June 24, 2024

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Student loan payments are notoriously difficult to pay off. In fact, on average it takes borrowers 20 years to pay off their student loans, according to a 2021 report from the Education Data Initiative.

And while the Biden-Harris student loan forgiveness plan was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2023, borrowers with an outstanding balance may still be able to turn to one other option to reduce their balance (or even wipe it altogether). Winning a grant means getting financial aid you don’t have to pay back (unlike a loan). Just keep in mind that many of these grants require you to belong to a certain profession and perform specific services to qualify, and even then there’s no guarantee you’ll be awarded the financial aid.

Still, when you’re staring at a stubborn student loan bill and wondering how you’ll ever pay it off, these grants could be worth exploring as a solution. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

What we’ll cover

Can you get a grant to pay off your student loans?

The short answer is that, yes, it is possible to get a grant to help you pay off your student loan debt. Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be paid back (unless, of course, there was an expectation of a service or some other commitment to receive the grant and you didn’t follow through).

You should also carefully read the grant’s eligibility guidelines, since some programs may require that you work in a specific role or industry for a set number of years to remain a qualifying recipient.

Non-profit organizations and some private companies tend to be good avenues for sourcing grants but you may also keep an eye out for federal or state-specific programs.

Where do you find student loan grants?

You’ll have to do some digging online to find grants designed to pay off your student loan debt, but here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the biggest ones.

1. National Health Service Corps

The NHSC provides both scholarships and loan repayment programs to doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, mental health providers and other health care professionals. If you fall within one of those qualifying roles and perform at least three years of full-time service in an underserved community at an NHSC-approved site, you can qualify for a grant of up to $120,000.

Their website offers additional criteria for smaller grant amounts.

2. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Nurse Corps Repayment Program

If you’re a registered nurse (RN), advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or nurse faculty member (NF), this program pays up to 85% of your unpaid nursing education debt. If you accept this grant, you’ll have to also work for a minimum of two years in a critical shortage facility or an eligible nursing school as a nurse faculty member.

See their website here.

3. John R. Justice Student Grant Program

This program provides $10,000 per year (with a total maximum benefit of $60,000) to state public defenders or prosecutors. Full-time employees of nonprofits that operate under a contract for a state or local government and provide legal representation to indigent persons also qualify.

See more details here.

4. Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program

This program is meant for incoming honors program attorneys and awards them $6,000 per year with a $60,000 total maximum benefit. Eligible attorneys must also have a minimum student loan balance of $10,000.

See more details here.

State-sponsored grants and loan forgiveness programs

Some states also offer grant programs or loan forgiveness programs for residents with an outstanding student loan balance. Keep in mind that they may each have certain eligibility criteria beyond just residing in that state. Here’s what may be available to you:

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What if you don’t qualify for a grant or loan forgiveness program?

If you don’t qualify for any federal or state grants or loan forgiveness programs, refinancing your student loans can help make paying back your balance feel a little more manageable. Refinancing can also help you pay back your balance faster and save you money since, ideally, you’d be refinancing for a lower interest rate.

That being said, if you already have a fairly low interest rate on your student loan then you may want to pass on refinancing. Also keep in mind that if you have a federal student loan and you refinance with a private lender, you will lose all federal protections on your loan, like federal forbearance. However, taking the plunge can be well worth it. A former CNBC Select reporter refinanced his student loans six times and saved thousands of dollars in interest.

Citizens Bank Student Loan Refinancing is one of many strong options for student loan refinancing, particularly because the company allows you to refinance up to $300,000 and to apply with a co-signer. This helps student loan borrowers with low or non-existent credit scores to qualify.

One catch with Citizens Bank (and other refinancing companies) is that they require you to earn a minimum annual income to refinance (in Citizens Bank’s case, it’s $24,000). Earnest Student Loan Refinancing, however, doesn’t have this requirement and also doesn’t charge any origination fees to refinance, so it’s another solid contender to consider.

Citizens Bank Student Loan Refinancing

  • Cost

    No origination fees to refinance

  • Eligible loans

    Federal, private, graduate and undergraduate loans, Parent PLUS loans, medical and dental residency loans.

  • Loan types

  • Variable rates (APR)

  • Fixed rates (APR)

  • Loan terms

  • Loan amounts

    A minimum of $10,000, up to $300,000 (bachelor’s degree or below) or $500,000 (graduate degree)

  • Minimum credit score

  • Minimum income

  • Allow for a co-signer

Earnest Student Loan Refinancing

  • Cost

    No origination fees to refinance

  • Eligible loans

    Federal, private, graduate and undergraduate loans

  • Loan types

  • Variable rates (APR)

    5.72% – 9.74% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)

  • Fixed rates (APR)

    4.96% – 9.74% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)

  • Loan terms

    Flexible terms anywhere between 5-20 years

  • Loan amounts

    A minimum of $5,000, up to $500,000 (residents of California must request to refinance $10,000 or more)

  • Minimum credit score

  • Minimum income

  • Allow for a co-signer

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 5.21% APR to 10.04% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.74% APR to 9.99% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account.

Bottom line

Getting a grant or some other form of loan forgiveness can make a huge difference in your student loan management journey. Be sure to double-check what programs might be available to you. But if you’re having trouble making your student loan payments, reach out to your loan servicer ASAP to see what you can work out.

Why trust CNBC Select?

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.



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