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Ultimate Guide to Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

With reporting by Hannah Rounds and Brittney Laryea

Becoming a schoolteacher is heralded as a rewarding profession but not one that often comes with a large paycheck. Starting salaries for public school teachers range from $27,000 to $48,000, according to the National Education Association. And yet, teachers who graduate with a Master in Education carry an average of $50,000 in student loan debt.

With salaries like these, it’s no wonder teachers can struggle to afford their student loan payments. Thankfully, classroom teachers qualify for many debt forgiveness programs. These programs can help give teachers an extra boost to help them pay down debt while working.

These are the most important student loan forgiveness programs for teachers, which we’ll review in detail in this guide.

To skip ahead to the program you’re interested in, just click the links below.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a 2007 program that originally promised to forgive federal student loans for any employees of nonprofit or public sector companies. That, of course, includes teachers.  Under the program, borrowers who made 120 on-time payments would ultimately qualify for loan forgiveness.

However, the program’s future is now uncertain. A proposed education budget from the White House appears to eliminate the program, and it is not yet clear whether or not enrolled workers will have their loans forgiven as promised. Any budget will have to receive Congressional approval, which means we may not have a certain answer for months to come.

How do l know if I’m eligible?

Teachers at nonprofit schools are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This includes public and private nonprofit schools. To qualify, teachers must make 120 on-time payments while working full time in a public service role.

The 120 payments do not have to be consecutive. However, you must pay the full amount listed on your bill. Additionally, your loans must be in good standing when you make the payment.

IMPORTANT: You can only qualify for loan forgiveness if you are enrolled in a qualified income-driven repayment option.  Learn more about income-driven repayment plans here.

Also, payments only count toward forgiveness if your loan is in active status. That means any payments made while loans are in the six-month grace period, deferment, forbearance, or default do not count toward forgiveness.

How can I be sure my employer is covered by PSLF?

There has been a lot of confusion about which employers are considered nonprofit or public service organizations. To be sure your employer is eligible, you should submit an employment certification form to FedLoan Servicing.

Although the future of the loan forgiveness program remains uncertain, borrowers may still want to prepare for a positive outcome and enroll in hopes that the program will continue.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

After 120 payments, the government will cancel 100% of the remaining balance and interest on your Direct Federal Loans.

Direct Federal Loans include: Direct Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans.

Will I have to pay taxes?

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is completely tax-free. You will not see an increased tax bill the year your loans are forgiven.

How to claim Public Student Loan Forgiveness

As the program launched in 2007 and requires 10 years of on-time payments, the first group of graduates who could be eligible for PSLF will begin submitting their applications in 2017.

But don’t expect it to happen automatically. Even if you qualify for loan forgiveness, the government will not automatically discharge your loans. You need to submit the PSLF application to receive loan forgiveness.

The applications for loan forgiveness are not yet available. The U.S. Department of Education will make them available before October 2017.

What if I have a Parent Plus, Perkins or FFEL loan?

As it stands, some types of federal student loans — such as Parent PLUS, Perkins and Federal Family Education Loans — are not included under the PSLF program. One way to get around this is by consolidating those loans through the federal direct consolidation program. If you take this route, the entire consolidation loan will be forgiven.

PSLF works best in conjunction with an income-based repayment plan. These plans lower your monthly payments.

Since you will qualify for loan forgiveness, this means more money in your pocket. Just remember, you must keep your loans in good standing — making 120 on-time consecutive payments — to qualify for forgiveness.

Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program encourages teachers to work in the neediest areas of the country. Teachers who qualify can have up to $17,500 in federal loans forgiven after five years.

How do I know if I’m eligible for Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness?

Teachers must complete five consecutive years of teaching at a low-income (Title I) school. If your school transitions off the list after your first year of teaching, your work in that school still counts toward forgiveness.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans can be forgiven. Loans must have originated after October 1, 1998. This is important for anyone who hasn’t paid off loans and wants to consider teaching as a second career.

Your loans may not be in default at the end of your five years of teaching. The only exception includes loans that are set up in a repayment arrangement.

You qualify for teacher loan forgiveness as long as you are on a qualified repayment option. These include the standard 10 year repayment plans or the payments required by an income-based repayment plan. If your loan goes into a default, a repayment arrangement works with this program.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

To receive the full $17,500 in forgiveness, you must meet one of two criteria: either work as a highly qualified math or science teacher in a secondary school, or work as a qualified special education teacher for children with disabilities.

