For those interested in the mental health field, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be daunting. When completed, applicants for graduate school are typically left with only options to borrow loans to fund their post-undergraduate studies. Fortunately, there are options through federal, state, and local funding to repay those loans under specific requirements and circumstances.
Mental health professionals play a huge role by helping those with difficult situations and challenges overcome their problems and obtain the ability to create positive changes in their lives. The infographic below helps to provide licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists who work in high need communities the opportunity to research options for student loan repayment. Since becoming a mental health counselor requires a graduate degree, one way states try to gain licensed counselors in high need areas is through loan repayment programs.
While loan forgiveness programs exist, they are considerably different to repayment programs.
Student Loan Forgiveness: Loan amounts are forgiven, no need to repay
Teacher - up to $17,500, dependent upon full-time teaching for five consecutive years within designated schools
Public Service - remaining balance after 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualified employer.
Student Loan Repayment: Loan amounts are repayment through state and federal funded assistance.
By lessening the burden of large debt, mental health professionals are offered the opportunity to give back to neighborhoods in need and make an impact in underserved communities through the State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP).
The National Health Services Corps (NHSC) offers a State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) for more than 30 states across the nation. Through the SLRP, states are provided additional federal funding through cost-sharing to repay student loans for health services professionals which include the mental health services provided by marriage and family therapists and licensed professional counselors. While each state is eligible to apply, they must meet funding requirements and determine if their facilities are located in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Mental Health facilities are determined to be a HSPAs based upon several factors. In addition to these HSPA eligibility requirements for a facility, it must also be an approved site under the National Health Services Corps (NHSC) requirement.
While not every state may participate with the NHSC’s SLRP and not every provider is eligible, there are other options for repayment. The American Counseling Association lists several options, including the NHSC Loan Repayment Program for practice in Health Professional Shortage Areas.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO QUALIFY FOR A LOAN REPAYMENT PROGRAM?
In order to qualify for assistance from the program, each potential candidate must meet the following basic eligibility requirements for every state:
Be a U.S. citizen (U.S. born or naturalized) or a U.S. National
Work in a federally designated HPSA (Health Professional Shortage Area)
Work for a public or nonprofit entity
Work for at least 2 years, either full-time or half-time (assistance varies between the two)
Accept assignments for Medicare and Medicaid
Have a sliding scale for low-income and uninsured patients
Be a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist
Be employed throughout the entire loan repayment contract period
Have not defaulted on educational loans
Have not breached a health professional service contract
Some eligibility requirements and program structures are state-specific, such as award amount, service obligations length of requirement, and approved sites of employment within each state. Not everyone may be eligible to apply for the program. For example, State of Nebraska employees are not eligible for the Nebraska Loan Repayment Program. Individuals in the state of Arizona who have Primary Care Loans through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions are also not eligible to participate in the State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP). In order to ensure whether those interested in applying for these programs are qualified, it is recommended to go to each state’s SLRP designated website.
Additionally, there is often a dual application submission needed to be made by the mental health professional as well as their employer or employment site. States such as Nebraska (along with states like Kentucky, Virginia, and Idaho, among others) call for a dollar-to-dollar match requirement by the participant. This means that for every dollar amount offered by the state loan repayment program, a sponsor of the applicant must match an equal amount.