Members of the United States Air Force and other branches of the military epitomize what it means to be an American. They are heroes among the rest of us, and are known for maintaining the utmost professionalism, courage, and bravery through even the most stressful situations their service may throw at them.
It is only fair, then, that the federal government has a number of student loan forgiveness programs in place to help these service members put financially.
Keep on reading to learn more about these programs.
Air Force and student loan debt
It probably doesn't surprise you to learn that thousands of USAF members have student loan debt - and lots of it. With an average age of enlisted Airmen of 29 years old, many USAF members are the very millennials and Gen Z'ers that are afflicted by the student debt crisis.
Additionally, nearly 1/3 of Officers have advanced or professional degrees. And while there are no actual studies regarding outstanding balances for Airmen or Officers, the mere presence of military student loan assistance programs suggests that it is an issue.
More: Learn about the U.S. Navy Student Loan Repayment Program
Air Force student loan repayment options
The USAF does not have a student loan forgiveness programs to entice and reward new enrollees for their service. At one time, they offered the Air Force College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP), but at this time, the program is not operational.
But that does not mean that members of the Air Force are without options. In fact, depending on your role in the military, the loans you have, and other factors, you may qualify to participate in the following programs:
Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps (AFJAGC) Student Loan Repayment Program (JA-SLRP)
Air Force Reserve Loan Repayment Program
USAF Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP)
Perkins Loan Cancellation
1. Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps SLRP
From here on out, we're going to refer to this program as the JA-SLRP. This student loan program is reserved especially for members that serve as Air Force Judge Advocate Generals (JAG). JAGs are attorneys with JD degrees that effectively "delivers professional, candid, independent counsel and full spectrum legal capabilities to command and the warfighter," according to their website.
Qualifying JAGs may be eligible to earn up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance in return for at least four years of service (you can receive student loan benefits for three consecutive years after the completion of your first year of service.)
More: Learn more about Army student loan repayment programs
JA-SLRP program eligibility
At this time, the JA-SLRP is open to Air Force members that:
Are highly qualified JAG Officers serving the United States Air Force
Have JD (law) degrees from accredited institutions
You can find more information about JA-SLRP online.
2. Air Force Reserve Loan Repayment Program
Next is a program reserved for Air Force Reservists nationwide. The Reserve LRAP is intended to help the USAF recruit and retain talented individuals for the Selected Reserve, and more specifically, for critical wartime specialty roles.
Student debt assistance is available to those with federally guaranteed loans only, and is open to civilian accessions to the Air Force Reserve, as well as prior-service Airmen.
Potential loan assistance is available to the tune of $20,000 total over a six-year period. This $20,000 is disbursed according to the following bullets:
15% of your qualifying outstanding loan balance per year or
$500 per loan (including interest), whichever is greater...
...up to $3,500 per year. And again, you can participate for up to six years.
3. USAF Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP)
The USAF Health Professions LRAP (HPLRP) is open to physicians, dental corps officers, nurses, and other qualifying healthcare workers. Offering up to $40,000 annually in student loan forgiveness, HPLRP can be used for up to two years in exchange for qualifying military service.
Unfortunately, forgiveness under HPLRP is taxable at about 28%, but it is still a great program to consider.
HPLRP eligibility criteria
To be eligible for HPLRP, you'll need to:
Serve in a specialty designated on the Reserve Component Critical Wartime Shortages List (CWSL)
Be an accession to the Air Force Reserve or a reservist transferring into a critical specialty
Be assigned a valid and vacant position in a unit that is undermanned
Complete the program prior to your retirement eligibility date
Hold eligible student loans, including Federal Direct loans and health professions education loans
4. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Members of the USAF may also opt to use programs that are open to civilians as well. PSLF is among the most lucrative forgiveness programs out there for those that qualify, and can offer 100% forgiveness of your qualifying federal student debt over a period of a decade.
Here's how it works:
You'll enroll in one of the federal government's income-driven repayment plans
You'll make 120 qualifying monthly payments over a period of ten years
At the conclusion of this time, your qualifying federal student loan balance will be forgiven in full
United States Air Force and PSLF eligibility
We mentioned that PSLF is open to more than just military service members. To be eligible to participate in the PSLF program, you need to work in public service on a full-time basis. Luckily, in January 2022, the Department of Education announced that they would begin to count months spent on active duty towards PSLF regardless of whether you were actually making payments during this time.
These months count towards your 120 even if your loans were in deferment or forbearance while on active duty.
5. Perkins Loan Cancellation
Members of the Air Force with outstanding Perkins Loans may also qualify to have 100% of these loans cancelled over a period of five years. Under the terms of the program, "active duty Airmen and Guardians in hostile fire or imminent danger pay areas for at least one year are eligible for Cancellation of their Federal Perkins Loan Program student loans," according to My Air Force Benefits.
Air Force student loan repayment tips and tricks
Up to this point, we've spent a lot of time outlining the various options that members of the USAF have to deal with their student debt. Now, we want to provide you with a few tips to consider that we've learned over the past couple of years before you take action.
First, do not refinance your loans until you are sure as to what debt strategy you want to use. Refinancing with a private lender will likely cause you to lose eligibility for any forgiveness options you may be considering. And once you've refinanced, there is no process to convert back to federal loans.
Additionally, it likely makes sense for you to keep an open mind as you explore potential programs to utilize over the course of your repayment. You may be tempted to use PSLF. for instance, since it can wipe out 100% of your qualifying federal loans, but remember to weight the pros and cons of each program before drawing any conclusions.
As it pertains to PSLF, this forgiveness is true, but will only occur after you make 10 years of reduced payments first.
Our own student loan calculator can help members of the Air Force model out scenarios just like this.
Download our student loan calculator
Members of the USAF should consider downloading our free student loan calculator. This comprehensive tool will project your monthly payments, debt-free years, and remaining balances under the following forgiveness and alternate repayment strategies:
This free tool is incredibly comprehensive and provides you with everything you need to save tens of thousands of dollars and/or cut years off your repayment by choosing a more advantageous repayment strategy.
Don't forget about refinancing
For some Airmen and Officers, none of these programs will be a good fit, especially since some are reserved for JAGs and Reservists. And that's okay, because you may be able to save a lot of money off your repayment by refinancing your student loans.
Many Americans are scared of the process. And while that's understandable, it can really be quite simple. Turning to Splash Financial can be a great start since they are a student loan marketplace that can compare rates from multiple potential lenders for you. Checking your rate with Splash is free, takes a couple minutes, and doesn't impact your credit score. So what are you waiting for?
Members of the USAF have multiple different approaches to dealing with their outstanding student loan debt. And while there is no one best solution for all Airmen, it is nice that there are a variety of options available.
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