Other highly qualified teachers can have up to $5,000 of loans forgiven if they work in Title I schools.

You’ll notice that all teachers must be “highly qualified.” To meet the highly qualified standard, you must be licensed in the state you work, hold a bachelor’s degree, and demonstrate competence in the subject(s) you teach. Do you need to check whether you’re highly qualified? The U.S. Department of Education explains qualification in detail.

Will I have to pay taxes?

The Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program forgives your loans and does not result in a taxable event.

How to apply

Qualified teachers must submit this application with administrative certification. Be sure you work with your school’s administration in advance.

Tips and tricks

Consider teaching at a Title I school directly after graduation. The loan forgiveness may help you achieve debt freedom within five years. Consider an income-based repayment program to lower your payments while you’re teaching.

Teacher Cancellation for Federal Perkins Loans

If you’re a teacher who took out a Federal Perkins Loan from your school, you may qualify for loan cancellation. Teachers can cancel up to 100% of their Perkins Loans after five years.

How do loans become eligible?

The teacher cancellation program for Perkins Loans is one the most lenient programs for loan forgiveness.

You will qualify to have loans forgiven if you meet any one of these three requirements:

  • You work full time in a low-income (Title I) school.
  • You work full time as a special education teacher.
  • You work full time in a designated shortage area (such as math, science, foreign language, bilingual education, or any shortage area declared by your state).

If you work part time at multiple qualifying schools, you may qualify for loan cancellation.

Your loans may be in a grace period, deferment, or any qualified repayment plan at the time of discharge. They may not be in default.

Also, you must be enrolled in a qualified repayment option. Your payment plan could be the standard 10 year repayment plans or an income-based repayment plan. If you qualify for deferment, your loans may still be eligible for cancellation.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

Over the course of five years, 100% of your Federal Perkins Loan will be forgiven. The discharge occurs at the end of each academic year. In years 1 and 2, the government discharges 15% of the principal balance of the loan. It cancels 20% of the loan in years 3 and 4 of service. The final year, the remaining 30% of your loan will be canceled.

In most cases, the five years of service do not have to be consecutive. However, this isn’t always the case. The university that issued your Perkins Loan administers the loan cancellation program. That means you need to check with your alma mater for complete details.

Will I have to pay taxes?

This program forgives your loans and does not result in a taxable event.

How to apply

You must request the appropriate forms from the university that holds the loans. If you don’t know the office that administers Perkins Loans, contact your university’s financial aid office.

Tips and tricks

If your Federal Perkins Loan qualifies for deferment, take advantage of this option. Under deferment, you don’t have to make any payments on the loan. At the same time, the government pays any accruing interest. Teachers who qualify for deferment can have 100% of their Perkins Loan forgiven without ever paying a dime.

TEACH Grant

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant isn’t like other loan cancellation programs. Under the terms of the program, you accept the money during your college years. Eligible students can receive a grant of up to $4,000 per year of education. After you graduate, you agree to work as a teacher for four years in a high-need field in schools that serve low-income families.

As long as you keep your end of the bargain, you don’t have to pay the money back. Otherwise, the grant transforms into a loan. If you’re planning to become a teacher, this can be a great opportunity. But you need to understand the details before you accept the grant.

How do I qualify for a TEACH Grant?

To qualify for a TEACH Grant, you must enroll in a teacher education program, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, maintain a certain GPA (usually 3.25), and agree to a work requirement.

When you accept a TEACH Grant you agree to work as a teacher in a high-need field serving low-income families. You must complete four years of full-time teaching within eight years of graduation.

In this instance, you take the money first and agree to do the work later. That means that you’re taking on a risk.

You must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, and you must complete a training and counseling module from StudentAid.gov. Pay attention to the training; it will help you understand the risks of the TEACH Grant.

What happens if I change my mind?

If you don’t keep up your end of the bargain and meet all of the work requirements, the funds get converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. What’s worse? The interest begins accruing from the point you received the grant. That means you’ll have the principal and interest to pay.

Don’t take a TEACH Grant unless you plan to meet the work requirements.

Will I have to pay taxes?

TEACH Grants are nontaxable education grants. However, you cannot claim a tax credit for education expenses paid by the grant.

Tips and tricks

The TEACH Grant offers a great way to graduate debt free, but you must commit to follow through. Don’t take the grant money unless you know that you can work as a teacher for at least four years.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs by State

Several states offer generous loan forgiveness opportunities. You can use these programs in conjunction with the federal programs above. Qualified applicants might achieve debt freedom in a few years with these programs. These are some of the highlights of state loan forgiveness programs.

