How to Succeed on a Teacher’s Salary

We say we love teachers.

And yet, the oldest of old saws is that if we paid people by their value to society, teachers would live in mansions while professional athletes held bake sales to make ends meet.

Instead, it’s the other way around. That’s free market economics for you.

The median teacher’s annual salary in 2017 was $55,072. Compare that to the $85,971 the average major league baseball player makes … in one week!

The lag in pay combined with the fact that nearly 70% of teachers have student loan payments, makes it difficult for them to survive financially. Many must take on summer jobs, apply for government loan forgiveness programs or take out personal loans to help them make ends meet.

Still, some of us are called to the classroom, not for financial compensation, but for the reward of being that instructor students remember well into adulthood — one of the first grownups who, by conveying knowledge in a memorable way, made a positive, enduring difference.

While they make their mark on the future, alert teachers also will take advantage of some of the financial breaks available to them because they are teachers.

Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program

An assortment of programs exist for teachers to defray, or completely forgive, federal student loan debt, the primary ones being these: Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Again, these programs are for federal loans; if you need relief from a private loan, you must work that out with the lender.

Let’s have a look at each.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

These plans can relieve up to $17,500 in debt. To qualify, candidates must teach full-time for five consecutive years at a qualifying low-income elementary or secondary school.

Federal Direct and Stafford loans are eligible for forgiveness under this program, which, upon examination, reveals itself as a two-edged sword. On one side, with its $17,500 limit, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness plan is not exceptionally generous, particularly as compared to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. On the other, Teacher Loan Forgiveness eliminates student debt twice as fast — five years, compared to 10 via the Public Service Loan program.

The Teacher Loan Forgiveness plan also treats teachers differently, depending on their discipline. Top-dollar forgiveness goes to secondary school math, science, and special education teachers. Debt forgiveness tops out at $5,000 for elementary school teachers and secondary school teachers who teach other subjects.

Teachers who have completed five years at qualifying schools submit a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Application to their loan servicer. An approved school official must fill out one section of the form. Teachers who served at more than one qualifying school must have a representative from each school complete that section.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

These plans are for those who work for any level of government or a qualifying nonprofit, including public schools or private nonprofit schools.

This is not just for teachers, but teachers are eligible. Work in one, or a combination, of the qualified fields for 10 years, make 120 on-time payments and — voila! — the balance of your federal direct loan is canceled. The payments don’t even have to be consecutive. The program applies if you have enjoyed deferments or forbearance.

It’s obviously an attractive program — some people organize their early careers around qualifying — but you should make sure your ducks are in a row. Indeed, the feds urge candidates to complete and submit the Employment Certification form as soon as possible. Don’t get years into your work life planning to take advantage of PSLF only to discover you’ve been on the wrong path, or haven’t been following the program.

This is not idle speculation. Begun in 2007, the Department of Education has only begun — as of October 2017, the first 10-year interval — to rule on applicants, and the news was troubling:

October of 2017 was the first time anyone could have made enough monthly payments to qualify for debt forgiveness. About 7,500 people had applied for forgiveness as of January 5, 2018 and DOE predicted only about 1,000 were expected to be approved.

Also, watch this space. The Trump administration, under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, holds a dim view of the whole student-debt-forgiveness business, and is angling either to dramatically alter, or end various debt-abatement and debt-forgiveness programs entirely.

Surviving the Summers … Financially

Quick story. Though she was the head of her high school English department and the foremost grammarian in the Florida school district where she taught for nearly 25 years, your correspondent’s mother nonetheless had to find summer work to make her family’s budget work.

One summer, teaching remedial English at the University of Tampa, among her students was future NFL star Freddie Solomon. That summer, my mom learned — far before sportswriters who would one day rhapsodize about this symmetry of his football moves and his off-field passion— that Solomon liked to read, and write, poetry.

So, yes, it stinks that the notion of teachers luxuriating in long, idle summers is mostly a myth. But, take heart: If making ends meet means finding summer work, take the plunge with the idea you may unearth heartening surprises.

But what sort of summertime work?

Most likely, your district offers summer school. That’s the most obvious opportunity for many teachers. However, the competition for limited slots can be ferocious, and even if you land one of the jobs, you’ll likely be doing what you do all year — right at the moment you’re thinking about a change of pace.

