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Ultimate Guide to Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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 [email protected].

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

Review: The Aspiration Account

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The 2.00% APY has one of the highest rates in the country. If you move both your checking account and savings account into an Aspiration Account, you would be able to earn a high interest rate on your money while avoiding the risk of overdraft and enjoying the convenience of only having one account.

Aspiration is a fairly new financial services company that aims to be “the investment firm for the middle class.” In this video (that could pass for a parody if you didn’t realize they were serious), the company proclaims that it is possible to be a “capitalist with a conscience.” Lofty goals are behind the company and the products they have designed. The CEO (Andrei Cherny) was a former Clinton White House aide, and with Aspiration he is trying to take action and create a new type of financial services firm that lives up to his ideals.

All products offered by Aspiration (which includes two investment funds and a cash management account) have the same pricing model. You decide how much to pay. Yes, the fee is set entirely by you, the customer. You can set it to $0 or you can set it to any amount below $10. You can change the fee whenever you want. They provide a service and you decide what it is worth.

Aspiration is making a big bet.

With traditional banking, people are nickel and dimed every month. Make an out of network ATM withdrawal, and you could end up spending $10 in fees. Put your money into a savings account, and earn only 0.01%. By using Aspiration, you could be much better off financially than banking with your traditional bank. And you can do your own calculation and decide how much of that savings you share with Aspiration. They are hoping that you will share enough for the business to continue.

Application Process for the Aspiration Account

Opening an account used to be a bit challenging as you needed to be invited. However, Aspiration has made it as simple as ever to open an account. Simply click on the “Get Started” button on their website and enter your email address.

 

At that point, you should be directed to a page that allows you to open your account online and apply for the account.

 

Create your password, check the box to let Aspiration know you’ve read the Terms and Conditions, and click “Let’s Go!”. Since this is an online account, there will be extensive KYC (know-your-customer) and compliance questions. I was required to provide:

  • Answers to identity verification questions. These are questions generated by a credit bureau. So, you will be asked to provide your social security number, but they ensure that they won’t “run the kind of credit check that will ding your score”. You might also be asked to answer questions about your mortgage payments, car loans, and other credit bureau items to identify yourself.
  • A link to an existing bank account. This is used to provide the initial funds in the account. I put $10 into the account for a test drive. (By doing this, Aspiration also reduces its risk, because you will have gone through the compliance checks of your existing bank).

Once you finish the account opening process, it may take a few days for the account to be open and for you to receive your debit card in the mail. Aspiration has partnered with Coastal Community Bank in a way that is similar to how Simple operated. (Simple, for those who remember, was not a bank. It created the front-end user interface, but partnered with an FDIC-regulated bank).

Aspiration Mobile App

In 2016, Aspiration joined the rest of the financial industry with the launch of their mobile app. Their app allows you to view your Aspiration Account balance and transaction history, remote deposit checks using your phone’s camera, schedule transfers between the Aspiration Account and other bank accounts, pay bills, and track the impact of your spending habits. The mobile app also allows you to use fingerprint authentication to secure the data.
There are two features that stand out:

  1. Their Payments feature
  2. Their Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM) feature

Payments

Payments is Aspiration’s bill pay feature. Not only does this feature allow you to pay your bills, but it also allows you to pay your friends. However, unlike other bill pay and money transfer features (like Zelle), Aspiration’s Payments feature sends payees a paper check with your name, address, and optional memo if you choose to include one. This feature is available at no charge to the account holder.

Since this feature is sending a paper check, you can expect the payee to receive the check within 5-7 business days from the send date. Fortunately, Aspiration doesn’t limit the number of payments that can be scheduled and they don’t limit the amount of money you can send.

Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM)

AIM is a pretty unique feature as it allows you to see the impact you’re making on the planet and people based on your spending habits. This feature will provide you with a score that is determined by the types of businesses you frequent. The score is calculated by how the businesses treat their employees, customers, community, and environment. So, businesses are given a score and you’re given a score based on where you do your shopping.

Aspiration shares that they created AIM “so that we can all think about how our everyday spending can make the world a better place.” This may sound very “kumbaya”, but there’s no denying that they’ve created an innovative feature.

