Help! I am a 24-year-old recent college graduate who is struggling
to find full-time employment. I'm currently working full-time hours on
a three-month contract that is going to expire at the end of the
month. I received my Master's degree in Social Work and do not expect a
high starting salary based upon the current market. My student loans
from undergrad have been deferred while I was in grad school and my
grad school loans are starting the repayment period. I have roughly
$105,000 in student loans that include Federal Perkins, Stafford and
Direct Plus graduate loans. What would be the best method to handle
the repayment options?
— Leigh C.
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According to wage data from the
Bureau of Labor Statistics
median income for social workers in May 2010 ranged from $38,600 to $51,500,
depending on the type of work. Starting salaries are probably closer
to the 25th percentile, which ranged from $30,870 to $37,550, but
could be as low as the 10th percentile, which ranged from $25,210 to $29,460.
Comparing these income figures with $100,000 in student loan debt
yields a debt-to-income ratio between 2.0 and 4.2. A debt-to-income
ratio over 1.0 is not recommended and anything over 1.5 is clearly an
unaffordable debt level. Even with a 30-year extended repayment plan
the monthly loan payments will likely exceed more than a quarter of
gross income and perhaps as much as a third of gross income. That's
like having a mortgage without owning a home.
However, all is not lost. Social work is one of several occupations
that qualify for public service loan forgiveness.
Public service loan forgiveness works in conjunction with income-based
repayment. Income-based repayment bases the monthly loan payment on a
percentage of the borrower's discretionary income, as opposed to the
amount owed. This can lead to a significant reduction in the monthly
loan payment, usually yielding a monthly loan payment that is less
than 10% of gross income.
Normally the remaining loan balance is forgiven after 20 or 25 years
of payments in the income-based repayment plan. However, borrowers who
qualify for public service loan forgiveness will have the remaining
loan balance forgiven after 10 years of full-time employment in a
public service job while repaying the loans in the income-based
repayment plan. The 120 monthly loan payments do not need to be
Only federal student loans, such as the Federal Perkins, Federal
Stafford and Federal Grad PLUS loans, qualify for public service loan
forgiveness. Private student loans and Federal Parent PLUS loans do
FinAid's income-based repayment calculator
can help a borrower evaluate the details of his or her particular
The US Department of Education recently released an
employment certification form
that can be used to document service in a qualifying job. (See also
Dear Borrower Letter
Although use of the employment certification form is not required, it
is best to submit the form annually or after each change of employment
to ensure that the qualifying service is properly recorded.
Additional information about
public service loan forgiveness
can be found on the FinAid web site.