Getting admitted into graduate school took a big weight off my shoulders, but it didn’t last long. I was already financially strapped from paying for four years of undergrad and I soon had to figure out how to pay for grad school. With the help of federal student aid and funding from my school, I was able to go to grad school with all my school expenses covered. If you’re preparing for grad school, here are my tips for success.
1. Start thinking about your graduate school finances early.
Before you even begin applications, you should understand what loans you already have and consider what your financial situation might look like as a graduate student. If you’re considering graduate school at the same institution you attended for undergrad, look for opportunities to get graduate credit while you’re still an undergrad. When I was an undergraduate senior, my university allowed me to take graduate courses that counted toward my master’s degree and saved me thousands in future tuition expenses.
2. Learn about the different types of federal aid for graduate students.
I bet many of you have seen ads on Facebook that sound something like this:
“Want Student Loan Forgiveness in Two Weeks? CALL NOW!”
“Apply for Obama Loan Forgiveness in 5 minutes!”
Usually, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) does offer some legitimate student loan forgiveness programs and ways to lower your student loan payments, they are all free to apply for. Don’t pay for help when you can get help for free!
If you’re a federal student loan borrower, ED provides free assistance to help:
Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Let me break down some key points of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) to help you figure out if you could qualify.
[ 1 ] Work for a government or non-profit organization
Qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not about your job, it’s about who your employer is. In order to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you must work for a “public service” employer. What does that mean? Everyone has a different definition.
Mistake #1: Letting your contact information become out-of-date
Moving away from campus?
Changing your cell phone number or e-mail address?
Make sure you let your loan servicer know. Their services are provided free of charge, but they can only help you if they can reach you.
Mistake #2: Paying for student loan help
You may have seen an ad on Facebook, or gotten phone calls or letters from companies offering to help you lower your payment or apply for loan forgiveness for a fee. If someone asks you to pay for these services, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education or our loan servicers.
We don’t charge application or maintenance fees. If you’re asked to pay, walk away (or hang up).
So you filed your FAFSA and got accepted to a college. Congrats! Your school will send you an award letter that lists different types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible for. These types of aid could include grants, scholarships, work-study funds, or student loans. You might see two types of federal student loans in your letter: Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Direct Subsidized Loan. Some people refer to these loans as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans or just subsidized and unsubsidized loans. It’s important you know the basics about these two types of loans before you sign to accept either of them.
Almost time to start paying back your student loans? Contrary to popular belief, your student loan payments don’t have to stop you from living your life. You just have to weigh your options and find a strategy that works within your budget. Here are some steps to get you started.
1. Compare monthly payment amounts
The amount you pay each month toward your student loans will depend on the repayment plan you choose. If you take no action, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount or you want a lower monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, where your monthly payment could be as low as $0 per month. Just know that when you make payments based on your income your monthly payment amount may be lower, but you will likely pay more in total over a longer period of time.
Nothing says, “Welcome to adulthood” quite like getting your first student loan bill in the mail. If student loans are your reality, here are some tips that may help you (from someone who is going through this too).
I think everyone can agree that student loans are no fun to pay back, but ignoring them can have serious consequences (and it won’t make them go away.) If you’re worried about your student loans or don’t think you can afford your payments, contact us for help. No matter what your financial situation is, we can help you find an affordable repayment option. For many, that could mean payments as low as $0 per month.
Life after graduation gets real, real fast. To make a plan to tackle your student loans, you need to understand what money you have coming in, and what expenses you have going out. If you haven’t already, it’s important that you create a budget. This will help determine your repayment strategy. Here are some budgeting tips to help you get started.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to paying back student loans. The key question you need to answer is: Do you want to get rid of your loans quickly or do you want to pay the lowest amount possible per month?
Today, more than ever before, a college diploma or job-training credential is one of the best investments you can make in your future. By some estimates, a bachelor’s degree is worth an average of a million dollars over the course of your lifetime.
But college also has never been more expensive, and far too many Americans are struggling to pay off their student loan debt.
Maybe you haven’t quite landed that dream job in your field of study yet. Or you decided to go into public service instead of taking the highest-paying offer. Your reward for investing your time and money in the skills and knowledge needed to secure your future shouldn’t be a sky-high monthly payment.
