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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 Debt Overall Award Limit Yearly 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

What Should I Do with My Savings?

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.

If you’re wondering what to do with your savings, we’d like to offer some tips on money management strategies you might consider adopting.

Keep your savings in a high-interest savings account

Keeping your savings in a high-interest savings account means you can earn the highest return on your money as possible. High-interest savings accounts offer some of the best interest rates on the market, and because they are highly liquid deposit accounts, you can access your money whenever you need to.

Advantages of a high-interest savings account:

  • Low risk: If you open a high-interest savings account at an accredited institution, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) insurance will protect your savings up to the legal limit if that your bank fails, so it’s a very low-risk option for your savings.
  • High rates: According to the FDIC, the average APY for traditional savings accounts is 0.09%. Meanwhile, the best high-yield savings accounts available today can have an APY as high as 2.20%.
  • Easy access: Unlike less liquid options, such as certificates of deposit (CDs), high-yield savings accounts are highly liquid, which means you can withdraw your money whenever you need to.

What to watch out for with a high-interest savings account:

  • Fees: A high-yield savings account that does not charge fees is ideal. Do the math to determine if you’d really be making more over the course of a year after factoring in any fees.
  • Not an investment: The rates of interest you get with a high-interest savings account are pretty good, but they won’t grow your money at an appreciable rate over the long term. The interest on offer is enough to beat inflation.

Use your savings to build up an emergency fund

Building an emergency fund should be one of the main goals of your financial life. That makes building an emergency fund one of the most important things you can do with your savings. An emergency fund is like a personal insurance policy that prepares you for emergencies like unemployment, serious medical problems or divorce.

The amount of money you need in an emergency fund depends on your lifestyle and financial obligations. Here are some pointers to help you think about how much to save:

Emergency fund size

Who it’s best for

Three months

People with a steady job, no dependents or a dual-income family that could rely on the income of a single person.

Six months

Individuals with dependents or those with medical conditions that could necessitate regular, lengthy hospital stays.

Nine months

Freelancers or self-employed people whose income might depend on one or two cornerstone clients.

An emergency fund that’s built with your savings should help you avoid taking on high-interest debt when you face unexpected financial emergencies. And that brings us to our next point.

Use your savings to pay off high-interest debt

If you have money saved up and you also have a significant amount of high-interest debt — either from personal loans or credit cards — use some of your savings to pay down debt. How much you allocate to paying off debt depends on your cash flow, your debt repayment plan and factors such as your investment philosophy and how much you already have in an emergency fund.

Some high-interest debt you might want to tackle first includes:

  • Payday loans: If you are currently in a payday loan cycle, using your savings to boost your payments. Ending the payday loan cycle is crucial to your financial well-being.
  • Credit cards: If the interest you are earning on your savings is lower than the amount of interest you’re paying on your credit card debt, you’re losing money every month. That’s why it’s ideal to use extra savings to start eliminating your credit card debt.
  • Personal loans: If you’ve taken out a personal loan with a high interest rate, using some of your savings to make a lump sum payment toward the principal of the loan could help you get into a more secure financial position sooner.

Maximize your retirement contributions

Putting money into retirement funds is a great way to get the most out of your savings. If your employer offers matching contributions to your 401(k), you’ll want to contribute enough to get the full match. Contributing anything less than the full matching contribution limit means you’re leaving money on the table.

After you’ve maxed out your 401(k) contributions, you don’t need to stop there. You can save additional money for retirement by making contributions to an IRA.

When choosing an IRA, you can opt for a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both of which offer tax advantages depending on your situation. The difference is largely in tax savings. A traditional IRA reduces your tax liabilities today, while a Roth IRA is funded with after-tax dollars, which means eligible withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. Either way, you’re getting the most out of your savings.

