Why Income Based Student Loan Payments Can Be a Terrible Trap

What Student Loan Assistance Companies Are Not Telling You

With the surge in companies that are selling student loan assistance programs it seems their product is most commonly just filling out paperwork to enroll people in income driven repayment programs for federal student loans.

It’s an easy sale, “We Can Lower Your Payment,” is a powerful message that resonates with many people. These student loan assistance companies seem to be labeling themselves as form processors, or application assistance providers rather than student loan advisors. When facing problems with student loans, sound advice is what people need rather than just a lower payment.

Before you leap into an income driven repayment program there are some facts you must know.

Standardized Payment is Best

Mathematically, the least expensive way to eliminate a federal student loan is to make the full 10-year standardized payment. This will maintain the current interest rate of the loan, which can be very low, and eliminate the debt in the shortest payment period.

The overall cost of repaying the loan is calculated by adding together the interest charged and the amount borrowed. The higher the interest rate and the longer the repayment period, the more you will pay overall.

When faced with payment pressure on the 10-year payment plan due to other debts, the logical way to deal with getting back to affording the payment is to consider filing bankruptcy to move the other consumer debt out of the way.

This is the general approach when it comes to government owed debt. Neither the IRS or federal student loan programs consider any other financial obligations as a higher priority than their repayment.

Delaying Repayment Through Income Based Programs Has Consequences

The income driven repayment programs are designed to give struggling students some breathing room. Based on income, the payments can go to as low as zero dollars a month. On face value that seems like a really good thing.

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The scary part is the facts the Department of Education shares:

“Income-driven repayment plans may lower your federal student loan payments. However, whenever you make lower payments or extend your repayment period, you will likely pay more in interest over time—sometimes significantly more. In addition, under current Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, you may be required to pay income tax on any amount that is forgiven if you still have a remaining balance at the end of your repayment period for an income-driven repayment plan.”Source

An Income Based Repayment plan (IBR) does not reduce your debt. In fact it does the opposite. Interest not paid because of the low payment gets added on to the balance owed on the loan. If one day you no longer qualify for the income plans then the entire larger balance will be due.

If your income increases to the point where you no longer qualify for a reduced income based plan, your payment will return to the standard 10-year payment amount and you will have to repay the loan at the higher payment amount, within the IBR program.

“If the payment amount based on your income and family size ever increases to the point that it is higher than the amount you would have to pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, your payment will no longer be based on your income and family size. Instead, your payment will be the amount you would have had to pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. This amount will be determined based on the loan amount you owed when you first entered the IBR or Pay As You Earn plan.”Source

And while you may be paying the full 10-year payment, it may take you much longer than ten years to repay the new larger balance that was created by enrolling in the income driven plan.

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Delaying the repayment of your student loans through an income based repayment program can also hurt you as the increasing balance due on your student loans are reported to the credit bureaus and negatively impact your ability to qualify for other types of credit like a car loan or mortgage.

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Students are simply not paying off their loans fast enough.

Student Loan Debt Remaining

“By and large, student loan borrowers in these cohorts have not made much progress in reducing their balances. Nine-and-a-half years after leaving school, the 2005 cohort has paid down only 38 percent of its original student debt. Under a standard ten-year amortization schedule, these loans would be approaching full repayment, and only about 10 percent of the original balance would remain.”Source


An income driven repayment plan like the Income Based Repayment, Income Contingent Repayment or Pay As You Earn is a good tool that should be strongly considered after taking a close look at a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in order to clear away other unsecured debts to make the regular student loan payment affordable.

In addition to making the regular standard 10-year payment affordable, a strategic bankruptcy can also help you return to a point where you can begin saving aggressively for retirement so you can avoid becoming one of the 4-in-10 people with no savings for retirement.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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