Student loans, interest payments, and taxes: three things that have scared many people for years now. Read on to learn how these things can benefit you. Just as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man learned when they followed the yellow brick road, once you look at the bigger picture you’ll realize you had the resources to face your fears all along!
If you made federal student loan payments in 2015, you may be eligible to deduct a portion of the interest paid on your 2015 federal tax return. This is known as a student loan interest deduction. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to make the money you’ve paid work for you! Below are some questions and answers to help you learn more about reporting student loan interest payments from IRS Form 1098-E on your 2015 taxes and potentially get this deduction.
What is IRS Form 1098-E?
IRS Form 1098-E is the Student Loan Interest Statement that your federal loan servicer will use to report student loan interest payments to both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to you.
Will I receive a 1098-E?
If you paid $600 or more in interest to a federal loan servicer during the tax year, you will receive at least one 1098-E.
The IRS only requires federal loan servicers to report payments on IRS Form 1098-E if the interest received from the borrower in the tax year was $600 or more, although some federal loan servicers still send 1098-Es to borrowers who paid less than that.
If you paid less than $600 in interest to a federal loan servicer during the tax year and do not receive a 1098-E, you may contact your servicer for the exact amount of interest you paid during the year so you can then report that amount on your taxes.
How many 2015 1098-Es should I expect to receive?
That depends on how much you paid in interest, how many federal loan servicers you had, and some other factors. Read through the scenarios below to find where you fit and know how many 2015 1098-Es you should expect.
Your current servicer was your only servicer in 2015: In this case, your current federal loan servicer will provide you with a copy of your 1098-E if you paid interest of $600 or more in 2015. Your servicer may send your 1098-E to you electronically or via U.S. mail.
You had multiple servicers in 2015: In this case, each of your federal loan servicers will provide you with a copy of your 1098-E if you paid interest of $600 or more to that individual servicer in 2015. Your servicer may send your 1098-E to you electronically or via U.S. mail.
If you paid less than $600 in interest to any of your federal loan servicers, you may need to contact each servicer as necessary to find out the exact amount of interest you paid during the year.
How will reporting my student loan interest payments on my 2015 taxes benefit me?
Reporting the amount of student loan interest you paid in 2015 on your federal tax return may count as a deduction. A deduction reduces the amount of your income that is subject to tax, which may benefit you by reducing the amount of tax you may have to pay.
Now that you know student loans, interest rates, and taxes aren’t as scary as you may have originally thought, you are ready to report your student loan interest rates on your 2015 federal tax return!
But what if I still need help or have more questions?
While we are not tax advisors and cannot advise you on your federal tax return questions, your federal loan servicer is available to assist you with any questions about your student loans, including questions about IRS Form 1098-E and reporting the student loan interest you’ve paid on your 2015 taxes. If you’re not sure who your loan servicer is, visit My Federal Student Aid to find contact information for the loan servicer or lender for your loans. To see a list of our federal loan servicers, go to the Loan Servicers page on StudentAid.gov.
Noemi Solares is a Management and Program Analyst at Federal Student Aid.
If you borrowed before July of 2010, you may need to consolidate your loans in order to qualify for certain student loan repayment benefits, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness and some income-driven repayment plans.
Why does it matter which type(s) of loans I have?
If you’re interested in the best student loan repayment benefits, you’ll want to have Direct Loans. If you borrowed any federal student loans before July 2010, there’s a good chance that some or all of your federal student loans are not Direct Loans. But that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the best repayment benefits—you can. All you’ll need to do is consolidate. If you consolidate, as a student borrower, here are some of the repayment benefits you could access:
Direct Loans are those that are made to you, though your school, directly by the Department of Education. Since July 2010, almost all federal student loans are made under this program—in full, called the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.
Though the Direct Loan Program existed long before 2010, there was another bigger federal student loan program that most students relied on to finance their education: the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.
Under the FFEL Program, loans were made by banks and ultimately guaranteed by the taxpayer in case you didn’t make your payments. In 2010, this program ended.