Start investing in the stock market

Another way to maximize your savings is to invest. The stock market can be intimidating if you’re just learning how to make money in stocks; however, online stock brokers and apps can help you decide what to do with saved money. Here are a few investment apps that might be useful:

  • Robinhood: Allows you to invest in stocks, options or exchange traded funds (ETFs) commission-free and with a $0 minimum spend.
  • Acorns: Helps invest your spare change in ETFs. Though there are no trade fees, there are monthly fees of either $1, $2 or $3.
  • Stash: Stash allows you to invest in stocks, bonds or ETFs by help you buy fractional shares. Their pricing starts at $1 monthly.

When should you tap your savings?

Tap into your savings when emergency strikes, or when you need money for big life goals, like buying a home or paying for college. In addition, you should use your savings to support your quality of life in retirement.

When you lose your job or face major medical bills

Your emergency fund is in place specifically for moments such as job loss or medical emergencies. Common sense dictates you should cut back any expenses you can while you’re in between jobs or facing a serious illness. Depending on how you lost your job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits, but these don’t always pay for all necessary expenses. Meanwhile, health insurance seldom covers all of your medical costs. These are the right moments to tap your savings or your emergency fund to shoulder the burden.

To meet your life goals

Everyone has different goals in their life that require advance saving to achieve it. This could be aspirations of homeownership or putting yourself or your dependents through post-secondary education. Maybe you dream of starting a business or perhaps you’re trying to start a family and need funds to do that. A big life goal is a great time to use your savings rather than using loans or credit cards to fund your dreams.

When you retire

Once you’re eligible to make withdrawals from your retirement savings accounts you’ll want to start doing so to help you reduce your work hours and enjoy the benefits of that time period in your life. Depending on what your retirement goals are you might also consider using funds from other savings accounts or investments to help make your life goals in retirement a reality.

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Strategies to Save

Best Money Savings Apps

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.

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Saving money isn’t always as simple as the oft-prescribed “put it away and don’t touch it” advice makes it seem. With financial concerns constantly tugging at our attention, it can be difficult to find the time and money to save for future goals, events or the unavoidable emergency.

If the savings aren’t there when you need them, you may finance a purchase or cover an emergency with debt like a credit card or personal loan. In a pinch, those tools can be invaluable. But taking on debt should generally be considered a last resort, as carrying debt comes with its own risks.

Luckily for the tech-savvy, the fintech revolution gave rise to several mobile apps designed to help you save money — and make saving a bit more interesting, to boot. Read on to discover the best money savings apps to help you save for short term goals like a vacation, long term goals like a home or college education, and pad your all-too-important emergency fund.

Best money savings apps to help you save daily

Consistency is the root of wealth-building. That said, it follows that saving a little bit of money every single day can be a good practice to start building a wealth mentality. It also happens to be a great way to save money without feeling drastically penalized today to serve your future goals, since you can split your saving into small chunk sand meet targeted saving goals. The following money savings apps can help you get into the habit of saving a little bit of money every day.

Best for saving money on a tight budget: Joy

App Store: 4.3/5, Google Play: n/a
If you’re on a tight budget, the Joy app may be a great way to find money you didn’t think you had.

This free iOS app analyzes your income and spending habits and calculates how much money you can safely save each day without breaking your budget. The Joy app won’t automatically make the transfer for you, so you’ll have to open up the app and decide whether or not to save the money. If you say yes, the funds will be transferred from your linked account to an FDIC-insured Joy savings account.

You can also elect to save more or less than the amount suggested, as you can move money into your Joy savings account anytime. If you need a reminder, set up a daily notification to remind you to make the transfer.

When you’re ready to spend your savings, you can transfer the funds from the Joy savings account to an external account.

Another popular app, Digit, deserves honorable mention. Digit calculates how much you can save each day and will make the transfer for you, automatically — however, Digit costs $2.99, so it may not be a viable option for those on a tight budget.