What We Like

  • Unlimited, global ATM fee reimbursement: With this account, you can use any ATM in the world and it won’t cost you a dime. Not only won’t Aspiration charge you a fee, but you will be reimbursed any fee charged by the other bank whether they are located in the U.S. or in another country.
  • Zero overdraft and stop payment fees: This is a huge perk as these are some of the “gotcha” fees that you’ll encounter at big banks.
  • Other fees are also fairly lower than big banks: Outgoing wire transfers and receiving an incoming wire transfer will only cost you 82 cents.
  • One of the best interest rates in the market: At a traditional bricks-and mortar bank, you would receive no interest on your checking account, and you would earn only 0.01% on your savings account. With this account, you earn 2.00% on your entire balance. The best online checking account in the market is currently paying 2.02%, but you need to maintain a balance to earn this APY.
  • You no longer need to have a separate savings account and checking account. With that, you no longer need to worry about overdrafts. At a traditional bank, you could end up paying $10 just to have money automatically transferred from your savings account to your checking account if you make a mistake. Because you can keep all of your money in one account, you will not need to worry about overdraft transfers.
  • All deposits are FDIC-insured, up to $250,000 per depositor.

What We Find Lacking

  • Bill pay functionality. While Aspiration does mention that they will be making updates and improvements to their Payments feature, they don’t seem to mention going away from the paper check method. While sending paper checks may be a good solution for a feature that once didn’t exist at Aspiration, it’s still not as efficient as most online bill pay features that other banks offer.

Who Could Benefit From the Aspiration Account Now?

The perfect profile for an Aspiration Account customer today would be:

  • You travel a lot, and frequently need to use ATMs that are outside of your bank’s network
  • You have a lot of cash that you keep in your account and would like to earn interest on that money
  • You are about the impact you make on people and the environment.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Aspiration’s secure website

Alternatives if This Account is Not Right For You

This account is going to get better over time. It won’t come as a surprise if this account starts to become much more competitive.

Depending upon what feature is most important to you, there are excellent alternatives:

  • If you want the highest interest rate, you can earn up to 2.30% with an online savings account with a moderate deposit amount requirement. You can find the best savings account here.
  • If you want to avoid ATM fees globally, but need better bill pay capabilities, you should open a Charles Schwab checking account. You can find that account, and others, on our checking account page.

This Looks Great and Will Get Better. But is it Sustainable?

One of the biggest worries we have at MagnifyMoney is the following: when something looks too good to be true, it usually doesn’t last long. The offer can last for a few years, but eventually market forces will catch up with it.

Providing unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees globally is expensive. Ally originally offered the same perk and then capped that benefit at $10 per month ($120 per year), because it was impossible for them to make money on the checking accounts otherwise. Aspiration does not have a magic formula, and eventually the business will need to make money somewhere.

Often, banks do not make money on checking accounts. Instead, these accounts serve as the foundation account and the bank cross-sells other products. Perhaps this is Aspiration’s plan.

Regardless, the product is very consumer friendly and potentially lucrative. According to CrunchBase, the business has raised over $67 million. Clearly, the business will need to raise more capital as it scales, especially given the low level of customer profitability expected. There is certainly limited risk to taking advantage of the great offer available now. At MagnifyMoney, we just hope that they find a way to make money sustainably. As Ally customers know all too well, it can be frustrating to switch accounts based upon a strong feature (unlimited ATM reimbursement), only to have that benefit taken away when it is deemed too expensive.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Reviews, Strategies to Save

American Express® Personal Savings Account Review: A Solid Choice for Online Banking

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

American Express Personal Savings Account

This account is a great option for anyone who wants the flexibility of earning a high interest rate without the withdrawal restrictions that come with a CD.

APY (%)

1.90% Variable

Minimum Deposit Amount to Open Account

$0

Minimum Balance to Earn APY

$1

Permitted Monthly Withdrawals

6

Annual Fee

$0

FDIC Insured?

Yes

Mobile App?

No

Transfer Time

Deposits will be available within five business days.
Transfers from savings to a checking account
take one to three business days.

