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Student Loan Forgiveness for Native Americans: Everything You Need to Know

Native American Student Loan Forgiveness Tips
Melissa Brock
Melissa BrockUpdated August 1, 2023
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There are specific plans that Native Americans may be eligible for to help get relief from student loan debt.  Read on for more information about student loan forgiveness for Native Americans, plus other options available for paying off your student loans.

What Is Student Loan Forgiveness?

With student loan forgiveness, all or some of a borrower’s student loan debt is canceled or forgiven, and they are no longer obligated to pay for the forgiven amount. There are different types of forgiveness, including federal and state programs, as well as those for certain professions or groups, such as military student loan forgiveness. There are also programs specifically aimed at Native American student loan forgiveness.

Native American Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Here are five indigenous student loan forgiveness programs, how they work, and the eligibility requirements.

1. Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program

The Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program assists those in health profession-related positions, such as physicians, nurses, dentists, and psychologists, with loan repayment. To qualify, applicants must work full-time at a health facility serving American Indian or Native Alaskan communities for two years, and if approved, they may receive up to $40,000 in loan repayments and up to $4,000 a year for tax liability purposes. If you have more than $40,000 in loan debt, you can extend your initial two-year contract and get up to an additional $20,000 per year until your debt is paid off.

2. Tribal College or University Cancellation 

If you teach for five years at an accredited tribal college or university, and are a full-time faculty member, you may be eligible for having 30% of the original principal amount of your Perkins Loan canceled.In this program, 15% of the original principal loan balance plus interest is canceled the first and second years, 20% plus interest is canceled the third and fourth years, and 30% is canceled the fifth year. If you continue in eligible employment, your loan is canceled in full at the end of five years.This program is one of a number of options for student loan debt forgiveness for teachers that you can explore.

3. Native American Grants

The Indian Higher Education Grant program offers financial aid to eligible American Indian/Alaska Native students to help with attendance at an accredited higher education institution.In order to qualify for the program, you must be:
  • An American Indian/Alaska Native
  • Accepted or enrolled in an accredited degree program, college or university
  • Enrolled in a federally recognized American Indian tribe or Alaska Native village (or a family member must be enrolled)
Prior to applying, you can answer a series of questions to see if you may be eligible for this benefit. 

4. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

If you work full-time for a federal, state, local, or tribal government or nonprofit organization and are repaying your loans in an income-driven repayment plan, you may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. After you make 120 qualifying monthly payments, PSLF forgives the remaining balance of your federal Direct Loans. Direct Loans are low-interest loans granted by the federal government to help students pay for postsecondary education under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. 

5. Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Teaching full-time for five consecutive years in a low-income school or educational service agency may qualify you for forgiveness of up to $17,500 on federal loans, including Direct subsidized and unsubsidized Loans and subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. You may also be able to obtain forgiveness for the outstanding portion of a Direct Consolidation Loan or a Federal Consolidation Loan.If you received a Perkins Loan in the past, you can qualify for up to 100% cancellation if you serve full-time in a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school system in a high-need school. You can also teach part-time at multiple schools, at a private school, preschool or pre-kindergarten or low-income school. All Bureau of Indian Education elementary and secondary schools that operate on Indian reservations qualify as schools that teach low-income students.

Student Loan Forgiveness Alternatives

In addition to programs for Native Americans, there are some other student loan forgiveness alternatives you may wish to consider. And in cases of financial hardship, deferring student loans, which means getting approval from your loan servicer to pause them temporarily, could also be an option.

Student Loan Income-Driven Repayment Programs

An income-driven repayment plan makes student loan repayment more manageable by putting you on a payment plan based on your income and family size. Income-driven repayment plans base the borrower’s minimum monthly payment on the income they earn, and their payment won’t surpass 10% to 20% of their discretionary income. This type of payment plan is long-term—20 to 25 years—but it can make it easier to afford payments. On June 30, 2023, President Joe Biden announced the SAVE Plan, an income-driven repayment plan that could lower payments to as little as 5% of monthly earnings.One way to get an overview of all your options is to contact your loan servicer for all the student loan repayment plans available.

Student Loan Refinancing

When you refinance student loans, you apply for a new loan that replaces your original loans and you get new rates and terms. There are advantages and disadvantages of student loan refinancing. One perk is that refinancing your student loans may help you get a lower interest rate so that you could save money and pay off your student loan debt faster.However, a major drawback is the way refinancing impacts student loan forgiveness. If borrowers refinance a federal student loan into a private loan, they lose access to federal protections and benefits. It’s very important to be aware of this if you’re considering refinancing federal loans. Learn more about the and the costs of refinancing before you make a final decision about whether it's the right option for you. 

The Takeaway

There are a number of student loan forgiveness programs for Native Americans that could help you make considerable headway in paying off your student loan debt. Explore the available plans to see what you might be eligible for.If you don’t qualify for one of these programs, there are other options, such as income-based repayment plans and student loan refinancing, that may make it a little easier to manage and pay back your student loans.

3 Student Loan Refinance Tips

  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. One pain-free way to pay down your student loan sooner: send in your tax refund to put against the principal balance. Since it’s money that has already been taken out of your pay, you won’t miss it.
  3. If you teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school, you may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get your student loans forgiven if you are Native American?
Do you need to prove that you are Native American to have your student loans forgiven?
Which kinds of student loans can be forgiven for Native Americans?
Photo credit: iStock/cagkansayin

About the Author

Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is a higher education and personal finance expert with more than a decade of experience writing online content. She spent 12 years in college admission prior to switching to full-time freelance writing and editing. Her work has appeared on Yahoo Finance, Entrepreneur, Investopedia, The Balance, FinanceBuzz, The Journal of College Admission, MarketBeat, College Finance, Rocket Mortgage, LeverageRx, Benzinga, Morty, Ally, and more.
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