What if I told you there’s a chance you could save $1,000 on your student loans with one phone call? For many individual borrowers out there on the Income Based Repayment program (IBR), that’s a realistic possibility. Here’s what I mean and who would qualify.
Are you making a low income relative to your debt?
The primary folks who should consider using a different program besides IBR are those with debt to income ratios above 2. That means you owe double what you’re making. Considering the loan servicers use prior year tax returns to establish your income, you could even expand that rule to a debt to last years’ income ratio above 2.
Why does it matter how much you owe relative to your income? The answer is that you probably have the option to switch to the Pay As You Earn program (PAYE) or the newer Revised Pay As You Earn program (REPAYE).
With either one of these programs, you can pay 10% of your discretionary income vs 15% on IBR. With PAYE, your loans are forgiven in 20 years. REPAYE has a forgiveness period of 25 years for graduate school loans, but you get a generous interest subsidy. I’ll explain how that works later. Either way, both programs are more generous that the IBR program.
No Prepayment Penalty with REPAYE
One reason why I’m ok with most everyone being on the REPAYE or PAYE programs instead of IBR is that there are no prepayment penalties on federal student loans. That means if you know you’re going to making a lot more money in the future and will have to pay it all back, then you could pay extra to accumulate less interest.
If you had the choice to be on a plan that required payments of $1000 a month or one that required payments of $2000 a month, which would you choose if you were allowed to pay extra? That’s why I like REPAYE and PAYE as options over IBR.
Who’s Eligible for What Programs?
PAYE has tighter eligibility requirements. You have to have no loans outstanding before October 2007 and have taken out at least one loan after October 2011. Only Direct loans qualify, which means they’re probably going to be loans taken out in 2010 or beyond.
REPAYE is open to anyone with Direct Federal loans. That means if you had loans all the way back in 1994, you’re still good as long as they’re under the Direct program now. In my consulting practice, I frequently run into folks who are eligible for REPAYE but not PAYE because of when they took out their first loan. After all, if you were a freshman in college in the fall of 2007 or before, then you very well might have taken out a small loan that ended up making you ineligible for the program.
Any loans that are on the older FFEL loan program are only eligible for IBR. However, you can make them eligible for REPAYE and possibly PAYE by consolidating your loans.
What Does Consolidation Mean?
Consolidation is different from refinancing, which is when you sign up for loans with a private lender in exchange for a lower interest rate. Consolidation is when you keep your loans with the government but you combine multiple loans into a new single loan. The interest rate is just the weighted average of whatever you put in.
Why would you consolidate beyond just making things more straightforward? The answer is to gain eligibility for programs like REPAYE, and occasionally PAYE and PSLF. Consolidation produces a Direct loan. That means you can use consolidation to replace an old FFEL loan that doesn’t qualify for much in the way of federal benefits or repayment options and turn it into a new loan that does qualify.
What’s the Consolidation Catch?
When you consolidate, you lose credit towards loan forgiveness because you’re making a new loan. You also cause any accrued interest to get added into your balance, producing interest on interest. That could still be ok, particularly if that accrued interest balance is low or you haven’t made very many payments.
Remember I Said REPAYE Came with an Interest Subsidy? Here’s how that works
So For Some Folks, You Could Literally Save $1,000 with One Phone Call
I love helping clients save money on student debt. That’s one reason I publish so much free content on my blog here. I’ve done consults on tens of millions in student debt for hundreds of clients, and I’d love to help you too. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how I could save you money.
Or if you feel like you got a good enough handle on your loans after reading this article, feel free to call your loan servicer directly. Unfortunately, I find that many of them make lots of mistakes and have a surface level understanding of how the loan programs actually work. That’s why I launched my business, because ultimately people need help planning a student loan strategy, not filling out paperwork.