Some Employers Assist With Student Debt Payments

Professionals may qualify for loan repayment assistance programs.

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Many different voices have expressed their thoughts on whether and how to address the ever-rising student debt levels.

The Student Loan Ranger could go on about why we need relief and which solution(s) are best, but we like to keep it real here, so we'll try to stay focused on some tangible help out there for student loan borrowers.

This week, we'll highlight employer-based relief. Some employers may simply pay or reimburse the full cost of tuition, but the most common form of relief available from employers is loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs).

[Find out how to convince your employer to pay for school.]

LRAPs work differently than some of the programs the Student Loan Ranger has focused on before, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) or Income-Based Repayment (IBR). Rather than lowering your monthly payments or forgiving your loans, an LRAP provides money for you to put toward your loan payments.

Under an employer-based LRAP, for example, you may receive a stipend once a month to help make payments, which then frees up your earnings to pay for other necessities, like food and rent.

The programs are generally targeted to help foster and sustain public interest work, where salaries may be lower than their private sector counterparts.

We'd love our doctors, teachers, and yes, even our lawyers, to be able to serve the public, but that can be difficult when private sector positions can often pay three or four times as much. This is especially true when you're facing large sums of student debt, which, especially for professional degrees, can be upwards of $100,000. LRAPs can help with that. 

[Find out how to pay for graduate school.]

In addition to easing some of your debt burden, some public interest employers have found LRAPs also help recruit and retain talented and top employees. A number of employers are using LRAPs to do just that.

For example, Martin Health System in Florida offers assistance to nurses and pharmacists and has found that it has helped attract and retain employees, according to a subscription-based article on Workforce.com. A number of medical organizations provide assistance to physicians, and the Association of American Medical Colleges has a database of various loan repayment/forgiveness and scholarship programs for medical and other health professions.

Montana helps school districts entice teachers to its rural and high-need schools by providing loan repayment assistance to instructors teaching in subjects where there are teacher shortages, according to news station KXLH. The Student Loan Ranger hopes this can become standard in districts across the country. The American Federation of Teachers has a funding database of programs for teachers.

The National Institutes of Health provides assistance to help promote critical health research, and the Legal Services Corporation has an LRAP that helps recruit and retain highly qualified attorneys.

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The federal government also administers a student loan repayment program for employees of participating federal agencies, so if you work for a federal agency, check to see if it participates. And nonprofit employers also may offer LRAPs; for example, the Student Loan Ranger receives assistance from Equal Justice Works's LRAP.

Consider an LRAP part of your benefits plan. If you are in, or interested in, public interest, see if your employer has a program. If they don't, encourage them to create one. 

In addition to employers, LRAPs also may be available from schools. For example, many law schools have LRAPs, and Tufts University in Massachusetts has a university-wide program, which the Student Loan Ranger hopes will start a trend for colleges and universities.

[Determine how much to borrow for college.]

State governments may also offer LRAPs. For example, the National Health Service Corps provides matching funds to states to operate programs.

And federal government programs include the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which provide assistance to public defenders and prosecutors, and veterinarians, respectively.

LRAPs are a crucial form of relief for public interest employees who may not benefit from PSLF or IBR, especially if they had to borrow private loans—which many graduate and professional students did before 2006, when the Grad PLUS loan became available, and many undergraduate students still do, because of the limits on federal loans.

To help figure out how LRAPs, PSLF, and income-driven repayment plans work to help relieve student debt, register attend a free webinar, follow us on Twitter (use #studentdebthelp), and read our new e-book, "Take Control of Your Future."

Radhika Singh Miller is a program manager for Educational Debt Relief and Outreach at Equal Justice Works. She has served on student loan committees in the Department of Education's negotiated rulemaking focusing on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) and other debt relief initiatives. Radhika graduated from Loyola Law School Los Angeles. Prior to joining Equal Justice Works, she was a staff attorney at the Partnership for Civil Justice, focusing on constitutional and civil rights litigation and advocacy.