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Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness for Military Spouses

Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness for Military Spouses
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated January 11, 2023
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Veterans of the Armed Forces can qualify for a variety of benefits, including student loan forgiveness programs. Unfortunately, these student loan forgiveness programs don’t extend to military spouses. But while military spouse student loan forgiveness doesn’t exist, there are a number of national programs that could forgive your student debt. Here’s a closer look at your options for student loan relief as a military spouse. 

Military Spouses and the GI Bill

While military spouses can’t qualify for military student loan forgiveness programs, they may still qualify for other education benefits. If you are married to a military service member who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, for instance, he or she may be able to transfer some of their unused benefits to you or any dependent children. You could qualify for up to 36 months of benefits, which include money for tuition, housing, books, and supplies. If your spouse was an active duty service member or member of the Selected Reserve who died on or after Sept. 11, 2001, you might also qualify for similar benefits from the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship.

Requirements to Transfer GI Bill Benefits

Service members may be able to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse if they meet the following requirements: 
  • On active duty or in the Selected Reserve 
  • Have completed at least six years of service and agree to add four more 
  • Their spouse is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS)
To transfer benefits, you’ll need to request a Transfer of Entitlement (TOE) through milConnect. If the Department of Defense approves your request, your spouse can apply for benefits online or by filling out and mailing the Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits (VA Form 22-1990E) to their nearest VA regional office.   Spouses who receive benefits can use them right away or for up to 15 years after the service member’s separation from active duty. 

Military Spouse Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

While Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can help you pay for college, they won’t help you with paying off a student loan you already have. Here are some student loan forgiveness programs that might offer relief. 

Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

If you’re a teacher, you might qualify for loan forgiveness through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. This federal program offers up to $17,500 to highly qualified teachers who work in low-income schools or educational service agencies. The program’s requirements include: 
  • No outstanding balance on Direct or FFEL loans as of Oct. 1, 1998
  • Employed for five complete and consecutive academic years 
  • Borrowed loans before the end of your five-year teaching service 
The amount of loan forgiveness you could receive depends on the subjects you teach. Math, science, and special education teachers could receive up to $17,500, while teachers of other subjects could get up to $5,000. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness 

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program will forgive your entire federal student loan balance after 10 years of public service. You can work in any position, as long as you’re working for a qualifying organization. These include U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government organizations and not-for-profit organizations.You’ll also need to make 120 qualifying payments on an income-driven repayment plan. If you’re working toward PSLF, submit the Employment Certification Form every year to make sure you’re on track. 

Perkins Loan Forgiveness

If you borrowed a Perkins loan before the program closed in 2017, you might be able to get it forgiven. There are a number of professions that qualify for Perkins loan cancellation, including: 
  • Teacher
  • Early childhood education provider
  • Employee at a child or family services agency
  • Faculty member at a tribal college or university
  • Firefighter
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Librarian with master’s degree at Title I school
  • Military service
  • Nurse or medical technician
  • Professional provider of early intervention (disability) services
  • Public defender
  • Speech pathologist with master’s degree at Title I school
  • Volunteer service (AmeriCorps VISTA or Peace Corps)
You might have to work for five years to get full Perkins loan discharge. If you work for a shorter amount of time, you might qualify for partial Perkins loan forgiveness. 

Income-Driven Repayment 

Income-driven repayment plans can make your student loan bills more affordable. Plus, they can end in loan forgiveness if you still owe a balance at the end of your term. There are four income-driven plans: Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, Revised Pay As You Earn, and Income-Contingent Repayment. All of these plans come with a 20- or 25-year term. If you still owe money at the end, it will be forgiven. You might have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount, though taxes on loan forgiveness have been waived through 2025. 

Pres. Biden’s Loan Forgiveness Initiative 

In Aug. 2022, the Biden administration announced up to $20,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for borrowers who meet certain income guidelines. Specifically, you must make less than $125,000 as an individual or less than $250,000 as a married couple. You could receive up to $10,000 toward your federal student loans if you meet these guidelines. If you got a Pell Grant in college, you could get up to an additional $10,000 for a total of $20,000 in loan forgiveness. That said, this student loan forgiveness plan has come under legal challenges. At this point, the future of Biden’s forgiveness program remains uncertain and on hold while the challenges play out in court. 

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

While the SCRA doesn’t offer military spouse student loan forgiveness, it can reduce your costs of borrowing by capping your student loan interest rate at 6%. If your spouse is on active duty and the two of you have joint responsibility for the loans, you could be eligible for this interest rate cap. If your student loan interest rates are higher, call your loan servicer about reducing them. Reducing your interest rate can lower both your monthly payments and long-term loan costs. You might even qualify for a refund of interest you’ve already paid if it was over the 6% rate. You can qualify for the SCRA if your spouse serves in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or other branches of the military. 

The Takeaway

As a military spouse, you may be eligible for education benefits, including tuition assistance and a stipend for housing, books, and supplies. Plus, you might qualify for a 6% interest rate cap through the SCRA. However, there’s no option for military spouse student loan forgiveness. Instead, you can look to national student loan forgiveness programs, such as Teacher Loan Forgiveness and PSLF. Our student loan forgiveness guide shares additional options. You might also decide to explore your options for refinancing, which could result in a lower interest rate and new loan terms. Borrowers with excellent credit may qualify for competitive rates. At the same time, there are both advantages and disadvantages of refinancing a student loan. Be careful about refinancing federal loans with a private lender, as doing so means sacrificing federal forgiveness programs, repayment plans, and other protections. If you’re interested in exploring your rates, Lantern by SoFi can help. In our marketplace, you can compare options from different student loan refinancing lenders to find an option that fits your needs as a military spouse.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use your GI Bill to pay off your spouse's student loans?
Can military spouses qualify for PSLF?
Will the military pay off pre-existing student loans?
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About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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