Americans are no stranger to student loans, with federal and private student debt growing from about $340 billion in 2001 to nearly $1.7 trillion in September 2020. Floridians on average hold 3% less in student debt ($35,496) than the average borrower in the U.S. ($36,689).
The coronavirus pandemic has provided some relief, with certain federal student loans payments temporarily suspended through Jan. 31, 2021. But the 2.6 million borrowers in Florida are generally in a worse position than their peers when it comes to student debt.
Here’s what else you should know about student loans in Florida.
Florida borrowers owe average of $35,496 in federal, private student loan debt — and more facts
Florida’s public university system has an enrollment of more than 300,000 students, spread out among 12 institutions.
Florida graduates have about $1,200 less, on average, in student debt than the average borrower nationwide. The state offers a wide range of grants and scholarships, including:
- Access to Better Learning and Education Grant Program
- Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program
- Benacquisto Scholarship Program
- First Generation Matching Grant Program
- Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program
- Florida Student Assistance Grant Program
- Florida Work Experience Program
- Honorably Discharged Graduate Assistance Program
- José Martí Scholarship Challenge Grant
- Mary McLeod Bethune Scholarship
- Minority Teacher Education Scholarship
- Rosewood Family Scholarship
- Scholarships for Children and Spouses of Deceased or Disabled Veterans
- William L. Boyd IV Effective Access to Student Education
A standout from the list is the merit-based Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, which covers 75% to 100% of tuition and fees, depending on the award level.
The Florida Legislature was considering an income-dependent Sunshine Scholarship that would have given community college students free tuition, provided they stayed and worked in the state. The bill, though, was withdrawn from consideration as the coronavirus crisis began.
Student loan debt in Florida’s largest counties, from Brevard to Volusia
Student loan debt by ZIP code in Florida’s 3 largest cities: Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa
Student loan repayment programs for Florida residents
The federal government offers four income-driven repayment options:
- Income-Based Repayment
- Income-Contingent Repayment
- Pay As You Earn
- Revised Pay As You Earn
Loan terms range from 20 to 25 years, with borrowers generally owing 10% to 20% of their discretionary income. After this period, any remaining balance is forgiven. Borrowers must recertify income and family size information each year, which can alter payment amounts.
Loan Repayment Assistance Program
This Florida-specific repayment assistance program provides yearly $5,000 loans — which are forgiven annually by the Florida Bar Foundation — to part- or full-time civil legal aid organization employees. Contract attorneys aren’t eligible. The program, which has forgiven more than $10 million in loans since it was founded in 1992, aims to strengthen legal assistance for low-income individuals.
Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program (NSLFP)
Full-time licensed practical nurses, registered nurses or advanced registered nurse practitioners may be able to qualify for up to $4,000 a year — for four years — through this Florida program. NSLFP applicants must work at designated employment sites, such as public schools and teaching hospitals, to qualify.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Federal direct loan borrowers who work full time for federal, state, local or American Indian tribal governments or nonprofit organizations may qualify for PSLF after 120 qualifying monthly payments. Borrowers must be using one of the income-driven repayment plans. Federal Student Aid offers a PSLF Tool for interested borrowers.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
Full-time teachers who work for five consecutive years at qualifying schools or educational service agencies can earn up to $17,500 through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. The maximum forgiveness amount is reserved for those who teach math, science or special education. Those not teaching in these fields can earn a maximum of $5,000.
Florida federal student loan borrowers younger than 25 owe less than national average — and more comparisons
How to refinance student loans in Florida
More than 8% of borrowers in Florida owe $100,000 or more in federal student loans, so refinancing could be a useful financial tool.
Refinancing student loans can help borrowers lower their interest rates and save money long term. Plus, they’d only have to keep track of repaying one loan. But refinancing would mean giving up federal protections, including income-driven repayment and possible forgiveness options.
Start by rate-shopping to find your best options, but be sure to use prequalification to avoid dings to your credit score through hard inquiries. Complete an application once you’ve decided the best option for you. If approved, the lender would replace any existing federal and private student loans with a new one.
- U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2020
- Anonymized My LendingTree June 2020 credit reports
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax as of June 2020
Because the latter data is from 2015, researchers estimated the increase in student loan debt per borrower in the state using statewide data from anonymized credit reports.