Best for saving up an emergency fund: Chime Banking

App Store: 4.7/5, Google Play: 4.4/5
Standard financial advice suggests keeping three to six months worth of monthly expenses stashed away in an emergency fund, just in case you run into a financial emergency. In reality, however, around 40% of Americans report they aren’t able to cover a $400 emergency out-of-pocket, while the average U.S. monthly household expenditure is about $5,005.

Chime, a mobile-only bank, hopes its app’s automatic savings features may just help you beat the status quo and make it a little less painful to finally build up your emergency fund. The Chime app is free and available for both iOS and Android devices.

When you enroll in direct deposit and Save When You Get Paid, Chime will automatically transfer 10% of each paycheck into a seperate Chime savings account for you. If you’re enrolled in Chime’s automatic savings program, the bank will also automatically round up each transaction made with your Chime Visa debit card and deposit the amount into your savings account, too.

Best for saving money for a vacation: Tip Yourself

App Store: 4.6/5, Google Play: 4.4/5
Tip Yourself is a free app that may help you save for your dream trip. With the Tip Yourself app, available on iOS and Android devices, you can reward yourself for positive behavior by transferring a little bit of money to your digital tip jar each time you accomplish a personal goal.

If you make it to the gym on a Tuesday, for example, tip yourself $1 (or whatever amount you feel you deserve). The same goes for every other personal goal you may have, such as getting to work earlier or calling your parents once a week.

The app aims to help its users build savings habits and motivate them to stay more consistent about their personal goals, too. The app also has a social feed, so you can share your wins — big and small — with your peers in a supportive community. If you’re into maintaining a streak, there is also a calendar that keeps track of the days you did tip yourself.

With Tip Yourself, you can set a savings goal for your next vacation. When you reach your goal, you’ll feel confident taking a vacation knowing the money you’re spending is your reward for keeping the promises you made to yourself.

Best money savings apps to help you save monthly

Saving money on a monthly basis for large goals doesn’t have to come down to what’s left over at the end of the month. And it won’t, if any of the following money savings apps have anything to do with it. The apps below encourage users to set aside the funds when they have them, before the money is absorbed into their monthly expenses.

Best for saving money for a car: Qapital

App Store: 4.8/5, Google Play: 4.5/5
A car is a fairly large savings goal to meet, but it can seem less daunting if you can save a bit toward your vehicle each time you are reminded why you need the car in the first place — that’s where Qapital comes in.

With Qapital, you can set customizable autosave rules for just about anything, so you can save money simply with the actions you take living your life. You can set a custom rule; for example, you can save a certain amount of money each time you pay for a public transit ticket or fill up the tank for that friend who drives you to work.

Qapital has a bunch of other ways to help you save up for a car, too. With the round up rule, the app will round up all of your transactions and automatically transfer the difference to your designated goal account. So each time you pay for anything, you will have a little bit of money going toward your car. The spend less rule saves whenever you spend less than a certain amount with a retailer or in a certain spending category, and the guilty pleasure rule saves a certain amount whenever you spend on a chosen guilty pleasure, like ordering takeout.

When your goal is funded, you can withdraw the funds and spend it on your chosen vehicle. The free Qapital app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Best for saving money for a child’s future: Kidfund

App Store: 4.8/5, Google Play: n/a
Whatever your child’s future holds, having the money on hand to help them accomplish their goals will come in handy. With Kidfund, not only can you contribute to your child’s future success, but so can your family, friends and anyone who supports your child’s dreams.

You can open a dedicated savings account for each of your children and set a rule to gift money to your child’s account on a periodic basis. For example, you can gift each of your children’s Kidfund accounts $20 each month. Kidfund awards interest based on the balance within the account.

On top of your giving, you can invite your friends and family members to follow your child’s Kidfund account and they can gift money to the account for birthdays, holidays or whatever reason. When the time comes, you’ll have the money waiting in the Kidfund account to fund your child’s dreams.

Kidfund is a free social savings app available only on iOS devices.

