How Can I Get My Student Loans Forgiven After 20 Years

When you start college, it’s unlikely that you expect to be working in the same field 20 years later. But, with student loan debt reaching an all-time high and wages staying flat, many students are finding themselves stuck in careers they never intended on pursuing.

For some, this means they’ll have to work for decades before they can even begin paying off their student loan debt. For others, it means that the prospect of ever paying off their loans is completely out of reach.

Fortunately for many people, there are federal programs that help borrowers who find themselves in these situations. If you’re struggling with student debt and wondering if you qualify for any forgiveness options, here are some things you should know:

Federal Student Loans Forgiven After 20 Years

How long does it take?

The length of time it takes for student loans to be forgiven depends on which program you’re approved for and what type of forgiveness option you choose. Generally speaking, repayment plans end after 10 years if they’re not consolidated into another plan or refinanced into an income-driven plan like Income-Based Repayment (IBR). These plans also offer forgiveness after 20 years if the borrower makes 120 payments on time

Federal Student Loans Forgiven After 20 Years

Do student loans get forgiven after 25 years? It depends on what types of student loans you have. Student loan forgiveness after 20 years or after 25 years is an option if you have certain federal student loans including:

  • Stafford loans
  • Grad PLUS loans
  • Consolidation loans

If you have qualifying loans, you must also sign up for an income-driven repayment plan. Depending on the specifics of your plan, your payment will be capped at a specific percentage of your income. Once you have made the required payments for either 20 or 25 years — depending, again, on which plan you choose — the remaining balance of your loans is forgiven.

Income Driven-Repayment Plans

Student loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years is an option only if you choose an income-driven payment plan for your eligible federal loans.

There are four options for income-driven repayment that could potentially result in loan forgiveness after 20 years or after 25 years. These options include:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): This limits payments to 10% of discretionary income. Any remaining loan balance will be forgiven after 20 years if all loans were for undergraduate study or after 25 years if you took out any graduate school loans.
  • Pay as You Earn (PAYE): This limits payments to 10% of your discretionary income but payments cannot exceed what you’d owe under the Standard Repayment Plan. Any remaining loan balance will be forgiven after 20 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR): If you’re a new borrower after July 1, 2014, this caps payments at 10% of discretionary income and payments cannot exceed the amount due under the Standard Repayment Plan. If you borrowed before July 1, 2014, payments are limited to 15% of discretionary income with the same payment cap. 20 year student loan forgiveness is available if you were a new borrower after July 1, 2014; otherwise, your remaining balance will be forgiven after 25 years.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): This limits payments to the lesser of 20% of discretionary income or the amount you’d owe on a repayment plan with a fixed 12-year repayment period, adjusted based on income. Loan forgiveness is available after 25 years.

So what happens to student loans after 20 years or after 25 years? Any remaining loan balance that remains unpaid at the end of your repayment period will be forgiven and you will no longer have to repay it.

20 Year Student Loan Forgiveness Options

If you are interested in 20-year student loan forgiveness, you must choose one of the following repayment plans for your eligible federal student loans:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn: This offers loan forgiveness after 20 years but only if all of your loans were for undergraduate study. During the 20 years when you’re paying loans, monthly payments will be capped at 10% of discretionary income.
  • Pay As You Earn: This offers loan forgiveness after 20 years to all eligible borrowers. Your payment equals 10% of your discretionary income during the 20-year period but can’t be higher than what you’d owe under the standard repayment plan.
  • Income-based repayment: This offers 20 year student loan forgiveness if you were a new borrower after July 1, 2014. If you meet this criterion, your payments will equal 10% of discretionary income with a maximum payment equal to the amount you’d owe under the standard repayment plan.

federal student loan repayment program

Any outstanding balance on your loan will be forgiven if you haven’t repaid your loan in full after 20 years (if all loans were taken out for undergraduate study) or 25 years (if any loans were taken out for graduate or professional study).

Eligible Loans

  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans made to students
  • Direct Consolidation Loans that do not include PLUS loans (Direct or FFEL) made to parents

The Federal student loan repayment program permits agencies to repay Federally insured student loans as a recruitment or retention incentive for candidates or current employees of the agency. The program implements 5 U.S.C. 5379, which authorizes agencies to set up their own student loan repayment programs to attract or retain highly qualified employees.

Employee Coverage

Any employee (as defined in 5 U.S.C. 2105) is eligible, except those occupying a position excepted from the competitive civil service because of their confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating nature (e.g., Schedule C appointees).

Loans Eligible for Payment

Loans eligible for payment are those made, insured, or guaranteed under parts B, D, or E of title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 or a health education assistance loan made or insured under part A of title VII or part E of title VIII of the Public Health Service Act. (See Q&A 17 for examples of the types of student loans that are eligible for repayment.)


Although the student loan is not forgiven, agencies may make payments to the loan holder of up to a maximum of $10,000 for an employee in a calendar year and a total of not more than $60,000 for any one employee.

Discretionary Authority

As with any incentive, this authority is used at the discretion of the agency. Each agency must develop a plan to describe how the program will be implemented.

Service Agreement

An employee receiving this benefit must sign a service agreement to remain in the service of the paying agency for a period of at least 3 years. An employee must reimburse the paying agency for all benefits received if he or she is separated voluntarily or separated involuntarily for misconduct, unacceptable performance, or a negative suitability determination under 5 CFR part 731.  In addition, an employee must maintain an acceptable level of performance in order to continue to receive repayment benefits.

Periods in a Non-Pay Status

Periods of leave without pay, or other periods during which the employee is not in a pay status, do not count toward completion of the required service period. The service completion date must be extended by the total amount of time spent in non-pay status. However, as provided by 5 CFR 353.107, absence because of uniformed service or compensable injury is considered creditable toward the required service period upon reemployment.

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