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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who should apply for a Wavemaker Fellowship?

Anyone with higher education loan debt and who is employed, or has an offer of employment, in Rhode Island with a private company, non-profit, or university in a STEM field is encouraged to apply.

2. What is considered a STEM field?

To qualify, your employment must primarily consist of work in one or more of the following covered fields: life, natural, or environmental sciences; computer, information, or software technology; advanced mathematics or finance; engineering; industrial design or other commercially related design field; or medicine or medical device technology. Qualifying occupations are listed here.

3. What higher education student loan debt expenses are eligible for reimbursement?

Eligible expenses are annual higher education loan repayment expenses, including principal, interest and fees (excluding late fees or other penalties for late payment). For example, if your minimum monthly payment is $300, your eligible expenses would be $3,600 (12 months x $300). Payments you elect to make above the minimum amount due are not eligible.

4. How much am I eligible to receive annually?

The value of the tax credit is your annual eligible higher education loan repayment expenses up to the following caps:

  • If your highest degree is an associate’s degree, the cap on your award is $1,000
  • If your highest degree is a bachelor’s degree, the cap on your award is $4,000
  • If your highest degree is a graduate school degree, the cap on your award is $6,000

 5. Can I apply if I am not a “recent” graduate?

Yes, if you work in a qualifying field and have eligible higher education student loan debt expenses you may apply.

6. Can I apply if I'm self-employed?

Yes, just make sure to fill in an Employer Endorsement Form reflecting your employment status.

7. How does the tax credit work?

If you are chosen as a Wavemaker Fellow, you may use the tax credit to pay your Rhode Island income tax liability, or you may choose to get a full refund of your tax credit amount. Or you can do both, using a portion of the tax credit to reduce your taxes and then receiving a refund of the remaining portion.
(Note that refunds of the tax credit may be subject to federal income tax.)

8. What if my tax credit exceeds the amount of my annual Rhode Island tax liability?

You can get a refund of the excess, or you can carry the excess forward to be applied against future taxes for up to four years.

9. For how many years are the tax credits awarded?

Fellows are eligible to receive the tax credit for up to four years.

10. How long must I be in my current job to be eligible?

There is no minimum required amount of time spent at an employer. You can have an offer of employment, or a long tenure at your current employment.

11. When do I receive the award?

Once you are selected as a Fellow, you will begin a service period of 12 months. At the end of that 12-month period, you will receive documents to complete and return that provide evidence of your continued eligibility (remaining employed in Rhode Island in a STEM field and in good standing on your student loans). At that time, your name will be sent to the RI Division of Taxation who in turn will contact you regarding redemption of the award.

12. What is the application process?

Every eligible application that includes all required responses and attachments will be reviewed by the Fellowship Committee. Applicants must complete the application in one sitting, so be sure to have all attachments prepared. These attachments can be found here. Once an application is submitted, the status of the application will reflect “submitted.” All applicants will be notified of the decision upon the conclusion of the review period.

13. Which attachments are required?

The following attachments are required for application review:

  • Employer Endorsement Form
  • Resume
  • Transcript(s) from post-secondary education
  • Evidence of outstanding loans by amount and schedule. Please provide a copy of your current loan repayment profile from your loan service provider that includes your outstanding balance and your monthly repayment schedule.

14. How are applications evaluated?

The Fellowship Committee reviews each application in a name- and employer-blind process, meaning the name of the applicant and employer will be removed from all materials reviewed by the Fellowship Committee. In this process, priority is given to applicants for whom the award plays a substantial role in bringing them to or keeping them in Rhode Island; applicants who work in fields critical to Rhode Island’s advanced economy; applicants who demonstrate the greatest value to Rhode Island’s advanced economy; or applicants for whom an award would represent “last dollar” funding (meaning that you have attempted other methods of reducing your loan payments through programs like Income Based Repayment).

15. Which are fields are considered critical to Rhode Island's advanced economy?

According to Rhode Island's strategy for economic development, these fields include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Biomedical Innovation;
  • IT, Cyber, and Data Analytics
  • Defense, Shipbuilding, and Maritime
  • Advanced Business Services
  • Design, Food, and Custom Manufacturing

16. How many awards will be granted?

Funding for the program is limited. The number of awards depends on the number of eligible
applications and available funding.

Note that individuals related to, living with, or having business relationships with Commerce Corporation personnel are not eligible for the award – for the explanation of disqualifying relationships, click here.

For further inquiries, please contact wavemaker@commerceri.com