americans are more likely to attend for-profit schools—not to mention, the general wealth disparity that affects families of color.

The growing costs of college also play a role at a time when the return on a college degree has stagnated due to frozen wages and high costs of living. Add in the ridiculous financial costs of earning a graduate degree, and it’s easy to see how all borrowers—and especially borrowers of color—have gotten into this mess.

Real Answers for Nurses With Real Debt

On the flip side, there is some good news to report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses should see 16% growth in employment opportunities from 2014 to 2024. That surge should add 439,300 new jobs nationally over the course of a decade, which will make it easier for nurses, and especially minority nurses, to enter thriving careers that will make loan repayment possible.

Those looking for a way to escape their debts quickly will find plenty of ways out as well, although some repayment plans will take longer than others. If you’re looking for real ways to get out of student loan debt, consider these five options:

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1. Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation and Forgiveness

Federal Perkins Loans were created as a meaningful aid option for low-income students. If you have Federal Perkins Loans to repay, you could potentially have 100% of your balances forgiven after working full-time as a nurse for at least five years. To qualify, you must apply through the school that disbursed the loans or through your student loan servicer.

2. NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment offers another option for nurses willing to meet certain criteria. This program is available to nurses who are willing to work at least 32 hours per week in a critical shortage facility. To qualify, you must register for the program and work full-time at a facility with a high level of need. After two years of working there, you can have up to 60% of your loans forgiven. Add on another year and you can have an additional 25% of your loans forgiven.

3. Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Commonly referred to as PSLF, this is yet another program geared at nurses who are willing to jump through a few hoops to get their loans forgiven. Through PSLF, nurses can earn total forgiveness of their Direct Loans after working full-time in a public service position and making consecutive, on-time payments for 10 years. To be eligible, you have to work at least 30 hours per week for a public service health agency.

4. State-Based Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Plenty of states offer their own version of loan forgiveness for nurses, although the requirements and stipulations vary quite a lot between each program.

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5. Student Loan Refinancing

While nurses would have to give up government student loan protections like income-driven repayment, forgiveness, deferment, and forbearance when they refinance federal loans with a private lender, the payoff for doing so can be huge. If your loans are currently at a high interest rate, you can potentially save thousands of dollars on interest and potentially pay your loans off faster by refinancing into a new loan with better terms and rates. Of course, it’s crucial to run the numbers and weigh the pros and cons of this option before you dive in.

The Bottom Line

As a nurse, you’re able to help people overcome some of the biggest struggles of their lives. But, as a student borrower, you’re on your own.

With nearly $1.3 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt, it’s possible that most people you know are struggling with this issue. The key to finding a way out is to research as many programs and plans as you can until you find one that makes sense for your situation.

Andrew Josuweit
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