If your state isn’t listed, check out the database at the American Federation of Teachers. They keep track of most major scholarship and loan forgiveness opportunities for teachers.

Arkansas State Teachers Education Program

The Arkansas State Teachers Education Program (STEP) helps teachers with federal student loans pay back their loans. Teachers must work in geographical or subject areas with critical shortages.

Arkansas teachers with federal student loans can receive loan repayment assistance if they serve geographical areas with teacher shortages. They can also receive repayment assistance if they have licensure or endorsements in designated subject areas.

Eligible teachers can receive up to $3,000 per year that they teach in critical shortage areas. There is no lifetime maximum of loan forgiveness. Licensed minority teachers can receive an additional $1,000 for every year that they qualify for STEP.

Arkansas Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP)

The Teacher Opportunity Program, or TOP, awards tuition reimbursement grants up to $3000 of out-of-pocket expenses to licensed Arkansas classroom teachers and administrators with the Arkansas Department of Education.

Arkansas classroom teachers and administrators who declare an intention to continue employment as a classroom teacher or administrator in Arkansas after completing their program are eligible for TOP. Applicants must also have at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA in the courses funded by the TOP grant when they apply.

Applicants who meet all requirements can receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses up to $3000 for courses related to employment. The grant reimburses educators up to 6 college credit hours each academic year.

Arkansas administrators and educators can find more information about TOP on the Arkansas Department of Higher Education website. Applicants must complete and submit an application to The Arkansas Department of Higher Education by June 1 each year.

Delaware Critical Need Scholarships

The Critical Need Scholarship program reimburses Delaware teachers for all or part of tuition and registration fees paid for courses that contribute toward the completion of a Standard Certification.

Full-time employees of a Delaware school district or charter school who teach on an Emergency Certificate in a critical need area as defined by the Delaware Department of Education. Applicants must also have a minimum 2.0 GPA.

The scholarship forgives all or part of tuition and registration fees paid up to $1,443 for undergraduate coursework or up to the cost of three credits per term for graduate coursework, not to exceed the cost of three credits at the University of Delaware.Courses must contribute toward the completion of a Standard Certification.

Teachers can find more information and application instructions here. You must apply through the school district or charter school where you are employed. The application cycles twice each year; one deadline is in January and the other is in June.

Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program

The Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program offers up to $5,000 to Illinois teachers who teach in low-income schools in Illinois. This award is meant to encourage the best teachers to serve students in high-need areas.

The Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program is a unique loan forgiveness matching program. Teachers must meet every qualification to receive Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness. In addition, teachers must have served all five years in a low-income Illinois school.

Teachers who meet all requirements can receive federal loan forgiveness up to $5,000. You must apply for Illinois loan repayment funds within six months of receiving federal loan forgiveness.

Iowa Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program

Iowa offers student loan repayment assistance to state-certified teachers as an incentive for educators to teach in subjects with a shortage of instructors through the state’s Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program.

Current Iowa teachers who began their first teaching position in Iowa after July 1, 2007 and are completing studies in a designated shortage subject area are eligible for the Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program.

Teachers must have a balance on either a Direct Stafford Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan and agree to teach in the shortage subject area upon graduation. For 2016 graduates, the maximum award is $6,858.

Recipients are awarded up to 20% of their remaining loan balance annually, up to the average resident tuition rate for students attending Iowa’s Regent Universities the year following graduation.

Teachers can find more information on the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website. The 2016-17 application window is between January 1 and March 31, 2017, for the academic year. Recipients must reapply each year.

Maryland Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program

Maryland offers loan repayment assistance to excellent teachers who teach STEM subjects or in low-income schools.

Only teachers who earned a degree from a college in Maryland or a resident teacher certificate from the Maryland State Department of Education qualify for this award. Additionally, qualified Maryland teachers must serve in low-income (Title I) schools or other schools designated for improvement. Alternatively, licensed teachers who work in designated subject areas such as STEM, foreign languages, or special education can qualify.

To qualify, you must earn less than $60,000 per year or $130,000 if married filing jointly.

Qualified teachers can have up to $30,000 repaid over the course of three years. The repayment assistance you receive depends on your overall debt load.

