Why one teacher changed careers and gave up loan forgiveness

Aug 24, 2022, 4:00 AM | Updated: 4:03 am

During my first class of the day, I asked a question to my students, or rather to their avatars on the screen of our online classroom. I waited for an answer but received silence. As none of my students turned on their cameras, I couldn’t know why I didn’t get a response, but some were likely on their phones or back in bed. I started to cry at the futility, and for a profession I no longer recognized.

Today, I am one of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers who left education since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In doing so, I lost the promise of loan forgiveness that I’d been counting on. My balance of nearly $50,000 will need to be paid back, in full.

Still, I know I made the best decision for my family and me. I was deeply unhappy and unfulfilled.

“If someone had an opportunity to vastly improve their financial situation and their career satisfaction, I certainly could not fault them for moving on and putting forgiveness in the rearview mirror,” says Barry Coleman, an executive at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Here are the factors I considered and the steps I took to safeguard my family’s financial health.


Borrowers typically must make 120 on-time payments while working full time for a qualifying employer before they are eligible to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or PSLF.

As I contemplated leaving education, I wanted to see how close I was to total forgiveness. According to my FedLoan account, I was short by 64 to 74 payments, depending on the loan. (MOHELA, the new loan servicer that is taking over the portfolio previously held by FedLoan Servicing, has a similar payment tracker on its website.)

If you’re closer to loan forgiveness, it may be worth delaying a career change. A few notes:

— Borrowers will receive credits for the months they went without making payments during the current federal student loan payment pause due to the pandemic. They’ll still have to certify their employment during this period.

— There’s a waiver in effect for Public Service Loan Forgiveness that may count previously ineligible payments toward the required total. You must submit a combined PSLF/employment certification form by Oct. 31, 2022 , for consideration.

— Teachers who serve low-income schools for five consecutive years may receive loan forgiveness for federal loans up to $17,500. This program, Teacher Loan Forgiveness, is separate from PSLF.


With loan forgiveness off the table, I needed a payoff plan. First, I had to find a higher-paying job, which fortunately happened swiftly.

“Depending on the career you’re pivoting to and the new salary, the loan balance can be recouped quickly,” says Jillian Lucas, founder of JML Career Coaching.

But there’s more to consider than just the bottom line.

Compensation for teachers is unique in a few ways. Because many teachers don’t work over the summer, they are paid for 10 months of work, not 12. Teachers looking to switch careers should factor that in when evaluating job offers.

Plus, public school teachers in many states are eligible to receive a traditional pension, an increasingly rare benefit. If you didn’t stay in teaching long enough to qualify, then finding a job that offers a 401(k) match may be a priority.

Also look at bonuses, stipends, equity and insurance premiums when considering new jobs. How do those compare to what you’re giving up as a teacher?


When loan forgiveness is no longer an option, you’ll have to determine a new debt payoff date. Online calculators can help.

Next, figure out what repayment approach is best for your new situation. To qualify for PSLF, borrowers have to enroll in one of four income-driven repayment plans. But if you no longer qualify for loan forgiveness due to a career change, you needn’t be wedded to a particular plan.

There are ways to hasten your payoff date, too. You could send “extra” money like tax refunds toward debt. Be sure to tell your loan servicer to apply any additional payments to your current balance rather than counting it toward next month’s payment.

Or try the biweekly payment method. Say your monthly loan payment is $500. Instead of paying $500 a month, you’ll pay $250 every two weeks. At the end of the year, you’ll have made the equivalent of one extra month’s payment.


At the time I left teaching, I was just 13 months of qualifying employment shy of partial loan forgiveness. I had already put in 12 years; couldn’t I do one more?


I’m not an impulsive or financially irresponsible person, but I had fallen out of love with my job. Who was this teacher that I had become, and what would I be like as a teacher, a mother and a wife after another year in this career? My mental health and my family’s equilibrium would suffer deeply, and nothing — not even thousands of dollars of loan forgiveness — is worth that.

“Everyone deserves a job they love,” Lucas says. “And money will only take you so far if you hate what you’re doing.”


This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Jae Bratton is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: jbratton@nerdwallet.com.


NerdWallet: Biweekly Student Loan Payments Knock Out Debt Faster https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-biweekly-student-loan-payments

PSLF Waiver Offers Way to Get Closer to Loan Forgiveness https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/pslf-limited-waiver

Loan Simulator https://studentaid.gov/loan-simulator/

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, wipes a tear from her face during a news conference o...

Associated Press

Mother of man who killed Gabby Petito said in letter she would help son ‘dispose of a body’

The mother of the man who killed Gabby Petito told her son in an undated letter that she would “dispose of a body” if needed because she loved him so much, according to copies of the note shared publicly for the first time this week by attorneys for Petito's parents.

3 days ago

A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, places flags in front of e...

Associated Press

5 things to know about Memorial Day including its controversies

Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers.

3 days ago

FILE - This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he test...

Associated Press

Officers describe chaos, fear on Jan. 6 as judge weighs prison time for Oath Keepers’ Rhodes

Police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and public servants who fled the mob's attack told a judge on Wednesday that they are still haunted by what they endured, as the judge prepares to hand down sentences in a landmark Capitol riot case.

4 days ago

Pride month merchandise is displayed at the front of a Target store in Hackensack, N.J., Wednesday,...

Associated Press

Target on the defensive after removing LGBTQ+-themed products

Target once distinguished itself as being boldly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.

5 days ago

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Former Arizona television journalist announces bid for Schweikert’s US House seat

A former Phoenix television journalist announced her candidacy Wednesday for the congressional seat currently held by seven-term Republican Rep. David Schweikert.

5 days ago

Tortoise by Henry Davis earned an honorable mention in the "Adventures in Nature” student photo c...

Associated Press

When you adopt a desert tortoise, prepare for a surprisingly social and zippy pet

They’re not fluffy, they don’t play fetch and they certainly don’t roll over. But there is such a thing as a lap tortoise.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]



Why drug-free weight loss still matters

Wanting to lose weight is a common goal for many people as they progress throughout life, but choosing between a holistic approach or to take medicine can be a tough decision.

(Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty Images)...

Cox Communications

Valley Boys & Girls Club uses esports to help kids make healthy choices

KTAR’s Community Spotlight focuses on the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and the work to incorporate esports into children's lives.

Why one teacher changed careers and gave up loan forgiveness