When it comes to higher education, Native Americans face obstacles. Educationdata.org says that postsecondary attendance among American Indian and Alaska Native students “has been in decline since 2010.” Only 0.7% of college students identified as American Indian or Alaska Native in 2022.
“Research has found that American Indians and Alaska Natives have a much lower rate of college completion than the population as a whole,” the Department of Education’s (DOE) Federal Student Aid (FSA) says on its website.
The soaring cost of college could have something to do with this: The average annual cost of tuition at a public 4-year college is 23 times higher than in 1963. The average cost of college for in-state students at a four-year institution in 2022-23 was almost $11K. Students at private nonprofit four-year institutions paid over $39K on average.
According to the DOE, loan forgiveness (or cancellation) is generally the term used if you are no longer required to make payments on some or all of your student loans.
While there are some specific programs to help with Native American student loan forgiveness, it’s important to also research what financial aid, including scholarships and loans, is targeted toward American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Recommended: Student Loan Forgiveness: Programs for Relief and Mass Forgiveness
Picking a Career With Loan Forgiveness
One very important resource: The Bureau of Indian Education provides a list of scholarships and grants available to Native American students, such as the American Indian College Fund.
Many states offer financial aid to Native American students attending college. Some individual colleges and state schools also offer free tuition and room and board to Native American students. For instance, Native American students who are Montana residents can qualify for a tuition waiver
at Montana State University.
Keeping a career in mind when pursuing an education can make a big difference in financial aid and forgiveness options.
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One of the programs that gives priority to Native Americans is the Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program. This program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides funds for health professionals to help repay eligible education loans.
In 2023, the program announced an increase in the maximum annual award amount to $25,000 per year for new awards and extensions starting in Fiscal Year 2023. You can find details about the new award amount here.
In exchange, health professionals agree to an initial two-year service commitment practicing in areas that serve American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Priority enrollment in this program is given to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Professions across the healthcare spectrum, including behavioral health, dentistry, and dietetics, are available.
The organization says that available opportunities are based on the greatest staffing needs in Native American health facilities. Participants are also eligible to extend their contracts annually until their qualifying student debt is paid.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
This program, offered by the DOE, is open to all qualified students, not just Native Americans. The careers that may qualify for Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) range from forestry and natural resources to teaching and law enforcement.
To receive loan forgiveness for work in public service, applicants must work full-time for a qualifying government agency or certain nonprofits. After 120 on-time, qualifying payments in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, the remainder of the student debt can be forgiven.
The Department of Federal Student Aid offers a PSLF Help Tool to start work on the Employment Certification Form to apply.
Serving as a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteer also counts as qualifying employment for the program. Loans that may be eligible to be forgiven under PSLF include any non-defaulted loans that you received under the Direct Loan Program from the government. Private loans are not eligible for any federal forgiveness plans.
Recommended: A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
For students interested in pursuing a career in teaching, the DOE’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is key. If you teach full-time for five years straight in a low-income school or educational service agency, you might be eligible for up to $17,500 for certain subject areas.
Even if you don’t teach math, science, or special education, you could still receive up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness if you are a qualified full-time elementary or secondary education teacher.
This might be another option for Native American students looking for student loan debt forgiveness by giving back to a community in need.
To qualify, the school or educational agency must be listed in the directory, published by the DOE, for the years you were/are a teacher.
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Lowering Your Student Loan Payments
While student loan forgiveness is often a great solution for debt relief, sometimes you might not qualify for career-based programs. One solution is income-driven relief (IDR) for federal student loans.
The Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan is the newest income-driven repayment plan. Like other IDR plans, the SAVE Plan calculates your monthly payment amount based on your income and family size. In addition, the SAVE Plan has unique benefits that will lower payments for many borrowers.
The SAVE Plan lowers payments for almost all people compared to other IDR plans because your payments are based on a smaller portion of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Your payment for federal undergraduate loans could be as low as 10% of your discretionary income -– and that percentage could decrease to 5% in 2024.
The SAVE Plan has an interest benefit: If you make your full monthly payment, but it is not enough to cover the accrued monthly interest, the government covers the rest of the interest that accrued that month. This means that the SAVE Plan prevents your balance from growing due to unpaid interest.
Recommended: The SAVE Plan: What Student Loan Borrowers Need to Know About the New Repayment Program
Refinancing Student Loans
Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.
With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
NOTICE: The debt ceiling legislation passed on June 2, 2023, codifies into law that federal student loan borrowers will be reentering repayment. The US Department of Education or your student loan servicer, or lender if you have FFEL loans, will notify you directly when your payments will resume For more information, please go to https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20230529/BILLS-118hrPIH-fiscalresponsibility.pdf https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/covid-19
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
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