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Grads to Get a Break on Student Loan Payments

Grads to Get a Break on Student Loan Payments

Mark Kantrowitz

May 26, 2009

If you’re struggling to make your monthly student loan payments on your measly first-job salary, you’re not alone. The good news is, the government is taking notice — and changing the game to make sure monthly payments don’t cripple college grads.

Even better, whatever you haven’t paid off after 25 years may be forgiven.

With this new option, instead of calculating monthly payments on the total amount a borrower owes, payments will be based on a percentage of the graduate’s discretionary income. It’s called Income-Based Repayment (IBR), it’s available for federally-guaranteed student loans and direct student loans, and it starts July 1, 2009.

If you’re looking for the lowest monthly payment for low and moderate-income borrowers, you’ve found it.

Payments Based on Income, Not Debt

Income-based repayment is similar to “income-contingent repayment” (ICR), but with some key differences.

• First and foremost, IBR is available to more grads. Income-contingent repayment is only available to borrowers in the direct loan program, while income-based repayment is available in both the federally-guaranteed student loan program and the direct loan program.
IBR uses a smaller percentage of discretionary income and a smaller definition of discretionary income — that means they’re taking a smaller chunk out of the cash you have left over after your other bills are paid. In fact, IBR payments will be as much as 30% to 50% lower than ICR payments.
• Borrowers do not have to consolidate their loans to get access to this plan.

With IBR, you won’t have to shell out any more than 15% of your discretionary income in loan payments.*

For example, if a borrower owed $40,000 in federal education loans and made $30,000 a year, they’d wind up making the following monthly payments under the different repayment plans:

• $171.94 a month with an IBR plan
• $277.63 a month under an extended 25-year repayment plan
• $319.50 a month under income-contingent repayment
• $460.32 a month under standard 10-year repayment plan

Under IBR plans, monthly payments are adjusted annually, based on the prior year’s federal income tax returns and any change in the family size. Borrowers can also request mid-year adjustments due to changes in financial circumstances, such as job loss. A borrower who is married to a spouse with high income can file as married filing separate in order to have the monthly payments based on only the borrower’s income instead of the combined income.

*Discretionary income is defined as the difference between adjusted gross income (AGI) and 150% of the poverty line for the family size. The example above is based on a single borrower who has $40,000 in federal education loans and an AGI of $30,000 a year, taking into account that the 2009 poverty line in the continental US is $10,830 (plus $3,740 for each additional family member), and 150% of that is $16,245.

Next Page: More about Borrowers with High Debt and Low Income
and Why Your Debt Could be Forgiven



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