Total DebtOverall Award LimitYearly Payment
$75,001 – Over$30,000$10,000
$40,001 – $75,000$18,000$6,000
$15,001 – $40,000$9,000$3,000
$15,000 – Below$4,500$1,500

The Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program offers some of the most generous loan repayment terms. However, the program has stringent eligibility requirements. To find out more about your eligibility, visit the Maryland Higher Education Commission website.

Mississippi Graduate Teacher Forgivable Loan Program (GTS)

The Graduate Teacher and the Counseling and School Administration Forgivable Loan Program (GTS/CSA) was established to encourage classroom teachers at Mississippi’s public schools to pursue advanced education degrees.

Disclaimer: Due to budget constraints, only renewal applicants will be offered funds from the GTS program for the 2017-18 school year. No awards will be made to new applicants. It’s not clear whether the GTS program will resume offering funds to new applicants in the future.

Current full-time Mississippi public school teachers earning their first master’s degree and Class ‘AA’ educator’s license in an approved full-time program of study at a Mississippi college or university are eligible for the GTS program.

Selected applicants are awarded $125 per credit hour for up to 12 credit hours of eligible coursework.

Teachers can find more information about GTS program on the Rise Up Mississippi website. Complete and submit the online application with all supporting documentation by the year’s stated deadline. The application must be completed each year to remain eligible.

Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program (MTLR)

The Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program, or MTLR program, helps teachers pay back undergraduate student loans for up to four years or $12,000.

Disclaimer: Due to budget constraints, only renewal applicants will be offered funds from the MTLR program for the 2017-18 school year. No awards will be made to new applicants. It’s not clear whether the MTLR program will resume offering funds to new applicants in the future.

Mississippi teachers who currently hold an Alternate Route Teaching License and teach in a Mississippi teacher critical shortage area or in any Mississippi public or charter school if teaching in a critical subject shortage area are eligible for the MTLR program. Perkins and Graduate-level loans are not eligible for repayment.

Recipients can receive a maximum $3000 annually toward their undergraduate loans for up to four years or $12,000.

Teachers can find more information on the Rise Up Mississippi website. Complete and submit the online application by the year’s stated deadline. The application must be completed each year to remain eligible.

Montana Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program

The Montana Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program encourages Montana teachers to serve in high-needs communities or in subject areas with critical shortages. The program provides direct loan repayment for teachers who meet the requirements.

Licensed Montana teachers who work in “impacted schools” in an academic area that has critical educator shortages. Impacted schools are more rural, have more economically disadvantaged students, or have trouble closing achievement gaps.

Montana will repay up to $3,000 a year for up to four years.

New York City Teach NYC

Teachers hired by the New York City Department of Education who work in specified shortage positions can receive up to $24,000 in loan forgiveness over the course of six consecutive years.

Teachers must work in a New York City school in one of the following designated shortage areas:

  • Bilingual special education
  • Bilingual school counselor
  • Bilingual school psychology
  • Bilingual school social worker
  • Blind and visually impaired (monolingual and bilingual)
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Speech and language disabilities (monolingual and bilingual)

The NYC Department of Education will forgive one-sixth of your total debt load, each year for up to six consecutive years. The maximum award in one year is $4,000. The maximum lifetime award is $24,000.

North Dakota Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program

The North Dakota Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program encourages North Dakota teachers to teach in grades or content levels that have teacher shortages.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction identifies grades and content areas with teacher shortages. Teachers who work full time as instructors in those grades and content areas in North Dakota can receive loan forgiveness.

Teachers can receive up to $1,000 per year that they teach in a shortage area. The maximum lifetime award is $3,000.

This program is administered by the North Dakota University System. To get more information, teachers should visit the North Dakota University System website, call 701-328-2906, or email NDFinAid@ndus.edu.

Oklahoma Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program

Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program, or TSEIP, is a legislative program carried out by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to help attract and keep mathematics and science teachers in the state.

Oklahoma state-certified classroom teachers who are not yet certified to teach math or science are eligible for TSEIP. Teachers must also agree to teach in an Oklahoma public secondary school for at least five years.

TSEIP reimburses eligible student loan expenses or a cash equivalent. The amount reimbursed varies from year to year.

Teachers can find more information on about the TSEIP on the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education website. Fill out and submit the Participation Agreement Form to your institution’s TSEIP coordinator no later than the date of your graduation from a four-year college or university in Oklahoma.

South Carolina: Teachers Loan Program

The South Carolina Teachers Loan awards forgivable student loans to students studying to become public school teachers. The program was created as an incentive for state residents to pursue teaching careers.

