Parent PLUS student loans sure seem like a financial death trap. Parents are encouraged to jump into them to help pay for school by taking out Parent PLUS student loans, and they think they are doing a good thing, but is it smart?
What a Parent PLUS Loan Is
For those that might now be aware, a Parent PLUS student loan is a loan parents can take out help dependent undergraduate student pay for education expenses. But some of those expenses might just really evaporate up in smoke if the child uses them for things like expensive off-campus housing, supplies, partying, and more loosely related university expenses.
Technically, parents can borrow up to the cost of attendance. The school will calculate this based on the living arrangements, tuition, meal plan, off campus rent, transportation, books, and fees. As you can see there is quite a bit of potential fluff builtin to the allowance.
When a Parent PLUS Loan is disbursed to the school, anything above the balance owed will be given to the parent to use as they see fit.
While the loan is approved and disbursed based on credit report information, no debt-to-income ratios or credit scoring applies.
But if you are reading this article, you already know all that stuff. What you really want to know now that you are on the hook for the Parent PLUS Loans is how you can manage if the payments are too damn high.
How to Lower Your Parent PLUS Loan Payments
Most of the advice you will hear from other people is how you can’t really do anything to lower your Parent PLUS Loan payments. On face value that would seem like true advice since most people don’t have a clue how to do it.
But reality is different than what people commonly say.
Besides just winning the lottery and paying off the loan, there are three ways to lower your Parent PLUS loan payments.
Graduated Repayment Plan – Yuck
A Parent PLUS Loan can be repaid using the Graduated Repayment Plan. Under that plan your payments will be lower at first but really ramp up towards the end of the ten year term. This type of repayment plan is for optimists who believe their financial situation will improve in the years ahead. Not a great strategy if money is already tight.
Extended Payment Plan – Better
Under this plan your monthly payments can be fixed or graduated for up to 25 years. It might seem like a good way to lower your payment but you’ll wind up paying significantly more in interest over the life of the loan. That is a long time to repay student loans with no chance of lowering the payment in addition to the plan payment.
The Best Way to Lower Your Parent PLUS Loan
But one of the best ways to lower and eliminate the loans is to use a Direct Consolidation Loan. This is very true if you meet the following requirements:
“Qualifying employment is any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization or a not-for-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The type or nature of employment with the organization does not matter for PSLF purposes. Additionally, the type of services that these public service organizations provide does not matter for PSLF purposes.
A private not-for-profit employer that is not a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRC may be a qualifying public service organization if it provides certain specified public services. These services include emergency management, military service, public safety, or law enforcement services; public health services; public education or public library services; school library and other school-based services; public interest law services; early childhood education; public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly. The organization must not be a labor union or a partisan political organization.”
Using both a Direct Consolidation Loan and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you can not only lower your monthly loan payment but have whatever balance might remain, forgiven after ten years of payments.
When you consolidate your student loans in a Direct Consolidation Loan you can elect to repay the loan through the Income Contingent Repayment Plan. In that plan your monthly payment will be calculated each year based on your adjusted gross income, family size, and total amount of your Direct Loans.
So if you find yourself struggling right now to make the payments, this approach will lower your payment and if you qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program then after just ten years of low payments, the balance will be forgiven. Keep in mind, as it stands now you might have to pay income taxes on the forgiven debt. Hopefully that will change in the future.
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