Loans from both of these programs are FEDERAL student loans. The main way the programs differ is in who made you the loan in the first place. Most of the benefits in the Direct Loan Program are available in the FFEL Program. However, FFEL Program loans are not eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or the best income-driven repayment plans. This is where loan consolidation can help. It will effectively convert your FFEL Program loans into Direct Loans.
How do I find out which type(s) of federal student loans I have?
Log in using your FSA ID (You can’t use your Federal Student Aid PIN anymore!)
Scroll to the loan summary section. Go through each of the loans that are listed. Use the list below to see if you need to consolidate any of your loans to qualify for the best repayment options.
What should I consider before consolidating?
First, evaluate whether you want any of the benefits that are available only in the Direct Loan Program. Consolidating your loans can increase the amount of interest that accrues on your loans, so if you’re not interested in these programs, you may not want to consolidate. Also, understand that, by consolidating your loans, you will start your forgiveness clock over. For example, if you were already on an income-driven repayment plan and consolidate your loans, then you will lose the any credit you had already earned toward forgiveness.
Lastly, understand that some of the loans that we called out for consolidation are those from another federal student loan program called the Federal Perkins Loan Program. Those loans have their own cancellation benefits that are based on your job. If you consolidate these types of loans, you will lose access to those cancellation benefits. Learn more about Perkins Loan cancellation here.
Now I know what type(s) of loans I have. What can I do?
I have some loans that I need to consolidate, and some that I don’t. Okay, you’re a little trickier to advise. You’ll definitely have some loans that you’ll want to consolidate, but the real question is, should you consolidate all of your loans? Only consolidate what you need to? You can do either. It will be easier to keep track of your loans if you only have one, but as you can see in the above section, sometimes you’re better off not consolidating if you don’t have to. After you’ve figured this out, you can consolidate your loans and apply for the best income-driven repayment plans. After you’re set up on the plan you want and if you want to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, get your employment certified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
If you’re confused, need help, or have questions, you can contact the Loan Consolidation Information Call Center at 1-800-557-7392 to get free advice.
Ian Foss is a Program Specialist and Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.
It might seem difficult to choose an income-driven repayment plan when so many of the basic features of the plans look the same. After reading this post, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to choose the best repayment plan for your situation.
Here are the basics:
Let’s start by looking at the basics. All of these plans set your payments based on a percentage of your income, and all of these plans forgive any remaining balance on your loans after a period of time. There are some obvious differences between the plans, sure, but the chart is so general that you don’t have enough information in the chart to make a smart choice.
If you’re interested in an income-driven plan, you probably want to pay as little as possible over the shortest period of time and have accepted that more interest may accrue on your loans as a result. Additionally, you should understand that you have to keep in touch with your loan servicer about your income each year in order to stay on these plans. So, Pay As You Earn would seem to be a natural choice. But there are very specific requirements you must meet to qualify for Pay As You Earn plan. The details matter.
If your loans aren’t Direct Loans, that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the best income-driven repayment plans—almost everyone can. You just need to consolidate first. If you don’t consolidate, the only income-driven repayment plan you might qualify for is the income-based repayment plan, and, as you saw, it wouldn’t give you the lowest payment.
After you have figured out whether you needed to consolidate, and done so, you’re ready to choose a plan.
Let the Department of Education choose the best plan for you
Don’t do difficult work that you don’t have to do. The details matter for these plans. And there are a lot of details. Instead of sorting all of this out yourself, make us, or, more accurately, your loan servicer, do the difficult work. Just go to StudentLoans.gov and start an “Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request”. (That’s the online income-driven repayment application.)
When you get to the “Repayment Plan Selection” section of the application (toward the end), you should not choose an income-driven repayment plan by name. Instead, choose this option:
If you do, your loan servicer will evaluate whether you are eligible for all of the income-driven repayment plans and put you on the best plan for you.
If you want to choose a plan on your own, you probably want to choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.
For most borrowers, the Revised Pay You Earn Plan is the best choice because:
all Direct Loan student borrowers are eligible for the plan,
there are no date restrictions,
there are no income restrictions,
it offers the lowest payment of all the income-driven repayment plans,
it offers the shortest repayment period for many, and
it offers a generous interest benefit to keep your interest balance from growing
However, there are some borrowers who can’t or shouldn’t choose the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan.