South Carolina school teachers and residents enrolled at least half-time at an accredited institution. Students must already be enrolled in a teacher education program or express an intent to enroll in a teacher education program. If already certified, you must seek an initial certification in a different critical subject area.

Freshmen and sophomore recipients can borrow $2,500 for each year, all other recipients can borrow $5,000 each year, up to $20,000. Loans are forgiven only if teachers work in an area of critical need.

Teachers can find more information on about the Teachers Loan Program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and complete the application and submit it to South Carolina Student Loan.

South Carolina Career Changers Loan

The South Carolina Career Changers Loan awards forgivable student loans state residents who wish to change careers to become public school teachers. The program was created as an incentive for state residents to pursue teaching careers.

South Carolina residents who meet all requirements for the Teachers Loan, and have had a baccalaureate degree for at least three years. In addition, you must have been employed full-time for at least three years.

Recipients can borrow up to $15,000 per year up to $60,000.

South Carolina residents can find more information on about the Teachers Loan Program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and submit a completed application to South Carolina Student Loan.

South Carolina PACE Loan

The South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) loan reimburses individuals who have completed a PACE program. Those who are interested in teaching who have not completed a teacher education program may qualify to participate in the PACE program.

Teachers must be enrolled in the South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) program and have received an Educator’s Certificate for the current year. You must be teaching full-time in a South Carolina public school.

Participants can borrow up to $750 per year, capped at $5,000.

Teachers can find more information on about the PACE Loan program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and submit a completed application to South Carolina Student Loan.

Tennessee Math & Science Teachers Loan Forgiveness

The Tennessee Math & Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is offered through the Tennessee Student Assistance Coalition. The program awards up to $10,000 of forgivable loans to public school teachers working toward an advanced degree in math or science or earning a certification to teach math or science.

Tenured Tennessee schoolteachers working toward an advanced degree in math or science or earning a certification to teach math or science at an eligible institution. Recipients Must work in a Tennessee public school system for two years per each year of loan funding received.

Recipients are awarded $2,000 per academic year up to $10,000.

Teachers can find more information on the Tennessee Student Assistance Coalition website. Teachers must reapply for the program each academic year. The application has two cycles; one deadline is in February, the other is in September.

Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program

The Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program encourages Texas teachers to serve high-needs areas. Qualified teachers can receive up to $2,500 in loan repayment per year with no lifetime maximum.

Any Texas-based teacher with outstanding loans can apply for loan repayment assistance. However, funds are given out with priority to teachers who work in shortage subjects in schools with at least 75% economically disadvantaged students. Shortage subjects include ESL, math, special education, science, career education, and computer science.

If funds remain, they are given out in the following order:

  1. Teachers who work in areas with 75% or more economically disadvantaged students in nonshortage subjects.
  2. Teachers who work in shortage subjects in schools with 48.8%-75% economically disadvantaged students.
  3. Teachers who demonstrate financial need.

Eligible teachers can receive up to $2,500 in loan forgiveness each year with no lifetime maximum.

West Virginia Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program

West Virginia teachers who work in critical need positions may qualify for the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program. This scholarship helps qualified teachers pay back student loans.

Teachers and school professionals who work in a designated critical position can qualify for the Underwood-Smith scholarship. Critical positions include all teachers in underserved districts and certain teachers who teach subjects with designated shortages.

Qualified teachers can receive up to $3,000 per year in federal loan forgiveness and up to $15,000 over their lifetime.

West Virginia teachers can learn more about the scholarship on the College Foundation of West Virginia website. The most recent list of critical needs can be found here.

Pros & Cons of Student Loan Forgiveness

While some or all of a student loan balance magically disappearing is a dream for many Americans, student loan forgiveness programs aren’t always a walk in the park. Here are the pros and cons.

Pro: Poof! Your debt is gone.

A huge upside of student loan forgiveness is obvious: borrowers can get rid of a significant amount of student loan debt. Beware of caps on the total amount of debt that can be forgiven with some programs. For example, the federal government’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program caps loan forgiveness at $17,500.

Con: Eligibility

It’s tough to first qualify and then remain eligible for student loan forgiveness. For example, teachers are eligible for the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, but those who got teaching degrees before 2004, only qualify to have $5,000 worth of loans forgiven. To top that, borrowers must also remember to update their repayment plans each year or risk losing eligibility for the program.

Pro: No tax…sometimes.

