Income-driven student loan repayment plans not always a good thing
by Carol Thompson
Thousands of people default on student loans each year when multiple high payments catch up to them.
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Thousands of others try the best to avoid default by entering into income-driven repayment plans. While it seems like the key to making ends meet, they aren’t always as they appear. The plans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) can end up costing hundreds of dollars in unexpected payments. These problems include delays in processing paperwork and incorrect information from customer service personnel.
The most common income-driven repayment plans are Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE). Each year, borrowers in income-driven repayment plans are required to submit information, generally an income tax return, proving that they still qualify for an affordable monthly payment.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education released the first public information about recertification rates, noting that more than half of all borrowers in its sample (57 percent) missed their deadline to recertify and had their payments snap back.
According to the CFPB, income driven student loans can:
- Cause the amount you owe each month to snap back to a payment you may not be able to afford. When your recertification isn’t processed on time, even if you tell your servicer you still want to keep your payments affordable, you will probably have a gap where you are required to pay an amount that doesn’t reflect your financial circumstances. You may not realize that things aren’t going according to plan until your bank has processed an automatic payment at the higher amount or you’ve been hit with surprise overdraft fees.
- Cost you thousands more over the life of your loan. When you enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, you may pay less each month than the interest that accrues on your loan. This means that your loan balance can grow over time. But these plans do offer an important protection for people who recertify on time each year and continue to qualify for a lower payment— any unpaid interest does not get added to your outstanding principal balance (so you don’t have to pay additional interest on the interest) unless you choose to leave the plan. But, if you miss your deadline to recertify, you lose this benefit. For some borrowers, this can cost thousands of dollars over the life of a loan.
- Reduce the amount of interest that the government will pay on your behalf. For borrowers with subsidized federal loans, income-driven repayment plans feature another important benefit. For three consecutive years (36 months) from the time you first sign-up, the government will waive any interest charges your monthly payment does not cover, as long as you demonstrate partial financial hardship. Because the clock on this benefit starts running immediately and won’t pause even if you don’t recertify, you are giving up a benefit every month after your payments snap back.The agency is taking complaints about the income-based plan and will work with the Department of Education and the Department of the Treasury to address the problems associated with student loan borrowing.