Answer the questions below to see if you’re one of those borrowers.
Are you married? How do you file your taxes?
If you are married, you can choose to file a joint or separate income tax return. How you choose to file your taxes can have a large impact on income-driven repayment. There are two factors at play here—whether your spouse’s income will be used to calculate your payment and whether your spouse’s loan debt will be used to adjust your payment downward.
There are two things you need to consider
If you file jointly, for all plans, your income + your spouse’s income = income used to calculate payment.
If you file separately, then how your spouse’s income is treated depends on the plan:
For the Income-Contingent, Income-Based, and Pay As You Earn plans, only your income = income used to calculate payment.
For the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan, however, your income + your spouse’s income = income used to calculate payment.
Second, loan debt.
If it seems like using a joint income is going to disadvantage you, this isn’t the end of the story. If your spouse also has federal student loans, then we will figure out what percentage of the total debt is yours and multiply the payment based on a joint income by that percentage. This acknowledges that there are multiple federal student loan debts being repaid with the joint income. If your spouse has no federal student loan debt, however, then 100% of the debt is yours, and so there’s no adjustment to your payment.
What does this all mean? Though the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan is better for most, if you are married, file a separate return from your spouse, and your spouse doesn’t have federal student loan debt, then you will definitely be able to get a better deal under the Pay As You Earn Plan (if you are eligible for it), and, depending on your spouse’s income, you might even get a better deal under the Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment Plan. But, to get this better deal, you have to file separately from your spouse, and that might cost you more in taxes.
Did you borrow a federal student loan for graduate school?
Let’s talk about borrowing for graduate school. If you did, then the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan might not be for you.
Under the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan, the forgiveness clock runs for 20 years if you only borrowed for undergraduate study, and for 25 years if you borrowed even one loan for graduate study.
By contrast, the Pay As You Earn Plan has a 20-year forgiveness clock for all borrowers, undergraduate and graduate alike. So, if you qualify for Pay As You Earn and are a graduate borrower, it’s probably a better option for you. If you don’t qualify for Pay As You Earn, however, the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan is still better for you than the Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment Plans.
How recently did you start borrowing?
The Pay As You Earn Plan has many, but not all of the benefits as Revised Pay As You Earn, and, for some borrowers, it’s a better option. However, it’s also the plan that is available to the fewest number of borrowers. Specifically, to qualify for Pay As You Earn, you need to be a “new borrower” on or after October 1, 2007 who received a loan on or after October 1, 2011. That excludes a lot of people who have loans today.
Are you are a parent borrower?
Parent borrowers who want to repay their Parent PLUS Loans under an income-driven repayment plan can’t use the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan or any other income-driven repayment plan except for the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan.
The Income-Contingent Repayment Plan is the only plan that a borrower with this loan type can opt for. However, eligibility is not automatic. To become eligible, parent borrowers must consolidate their outstanding Parent PLUS Loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. If you’re a parent borrower, you can do that by visiting StudentLoans.gov.
Let’s sum up.
The Revised Pay As You Earn is the best plan for most borrowers. However, if it’s not good for you for one of the reasons I mentioned above, then you should consider Pay As You Earn. If that doesn’t work for you, consider the Income-Based Repayment Plan. Finally, consider the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan.
Ian Foss has worked at the Department of Education since 2010. He just saved 33% on his student loan payments by switching from the Income-Based Repayment Plan to the Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.
Some of you may be familiar with the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan, which caps payments at 10% of a borrower’s monthly income and forgives any remaining balance on your student loans after 20 years of qualifying repayment. But this plan is only for recent borrowers.
REPAYE solves this problem. Like the name implies, REPAYE has some similarities to PAYE. First and foremost, REPAYE, like PAYE, sets payments at no more than 10% of income. However, REPAYE—unlike PAYE— is available to Direct Loan borrowers regardless of when they took out their loans.
Should I switch to REPAYE?
If you can’t afford your monthly payment under your current repayment plan, you should consider REPAYE or one of the other income-driven repayment plans. These plans can offer needed relief by ensuring that you will never pay more than a certain percentage of your income. If you can afford to pay more on your loan, you should, since this will save you more on interest costs over the life of your loan.