The federal repayment plans don’t tax the forgiven amount as income, so you won’t need to pay taxes on the forgiven balance there. However, other programs may not grant the same pardon. If your loans are repaid through a different program, you might be required to count the money received towards your income and pay taxes on it. Look at the program carefully and prepare to set aside funds in case you do need to pay up.

Con: Limited job prospects

Loan forgiveness is give and take. You might be limited to teaching in a particular subject or geographic location for a period of time in order to get your loans forgiven. This could mean relocating your family or a long commute if you unable to live near the location. If you fall out of love with teaching, you might be stuck with the job, just to get your loans paid off.

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Strategies to Save

Where People Save the Most: Super Saving Metros

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Give credit to the residents of Dubuque, Iowa. They saved their pennies last year, according to a recent study by MagnifyMoney.

Dubuque earned the highest Saving Score in MagnifyMoney’s Super Saving Metros report, which looks at the savings habits of residents living in the biggest metropolitan areas across the United States.

Relying on data from the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau, MagnifyMoney created a Saving Score for nearly 400 U.S. metropolitan areas. This score reveals:

  • Which areas boasted the greatest percentage of adults who earned money from interest-bearing vehicles, such as savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • How much interest on average these residents claimed on their 2017 tax returns
  • What percent of their annual income came from interest

We’ve changed our study a bit this year. Instead of looking at cities with populations larger than 25,000, as we have in the past, this year we are looking at savings within entire metropolitan statistical areas. These areas often include several cities and provide a more accurate look at the savings habits of residents within a larger area.

One of our key findings? As a nation, the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of savers. Nationally, 28.3% of U.S. residents who filed income tax returns in 2017 earned interest income on their savings. This interest income averaged $554, equal to 0.76% of filers’ total income for the year.

Not all metro areas are created equal when it comes to savers, though. In Naples, Fla., for instance, filers reported an average of $3,224 of interest income on their taxes last year. But in Pittsfield, Mass., that average was a far lower $481.

There are also significant differences among metropolitan areas in how many residents earn enough interest from their savings to report to the IRS. Filers who earn more than $10 of interest on savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts, high-yield checking accounts or certain types of taxable bonds have to report their interest income. MagnifyMoney found that in Peoria, Ill., 48% of filers reported interest income on their returns. But in Los Angeles, just 30% did.

Key findings

  • Dubuque pulled down the top savings spot among the 381 U.S. metropolitan areas that MagnifyMoney studied. The city had the highest Saving Score, an impressive 97.8 out of a possible 100.
  • Naples, which came in second with a Saving Score of 97, topped the country with the highest amount of average interest income per return, a strong $3,224. Naples also ranked first in highest percentage of interest income compared to total income. Filers here earned an average of 2.33% of their total annual incomes from interest on their savings.
  • Peoria had the highest percentage of filers who earned at least some interest income. About half of the federal tax returns filed here last year had some amount of interest income.
  • Iowa might have been the thriftiest state in the country in 2017. Dubuque notched the highest Saving Score in this year’s study. But the cities of Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids also earned high scores. This isn’t a one-time fluke either. MagnifyMoney found a similar trend when looking at the numbers from earlier tax years.

What does the Saving Score measure?

It can be challenging to determine how much the residents of a particular metropolitan area are saving. For our study, we crafted a Metro Saving Score that relies on data from the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau for 381 metropolitan areas across the country.

We looked at three key factors to calculate our score:

  • The percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income
  • The percentage of residents’ total annual income that came from interest earned from savings
  • The average interest income recorded on tax returns in a metropolitan area

50 cities with the top Saving Scores


Dubuque led our list of the metro areas with the biggest savers, earning a healthy Saving Score of 97.8. But what’s so special about Dubuque?

The area isn’t especially rich: The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the median household income stood at $56,154 in 2016 in Dubuque County and $48,021 in the city of Dubuque itself. That’s below the median annual household income of the U.S. as a whole, which was $57,617 in 2016. The Census Bureau also said 16.8% of the city’s residents lived in poverty, while 29.7% of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Regardless of the relatively modest incomes here, 44% of tax filers in the Dubuque metro area claimed interest income on their returns. This interest income averaged $781 per return, which accounted for an average of 1.24% of these residents’ annual income.

So why the high savings rate? Maybe it’s the low unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate in Dubuque was a low 2.2% as of August 2018. It’s easier to save when you’re employed. Also, it’s not that expensive to live in Dubuque. The Census Bureau said the median costs for owners with a mortgage is $1,102 a month, while the median cost for renters is $728 a month.