Best for saving money for the holidays: Simple

App Store: 3.8/5, Google Play: 4.2/5
Simple is a mobile-first bank that helps you set aside money for future goals. With a fee-free Simple account, you can set and fund financial goals with a target date. Simple will then calculate how much money you need to transfer periodically to reach your goal by your specified target date, based on the frequency you set.

For example, you can set a goal to save $500 for holiday shopping over 10 months and set the frequency to transfer an amount each month. Simple will automatically set aside $50 each month so you’ll reach your goal for the holidays.

The money for the goal will remain in your Simple account, but will be set aside and tagged for that specific purpose. The amount designated toward the goal will be deducted from your total to give show you how much money is safe for you to spend. The Simple app is free and available on iOS and Android devices.

Best money savings apps to help you save in the long term

Saving for long-term goals can be difficult when you can’t see the tangible results of your efforts just yet. Using one of the money savings apps below may help you keep track of the progress made toward your savings goal, so you can stay motivated as you wait, save and watch the investment you are making towards your future grow with time.

Best for saving money for a house: Rize

App Store: 4.2/5, Google Play: 3.7/5
Rize is a free automatic savings app available for both iOS and Android devices. It helps you earn extra money on your savings for a long-term goal (like a home down payment) and offers a high APY on your cash savings. You also have the option to earn even more on your savings by investing the funds. You set a goal amount and how often you want Rize to pull a specified amount of money from your account, and the app will do the rest of the work for you.

You can set investment or cash savings goals. The money saved in a Rize account earns interest on cash savings. If you choose to invest your money, it’s put into exchange-traded funds which earn varying interest rates.

Rize doesn’t charge any fees on your cash savings or require a minimum amount to open an account; instead, it lets you decide how much you want to pay. If you invest your money, Rize asks you contribute a minimum $2 per month to your account and pay an annual 0.25% management fee of your invested assets.

Rize also has a few built-in features to help you reach your goal a bit faster. It calls the features “Power Ups,” and you can turn them on or off at any time. You can use the Accelerate feature to automatically increase your contribution by 1% each month. So if you are saving $100 toward your down payment this month, Rize will increase your contribution to $101 the next month.

Rize also has a Boost feature that calculates how much extra money you have based on your income and spending habits, and automatically transfers up to $5 to your goal whenever “it makes sense,” which Rize says is about once or twice a week.

Best for saving money for college: Clarity Money

App Store: 4.7/5, Google Play: 4.1/5
Clarity Money is a free automatic budgeting and savings app available for both iOS and Android devices. The app helps you save by setting rules for how often and how much you want Clarity to automatically stash away for goals, like paying for next semester’s tuition or funding your child’s college savings account.

Clarity Money also has a few other features that may help you find more money in your budget to save for school fees. The app can analyze your expenses to find where you may be able to cut back on subscription services and free up some of your funds. Its budgeting features display your spending habits and let you know when you are going over your intended budget in a category, so you can adjust your spending behavior before you overspend. Clarity Money does not charge any fees for its services.

Best for saving money for retirement: Acorns

App Store: 4.7/5, Google Play: 4.3/5
Acorns is an investing app popular for letting its users invest the spare change from their daily transactions with its Acorns Core option. With Acorns Core, the app automatically rounds up your transactions to the nearest dollar and invests the difference into your chosen investment portfolios (once you’ve reached a minimum $5 in roundup savings).

Acorns also has a retirement savings feature called Acorns Later. With Acorns Later, you can invest your money in an Independent Retirement Account (IRA) and set recurring contributions from your linked account. You can invest using a Roth IRA, Traditional IRA or SEP IRA. The ETFs in your investment portfolio will automatically adjust to fit your needs over time based on your retirement date and goals. You can’t have Acorns Later without have Acorns Core, and having both costs the user $2 per month. Acorns Core only is $1 per month.

The Acorns app is free and available for both Android and iOS devices, but the Acorns service costs $1, $2, or $3 (with the Acorns Spend checking account) per month depending on what plan you select.

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.