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Service Obligation
Service Obligation

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Service Obligation

In return for NIH repaying your student loans, you must enter into a legally binding commitment to conduct qualified research for the length of your loan repayment contract. This is your service obligation. For Extramural LRPs, this means that you must conduct qualifying research supported by a domestic nonprofit or U.S. federal, state, or local government entity for at least 50 percent of your time (at least 20 hours per week based on a 40-hour week) for two years on new contracts, and for one or two years on renewal contracts

NIH will make quarterly loan repayments as long as you continue to satisfy your service obligation. NIH will e-mail your research supervisor at the end of each quarter to verify that you are still pursuing your research. When verification is received, the scheduled loan repayments for that quarter will be disbursed.


If you stop conducting qualified research according to the terms of your contract without the prior consent of NIH, you may be considered to be in breach of your contract. If this occurs, you may face substantial financial penalties.

For example, participants who unilaterally terminate research during their contract period are subject to a penalty of $7,500 for each month of unfulfilled service, plus all amounts paid on their behalf, including interest for any period of obligated service not served. The amount that the U.S. government is entitled to recover shall not be less than $31,000.

The service obligation is not ordinarily a concern for those who are seriously pursuing a research career. It is a factor to consider, however, if you are uncertain about your short-range career plans.

Other Service Obligations

If you have other service obligations, you must complete or defer them in order to be eligible for the LRPs. For example, postdoctoral investigators funded by Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) fellowships and training grants can apply for and receive LRP awards, but would need to defer their NRSA service payback until they complete their LRP. This is because recipients of postdoctoral NRSA support for individual fellowships (F32 or F33) or institutional research training grants (T32) incur a service obligation in the first year of their fellowship, which is then repaid in the second year. The LRPs require a service obligation during the entire period of participation, and individuals may not satisfy two service obligations at the same time.

Early Termination of Service Obligation

Early termination of a service obligation will not be considered a breach of contract if it is beyond the control of the participant. For example, sometimes a participant's research assignment changes to the extent that the project is no longer considered qualified research. Similarly, the needs of the supporting institution may demand that the participant be reassigned to another project. Individuals who voluntarily terminate their research activities (for example, to enter private practice) will likely be determined by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be in breach of the LRP contract.

Additional Information

The LRP Applicant Information Bulletin: Loan Repayment Program Contract provides additional details about the contract and LRP service obligation.

Date Last Updated: June 7, 2011

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