Things are a bit different in Naples, where the Census Bureau said the annual median income was $84,830 in 2016. It’s important to note that median income isn’t the same as average income. The median is the dollar amount that half of all residents in an area earn less than each year and half earn more. In Naples, half of all households reported an annual income of less than $84,830, while half reported an annual income higher than that.

What is clear, though, is that the residents of this Florida city have more money to save, which might be why Naples ranked second with a Saving Score of 97. Here, 36% of income tax returns included interest income. The interest income per return in Naples was high, too, leading our survey with a hefty $3,224.

In Fairfield County, Conn., which came in third with a Saving Score of 96.3, 36% of tax returns recorded interest income. The interest claimed here was sizable, too, with an average of $2,434 claimed per return. Again, the residents here have more money to save, with the Census Bureau reporting a median household income of $86,670 in 2016.

Santa Barbara, Calif., and Boston rounded out the top five metro areas on our list. Santa Barbara earned a Saving Score of 95.7, with 36% of tax returns here claiming interest income. This income accounted for 1.18% of annual income earned by residents here. The interest income per return in Santa Barbara was a healthy $1,074.

And in Boston, with its Saving Score of 94.2, 37% of returns claimed interest income, with an average per return of $920.

10 cities with the most savers

Dubuque again represented itself well on our list of metropolitan areas with the most savers. But it didn’t top it. The No. 1 spot went to another Midwestern city, Peoria, where 48% of tax returns listed some form of interest income.

What makes Peoria residents such good savers? It’s hard to say. The income here isn’t sky-high, with the Census Bureau stating that the median household income stood at $46,547 in 2016. At the same time, though, it’s not expensive to live in Peoria, freeing up residents to save. The Census Bureau said it cost $1,200 a month for owners with a mortgage, while the median value of a home was $127,200. Those who rented didn’t pay too much, either, with the Census Bureau reporting a median gross rent of $746 a month.

Then there is Dubuque. Again, the income here wasn’t high, but housing isn’t overly expensive, perhaps making it easier for residents to save. The Census Bureau reported that owners with a mortgage paid a median value of $1,102 a month, while those who rented paid a median of $728 a month. Maybe that’s why Dubuque tied for second with 44% of returns claiming interest income.

Dubuque tied for this spot with Ithaca, N.Y., where the same percentage — 44% — of returns claimed interest income. It’s not easy determining how Ithaca residents were able to save so much. The Census Bureau reported that the median annual household income here was just $30,291 in 2016, while 44.8% of the people lived in poverty. At the same time, the median value of owner-occupied homes stood at a fairly high $219,100. This makes Ithaca’s high savings rate a bit of a mystery.

Appleton, Wis., is easier to explain. This area ranked fourth on our list with 42% of returns claiming interest income in 2017. This isn’t surprising: The Census Bureau said the median household income here was $53,878 in 2016, while the median value of owner-occupied homes was a fairly low $137,800. Perhaps residents spent less on housing costs and were able to save more.

Iowa City, Iowa, finished fifth on our list, tied with Appleton with 42% of returns claiming interest income. That percentage was a popular one, with Rochester, N.Y., and yet another Iowa city — Cedar Falls — tying with Appleton and Iowa City.

10 cities that earned the most interest income

Here is a not-so-shocking fact: People who make more money tend to save more of it. That’s proven by our list of metro areas in which taxpayers claimed the most interest on their returns.

Look at Naples. Those living here earned a lot of interest income in 2017. According to our research, the average return filed here in 2017 listed a whopping $3,224 in interest income. That easily topped our list. The reason is fairly obvious: A lot of wealthy people live here.

The city is a costly one, with the Census Bureau showing that the median home value is $770,000, while it costs owners with a mortgage a median $2,987 a month. With those barriers to entry, it’s not surprising that the median household income was $84,830 in 2016. When you earn more, it’s easier to save more — a lesson made clear in Naples.

Fairfield County was second on this list, with the average tax return listing interest income of $2,434 in 2017. Again, this is another high-income area, with the Census Bureau reporting that the median household income was $86,670 in 2016.

Next on our list is Vero Beach, Fla., where the average interest income reported on tax returns stood at a healthy $1,839. This city is a bit more puzzling: The Census Bureau showed that the median household income was a modest $38,405 in 2016. And it’s not particularly cheap to live here, with the Census Bureau stating the median costs for owners with mortgages as $1,654, while monthly rent stands at a median of $829.