Perhaps the gig economy can work for you. Uber, Lyft and the like — ride-sharing services — always are accepting new drivers. The upsides: Work when it’s convenient, get paid immediately, and you get a break from teaching.

Maybe check with the local YMCA about a camp counseling position. You’ll still be around youngsters, but most likely in a role dissimilar to your classroom position.

Summer is surge season for theme parks in every region, and they’ll likely be taking on extra help. Make your pitch as someone accustomed to public speaking and being in charge of large groups, as well as being capable of conveying new information in ways that can be easily grasped. Think about your skills, which are readily transferable to a variety of businesses.

Still want to teach, just not in a classroom setting? Look for tutoring opportunities. Check with your district or association rep for leads. Or visit your favorite search engine. Some tutoring can be done at your convenience, online. One place to start: Varsity Tutors, which links students and tutors in specialized areas that fit the needs of the former to the skills of the latter. Upside, besides convenience: Online reviews suggest you can expect to earn about $20 per hour.

Like the classroom environment? Check for a Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes (lindamoodbell.com) center near you. Touting its commitment to the “Magic of Learning” at every age, Lindamood-Bell holds seasonal camps and rewards loyalty, offering $500 bonuses for returning teachers.

Other thoughts: Launch a kids-party-planner business (or try catching on with a local events planner); check into opportunities at area museums, zoos and/or aquariums, offering yourself as someone who can educate large groups, or research and analyze information; food trucks (for the adventurous); retail sales; check with your area economic- and tourist-development agencies for tour-guide opportunities; explore free-lance writing; join Facebook groups such as “Brand Ambassadors of (Your City) to learn about job opportunities posted by marketing companies;  investigate opportunities with area sports teams, from the major leagues to minor league baseball and basketball.

Teacher/blogger Jennifer, founder of SimplyKinder.com, urges out-of-the-box thinking. Such as: Hoard for summer the gift cards you get from students’ parents throughout the year. Stretch your dollar by using coupons. Hold a garage sale. Better still: Throw in with a bunch of faculty friends and hold a big garage sale. (There’s an app for that. In fact, there’s more than one.)

Wait. If among the reasons you got into teaching was for summers of personal enrichment (and you don’t trust yourself to stick to a strict budget), find out if your district allows year-’round paychecks that pay you a little less each pay period in exchange for foregoing the two-month summer gap.

A final alternative is to investigate whether a personal loan works for you. This should be considered an extreme last resort, and only as a lower-cost alternative to any variety of payday loan. It is far, far better to establish a firm, workable budget augmented by intriguing summer employment than to dig yourself a financial hole. And on that note …

Consolidation Loans for Teachers with Bad Credit

As an educator, your professional association/union or teacher-specific credit union might have your back here. The National Education Association (NEA) touts its loan program that can cover a wide variety of expenses, from consolidating your holiday debt to covering home repairs, weddings, baby costs and more.

Check the fine print, however. Even though the NEA is on your side, the bank’s underwriters take a dim view of risky loans. Rates range from modest to knee-melting, depending on the applicant. But it’s nice to know there’s a place to start.

Even if you’ve had some dings in your credit, if you are tenured, lenders will look favorably on your application. They know you’re a good risk to have a steady, reliable income.

Bad credit and no tenure? You might find the rate on a signature loan — that is, a loan guaranteed by nothing but your promise to repay — is either difficult to close, or includes a painful interest rate.

Teachers with bad credit committed  to a signature/personal loan should take the steps anyone else with troubled credit should do: Contact creditors about negotiating the removal of bad reports; pay down (or pay off) outstanding balances (that might involve taking a part-time job); and investigate zero-interest credit cards that offer cash advances (but study the zero-interest grace period).

If you have something valuable and tangible to stake out — home equity loans spring to mind — you might exercise the collateralized loan option. Your rate, even with rough credit, will be lower than on a personal loan, and you’ll have longer to repay. But, again, your house (or car, or jewelry — whatever you’ve collateralized) will be at risk until the loan is paid back.

Your absolute last-ditch option should be a payday loan, or cash advance. Because they get you on the fees — especially if you roll over your loan — such advances can get cripplingly expensive fast. Use one only in absolute emergencies, and only if you are cut off from all other areas of relief.

You are far better off giving nonprofit debt management program a try. Learn from professionals how you can consolidate your debts without a loan, even if TransUnion and Experian report bad things about your credit.