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Volunteering your time is a great way to give back and feel connected with your community — but those aren’t the only benefits of becoming a volunteer. A number of government and private not-for-profit volunteer opportunities also help you pay off your student loans while you generously donate your time.
Here’s what you need to know about volunteer programs that help pay off student loan debt:
How do volunteering programs pay off student loan debt?
The first few years after college can be a tough financial time for many recent graduates — especially those who are carrying student loan debt. It can be hard to find a job in your preferred field and at a salary that works for your needs. Even if you’re able to land a post-college job in your field, you may still be struggling to make ends meet — and hustling after hours with a second job may seem like the only way forward.
Volunteering can be a great way to give back to your community, learn important skills, make connections in your field, and potentially pay off your student loan debt. This can be a bigger win for you financially and career-wise than simply taking a second job to pay down your debt.
Both government and private not-for-profit programs can offer their volunteers a payment toward their student loan debt after the volunteers have fulfilled the eligibility requirements — generally a number of hours or time served.
Some government programs also allow full-time volunteers to put their loans on forbearance during the volunteer stint, and may even repay the accrued interest at the end of the volunteer period.
Any payments you make on your student loans will go toward the principal, since your loan isn’t currently accruing interest. That means you’ll get more bang for your volunteer buck if you’re able to take advantage of a volunteer student loan payment program before the end of 2022.
What volunteer options are available?
A variety of programs are available that offer to pay off the student loans of volunteers, and you may want to research volunteer opportunities to find the program that will be the best fit for your situation.
Here are some popular programs available across the country that may work for you and your interests:
- What it is: This government program places volunteers into service positions around the United States. A number of different programs under the AmeriCorps umbrella are available, requiring varying levels of volunteer commitment — from hourly work all the way through to long-term, full-time, residential programs. Volunteers work within communities to help address poverty, education, and environmental issues.
- Who can volunteer: Anyone age 18 or older can become an AmeriCorps volunteer. Additionally, some programs are open to volunteers as young as 16 or 17.
- How it can help pay down loans: Volunteering with AmeriCorps can help you pay down your student loans in a number of ways:
- Forbearance: AmeriCorps volunteers can put their federal student loans on forbearance while they’re volunteering.
- Payment of accrued interest: Interest will continue to accrue during the forbearance period. Volunteers who successfully complete their term of service will have their accrued interest paid off by the National Service Trust as part of their AmeriCorps Education Award.
- Segal AmeriCorps Education Award: Volunteers who complete their term of service are eligible to receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The full-time Education Award is equal to the maximum value of the Pell Grant, which changes from year to year. For the fiscal year of Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023, that amount is $6,895. Volunteers can earn the full-time award by serving 1,700 hours in a year, or they can earn smaller amounts by serving fewer volunteer hours. This award can be used to pay qualified student loans — specifically, federal or other government student loans.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): AmeriCorps volunteers are eligible for PSLF. If you put your federal Direct Loans on forbearance during your AmeriCorps service and then use the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award as a lump sum payment toward your loans, you’ll receive credit for up to 12 qualifying payments for PSLF.
- What it is: The Peace Corps sends American citizens abroad as community development volunteers. Volunteers work in any number of different fields, including education, entrepreneurship, healthcare, and women’s empowerment.
- Who can volunteer: U.S. citizens who are 18 or older can volunteer.
- How it can help pay down loans: Peace Corps volunteers are eligible for deferment while they’re volunteering. Peace Corps service also qualifies for PSLF. Volunteers who have Perkins Loans may qualify for a partial forgiveness of between 15% and 70% of the balance.
Shared Harvest Fund
- What it is: Shared Harvest Fund was founded in 2018 with the mission of connecting student loan borrowers with volunteer opportunities in exchange for student loan debt assistance. Though Shared Harvest Fund began with a wide array of volunteer opportunities, it switched during the pandemic to working exclusively with MyCovidMD, which provides COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and care to underserved communities.
- Who can volunteer: Since Shared Harvest Fund is now exclusively connecting volunteers with MyCovidMD, volunteer opportunities are mostly available for healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, EMTs, therapists, social workers, and any other frontline healthcare workers.
- How it can help pay down loans: Volunteers earn reward points every time a volunteer project is completed. Each project can earn a volunteer $125 to $500 in student loan relief, and volunteers can earn a maximum of $12,500 per year in student loan payoff. Shared Harvest Fund pays the volunteer’s student loan servicer directly.
Teach for America
- What it is: Teach for America places educators in underserved communities for at least two years of teaching. Generally, teachers will be working in either urban or rural areas that are economically disenfranchised.
- Who can volunteer: To participate in Teach for America, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school as of the first day of training; you must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale; you must be a U.S. citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident, or otherwise authorized to legally work in the United States.
- How it can help pay down loans: As a Teach for America educator, you’ll receive a salary plus benefits from the school district where you’re placed. These salaries range from $32,500 to $60,000, depending on the area. Your time teaching with this program will also count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Are there other ways to lower my student loan debt?
While volunteering can potentially help you build your skills and network while also providing a path to student loan payoff, it is by no means the only way to reduce your student loan debt. If you’re a recent college graduate, you may also want to look into refinancing your student loans to lower your debt burden.
Refinancing student loans is a process where you take out a new, single loan that you use to pay off your previous student loans. This will give you a single monthly payment under just one loan servicer, rather than having to keep track of multiple loans, servicers, and terms. Refinancing can often reduce your interest rate or your repayment term, thereby saving you money over the life of the loan.
The student loan consolidation companies in the table below are Credible’s approved partner lenders. Because they compete for your business through Credible, you can request rates from all of them by filling out a single form. Then, you can compare your available options side-by-side. Requesting rates is free, doesn’t affect your credit score, and your personal information is not shared with our partner lenders unless you see an option you like.
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