Coming in fourth on our list is another Florida tourist metro, Fort Myers, where the average interest income per return was $1,195. This is an interesting place: In the city of Fort Myers, with a population of almost 80,000, the median household income is $38,971. But if you focus on the smaller area of Fort Myers Beach, where the population is just more than 7,000, the median household income is $59,416.

The New York City metro area claimed the fifth spot on this list, with an average interest income of $1,146 reported per return. With a population of more than 8.6 million, New York City itself sees a wide range of yearly incomes. The median household income is $55,191, but plenty of households saw a far higher income than that. This helps explain the Big Apple’s high spot on this list.

10 cities with the lowest Saving Scores

While there are plenty of metro areas where people are saving, there are others that have earned low Saving Scores from our research. In most of these areas, the median household income is low. In others, unemployment is high.

This isn’t surprising: It’s a challenge to save when you don’t make enough and you’re struggling to find a job.

The first metro area on our list of areas with the lowest Saving Scores — Hinesville, Ga. — earned a Saving Score of just 0.5, with 15% of income tax returns filed in 2017 claiming interest income. The average filer here claimed just $80 worth of interest on their returns.

The median household income stood at $42,949 in 2016, according to the Census Bureau. That is below the median household income for the U.S., which the Census Bureau said was $57,617 in 2016.
El Centro, Calif., ranks high on this list, too, coming in second. Unemployment is a problem here, with the Federal Reserve Bank showing the rate at a high 17.2% in El Centro as of August 2018.

Third on our list was Fayetteville, N.C., earning a Saving Score of 1.8. Only 18% of tax returns here claimed interest income in 2017, with the average return listing just $149 in interest income. The median household income was $43,882 in 2016, while 18.4% of the population lived in poverty. The Census Bureau also reported that 14.2% of the people younger than 65 do not have health insurance, a factor that could account for the low savings rate here.

Pine Bluff, Ark., scored a low 3.0 Saving Score with 19% of income tax returns claiming interest income. Pine Bluff’s population is declining, falling to 42,984 in 2017, a drop from 49,083 in 2010 — a dip of 12.4%. At the same time, the median household income was just $30,942 in 2016, while 32.5% of residents lived in poverty.

Rounding out the bottom five of savers was the metropolitan area of Florence, S.C., with a Savings Score of 3.7. Just 17% of returns here claimed interest income in 2017. The median household income here was not terrible, but at $44,989 is still below the median for the U.S.

How to save more money

Need to increase your savings rate? There’s no secret formula. Start with crafting a household budget. List the income that comes into your household each month and the money you spend during the same time. Include both fixed expenses such as your monthly rent, mortgage payment, auto payment or student loan payments while estimating those that vary each month, such as your utility bills, transportation costs and grocery bills. Make sure to also budget for discretionary expenses such as eating out and entertainment.

This budget will tell you how much you should have at the end of the month for savings. If you don’t have much, or if you are spending more than you are earning, you’ll need to cut back on whatever expenses you can. This might require slashing your spending at the supermarket or cutting back on restaurant meals.

Be sure to start an emergency fund, too. You use the dollars in this fund to pay for any unexpected expenses that pop up, such as a busted water heater or blown transmission on your car. If you have this fund built up, you won’t have to resort to paying for these emergencies with a credit card, something that will build up your debt and make it even more difficult to save.

It’s important to note, too, that it might be a bit easier now to earn interest on your savings. That’s because as the Federal Reserve raises its benchmark interest rate, banks and credit unions are starting to do the same, boosting the interest rates attached to their savings accounts and CDs. These rates might still be small, but they are set to improve, so now is a great time to begin saving those dollars.

Methodology

To rank cities, MagnifyMoney created a Saving Score on a scale of 0 to 100 that included three equally weighted components:

  1. How broadly individuals in the metro saved (measured by the percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income, ranked by percentile).
  2. The metro’s dedication to saving regardless of their income (measured by the percentage of total income that came from interest, ranked by percentile).
  3. The absolute magnitude of savings in the metro (measured by the average interest income per tax return, ranked by percentile).

MagnifyMoney measured these factors using anonymized data from tax returns filed with the IRS from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017.

To be counted as a saving household, the taxpayer must declare interest income using Form 1099 on their 2016 tax returns. Filers who earned over $10 in interest on savings and investments, including a high-yield checking or savings account, a CD, a money market account or certain types of taxable bonds, should have received a copy of 1099-INT, which reflects interest income reported by financial institutions to the IRS.

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Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter |

Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here

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