In an American Express® Personal Savings account, your money earns 1.90% variable APY. It’s currently one of the best rates you can earn from an online savings account. The account does not have a monthly fee and they don’t require a minimum deposit, which makes it an affordable account to open. You will have to fund your account within 60 days of applying, and the FDIC insures your deposits up to full legal limit.

How the American Express Personal Savings account works

The American Express savings account compounds daily at a variable 1.90% APY, and interest earned is credited to your account on your monthly cycle date. The rate is variable, so American Express can raise or lower the interest rate at any time without notice to you before or after the savings account is opened.

Account holders must fund the account within 60 days, which you can do by setting up a bank transfer or direct deposit to the savings account, as well as by sending a check.

What we like about the American Express Personal Savings account

  • High interest rate The 1.90% variable APY is better than what you would earn putting your money in the accounts most brick-and-mortar banks offer. While there are higher rates to be had, American Express has a good offer.
  • Automatic savings It’s easy to make saving automatic when you have an online savings account. With the American Express Personal Savings account, you can easily set up a recurring deposit to pull funds from an external savings or checking account. To make it even easier to resist touching your savings, you can even have a portion of your paycheck directly deposited to the account.
  • Discourages spending With your money in an online account like the American Express Personal Savings account, you can only get your cash after making a transfer to an external checking account to which you have debit card access. The inconvenience makes it that much more difficult to spend your savings.

What we don’t like about the American Express Personal Savings account

  • No ATM card Not having card access is great when you need to prevent yourself from spending your savings, but the hassle of setting up and making an ACH transfer from your online American Express Personal Savings account can be problematic in a pinch. (American Express says transfers will take one to three business days for funds to become available in your checking account.) If you’re worried about this, you can instead turn to an online bank like Synchrony Bank that makes it easier to access your savings by issuing an ATM card tied to your high yield savings account.
  • Variable interest rate The annual yield rate American Express is offering on this savings account is high at 1.90%, but the bank can change that rate at any time for any reason, as the rate is variable. If you’re looking for a more predictable rate of return, consider a certificate of deposit.
  • Limited withdrawals Because this is a high yield savings account, banks are limited by Federal Reserve Board Regulation D to a maximum of six withdrawals and/or transfers from your online savings account per statement cycle without penalty. With that in mind, before you decide how much you’ll put away each month, make sure it’s not more than you can afford to, so you aren’t repeatedly reaching into your savings.

How the American Express Personal Savings account compares

As indicated earlier, the American Express Personal Savings account offer is strong, but how does it compare to other savings accounts?

Institution
APY
Minimum Account Balance to Earn APY
American Express National Bank
High Yield Savings Account from American Express National Bank

1.90%

$1

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on American Express National Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

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Synchrony Bank – 2.15% APY and no minimum balance

Institution
APY
Minimum Account Balance to Earn APY
Synchrony Bank
High Yield Savings from Synchrony Bank

2.15%

$0

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on Synchrony Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Advertiser Disclosure.

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With $0 to open the account, you can earn an annual yield of 2.15% on savings account balances through Synchrony Bank and there are no monthly fees.

Savings accounts through Synchrony interest is compounded daily and is credited to the account monthly. An ATM card is offered through this account and you can still easily transfer or deposit funds through an ACH transaction or online.

Goldman Sachs Bank USA – 2.15% APY* and $0 minimum to open

Institution
APY
Minimum Account Balance to Earn APY
Goldman Sachs Bank USA
High-yield Online Savings Account from Goldman Sachs Bank USA

2.15%

$0

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on Goldman Sachs Bank USA’s secure website

Member FDIC

Advertiser Disclosure.

We'll receive a referral fee if you click here. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations

Goldman Sachs Bank USA currently offers an APY of 2.15% on their Marcus Online Savings Account. You don’t need to deposit a minimum amount to open the account, but you will need to have a minimum balance amount of $1* to earn the APY. Interest on the Marcus Savings Account starts accruing the business day you deposit funds into the account. Goldman Sachs Bank USA doesn’t apply any service charges to their savings accounts.

