College costs are not getting any cheaper, and this just adds to the mounting debt that many college graduates (and drop-outs) are facing. Adding to the problem is the growing number of highly-qualified college graduates unable to secure a job. If you are having trouble repaying a student loan, read on. There are many programs available to help you repay, or even forgive, your student loan. (When federal student loan resources are exhausted, parents and students face tough decisions on how to pay. Read on in Should Parents Pay For College?)

It may not be what you envisioned when you were in law school, but joining a volunteer organization can help you repay your student loans. These programs provide a certain amount of money to repay your student loan, and in some cases a stipend, for each year that you volunteer with the organization. Here are some options:

  • AmeriCorps
    What it is: AmeriCorps is an organization with members that address critical needs in communities within the United States. As a volunteer, you might mentor disadvantaged youth, improve health services, teach computer skills or help communities respond to disasters.

    Benefits of Service:
    Full-time members who complete 12 months of service earn an award of $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school or to pay back qualified student loans. Some members may also receive a stipend of up to $7,400 for living expenses during the term of service.

    More Information:

  • Peace Corps
    What it is: The Peace Corps is an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship. Its goals are to help the people of interested countries meet their need for trained men and women, to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served and to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

    Benefits of Service:
    During service, volunteers receive vacation time, pay and living expenses, transportation to and from the country of service and deferment of student loans. In addition, volunteers with Perkins loans are eligible for a partial cancellation of student loans. 15% of your Perkins loans can be canceled after each 365 days of service during your first two years of service, and 20% can be canceled after completing each of the third and fourth year of service. In other words, four full years of service would equal a 70% cancellation of your existing Perkins loan.

    Another volunteer benefit is full medical coverage during service and affordable health insurance for up to 18 months following service.

    More Information:

  • AmeriCorps VISTA
    What it is: AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program developed specifically to fight poverty in the United States. Volunteers serve full-time for one year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working in areas such as promoting literacy, improving health services, creating businesses and strengthening communities.

    Benefits of Service:
    In exchange for one year of full-time service, you will receive between $4,725-5,350 to repay qualified student loans. Additionally, volunteers receive a modest living allowance, healthcare benefits while in service, childcare assistance while in service and student loan forbearance or deferment while in service.

    More Information:

  • Military Service
    U.S. Military services, such as the Army Reserve and National Guard offer several loan repayment and education bonus options. Depending on length of enlistment, the Army Reserve offers student loan repayment of up to $65,000 through the Army College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP). In addition, the Army College Fund can provide up to $83,448, when combined with the Montgomery GI Bill, to help pay for your college education. Cash enlistment bonuses are also available.

    More Information:

  • Teaching
    If you become a full-time teacher in a public school in a low-income area, a portion of your Perkins loan may be forgiven. This program forgives 15% of your loan for the first and second years of teaching service, 20% for the third and fourth, and 30% for the fifth. In other words, after five years of teaching service, up to 100% of your Perkins loan may be forgiven.

    For Stafford loans, up to $5,000 of the outstanding loan amount may be forgiven, following five years of teaching service, and up to $17,500 for teachers in certain specialties. Loan forgiveness is also available through the Direct and FFEL Consolidation Loan programs.

  • Nursing
    The Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program is a federal program that helps alleviate the critical shortage of registered nurses (RNs) by helping nurses who work at certain types of nonprofit health care facilities repay their student loans. Qualified participants can receive 60% of their nursing education balance for two years of service, and may receive 25% of the original loan balance after a third year. Participants still receive any salary and benefits they have negotiated with their employer.

    More Information:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness
    Those in a public service field, such as public interest lawyers, may find assistance through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. (Consolidating your student loans offers convenience, but there are drawbacks. Find out more in Should You Consolidate Your Student Loans?)

Even though repaying your students loans may seem like an insurmountable mission, there is help available. A little bit of time and effort can go a long way in helping you become free of student loans, and you just might do something rewarding and unforgettable in the process. (Not all student loans are the same. Know what you're getting into before signing on the dotted line by reading College Loans: Private Vs. Federal.)

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