Barclays Bank – 2.10% APY and no minimum balance

Institution
APY
Minimum Account Balance to Earn APY
Barclays
Online Savings Account from Barclays

2.10%

$0

LEARN MORE Secured

on Barclays’s secure website

Member FDIC

Advertiser Disclosure.

We'll receive a referral fee if you click here. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations

With $0 to open the account, you can earn an annual yield of 2.10% on savings account balances through Barclays. While there are no monthly fees, an account that has a balance that is less than $1 for 180 days or more may be closed by Barclays. Savings accounts through Barlcays will start accruing interest the day your initial deposit posts to your account, and interest is compounded daily. While an ATM card is not offered through this account, you can easily transfer or deposit funds through an ACH transaction or online through your account.

American Express CD Rates

These CDs are great for those who don’t have a lot of money to deposit, but the rates are slightly lower than the best CD rates available.

Term

APY

6 months

0.40%

12 months

0.55%

18 months

2.05%

24 months

2.15%

36 months

2.25%

48 months

2.30%

60 months

2.35%

CDs from American Express do not come with a minimum deposit amount. You’re free to deposit as little or as much as you want to begin earning interest on any of its CD terms. This is great for individuals who don’t have a lot of money to deposit in CDs offered by other online banks. The downside is that you won’t be receiving as high of an APY as you could at other online banks. While the rates aren’t terribly low, they just don’t compare to most of the best CD rates currently available.

How CDs offered by American Express work

American Express offers terms spanning from 6 months to 5 years. Interested is credited on a monthly basis and compounds until it matures. You can choose to have the interest transferred out of the CD and into the American Express Personal Savings Account on a monthy basis, transferred into a linked account, or mailed to you monthly, quarterly, or annually via a check. If you touch the principal, however, you’ll incur an early withdrawal penalty. The penalty is based on your CDs term:

  • For CDs with a term of less than 12 months: 90 days worth of interest
  • For CDs with a term of 12 months, but less than 48 months: 270 days worth of interest
  • For CDs with a term of 48 months: 365 days worth of interest
  • For CDs with a term of 60 months: 540 days worth of interest

If you’re able to keep your principal and interest within the CD, you’ll receive notice, either by mail or email, that your CD is about to mature in ten days. If you don’t tell American Express that you do not wish to renew your CD, they’ll automatically renew the CD with the same term unless they no longer offer that term. You can call American Express any time before your maturity date to tell them that you do not wish to have your CD automatically renewed.

Online banks vs. brick-and-mortar banks

Online banks have been having a moment not only because of the rise in mobile banking among consumers, but also because they can simply offer consumers more benefits because they don’t have to worry about as many overhead expenses as brick-and-mortar banks. An August 2017 study by DepositAccounts.com, another subsidiary of LendingTree, shows the annual percentage yield internet banks offer on savings accounts is more than four times what brick-and-mortar banks or credit unions offer. The same analysis shows annual percentage yields on internet bank savings accounts have surged 29 percent since January 2016.

Simply put, the main benefit of putting your money in an online savings account is your money does more for you. To show this, DepositAccounts provided an example, based on the average APYs in those savings categories: If a saver were to put $100,000 in a savings account and leave it alone for 10 years, they would earn $8,338.79 at an online bank versus $1,747.04 in a brick-and-mortar bank and $1,895.28 in a credit union, assuming a fixed APY.

Overall Review of the American Express Personal Savings Account and CDs

Overall, the American Express Personal Savings Account is a solid online savings option. The interest rate they offer is high and the features of the account are comparable to other online banks’ savings accounts. While there are certain aspects of the Personal Savings account that could use improvement, other online banks present the same obstacles. As was mentioned earlier, the American Express Personal Savings account is one of the best options available.

The CDs American Express offers, on the other hand, aren’t quite as good. The 6 and 12-month CDs are nowhere near the best rates offered by other online banks and the 18 – 60-month CDs fall short of the other rates offered. The only feature that makes American Express stand out from most of the other online banks is that this bank doesn’t require a minimum deposit to open an account or start earning interest. If you’re not quite ready to deposit a huge chunk of money into a locked account, you may want to start out with on of the CDs offered by American Express.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]