If you’re pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you should consider REPAYE. REPAYE is an eligible repayment plan for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. If you’re working toward PSLF and considering consolidating your loans in order to qualify for REPAYE, you should read this first.
If you’re currently on Income-Based Repayment (IBR) because you weren’t eligible for PAYE, you should consider whether REPAYE might be a better option for you. REPAYE could lower your payments by one-third, from 15% to 10% of income.
Before making your decision, use our repayment estimator to compare what your monthly payment would be under REPAYE and all of our other plans.
Under any income-driven repayment plan, you’ll need to “recertify” your income and family size each year.
How is REPAYE different from the other income-driven repayment plans?
So, you already know that your payment under an income-driven plan is a percentage of your income. But REPAYE is different from the other plans. Here are a few differences:
There’s no income requirement to enter the plan: Unlike with the PAYE and IBR plans, borrowers don’t have to show that that their income is low compared to their federal student loan debt in order to enter REPAYE. In simple terms, that means that the amount of your debt and your income level won’t keep you from qualifying.
Borrowers with only undergraduate loans will have a different repayment period than those with graduate loans: Income-driven repayment plans forgive any remaining loan balance after a specific number of years of qualifying repayment—either 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. REPAYE is a little different than the other income-driven repayment plans. With REPAYE, if you’re only repaying loans you received as an undergraduate student, you’ll repay your loans for up to 20 years. However, if you’re repaying even one loan that you received as a graduate or professional student, you’ll repay your loans (including any loans you received as an undergraduate) for up to 25 years. Of course, this difference doesn’t matter if you later qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, since your loans would be forgiven after 10 years of qualifying payments.
Married borrowers’ payments are calculated differently: The other income-driven repayment plans use the combined income of you and your spouse to set your payment amount only if you file a joint federal income tax return. If you and your spouse file separate tax returns, your payment amount is based on only your income. REPAYE (with limited exceptions) uses the combined income of you and your spouse to set your monthly payment amount, regardless of whether you file a joint tax return or separate returns. This could increase your monthly payment amount. For more information, read our Q&A.
REPAYE payments are not capped at the 10-year standard payment amount: Generally, your payment amount under an income-driven repayment plan is a percentage of your discretionary income. However, this isn’t always the case with the PAYE and IBR plans. Under PAYE and IBR, your payment will never be higher than what it would have been under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, no matter how much your income increases. With REPAYE, there’s no cap on your monthly payment amount. Your payment will always be 10% of your discretionary income, no matter how high your income grows. This means that if your income increases significantly, your REPAYE payment could be higher than what you would have to pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan.
REPAYE provides a more generous interest benefit: If your payment doesn’t cover all of your interest, REPAYE pays more of the remaining interest than PAYE or IBR. This can help prevent your loan balance from ballooning and limit the total cost of your loans.
What else should I consider before applying?
Determine whether you have Direct Loans before attempting to switch to REPAYE. If you’re not sure which type of loans you have, you can log in to StudentAid.gov to find out. Loans labeled “Direct” qualify for REPAYE, loans without the “Direct” label don’t qualify for REPAYE unless you consolidate them. You can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan on StudentLoans.gov.
Special considerations for borrowers who are currently on IBR:
If you don’t have Direct Loans, but you’ve been repaying your other loans under IBR for a while and you’re thinking of consolidating to take advantage of REPAYE, it’s important to understand that you’ll lose any credit toward IBR loan forgiveness that you received before consolidating—you’ll have to start over with a new 20- or 25-year repayment period on the Direct Consolidation Loan. So, carefully consider whether having a lower monthly payment amount matters more than the additional time you may spend repaying your loans.
Any outstanding interest will be capitalized (added to your loan principal balance) when you leave IBR.
How do I apply for REPAYE?
You can apply for REPAYE—or any other income-driven repayment plan—on StudentLoans.gov. We’ve made some improvements to the way the electronic application works, so give it a spin.
Looking for the lowest monthly payment? With four income-driven repayment plans, it’s easy to overlook a plan or confuse a feature of one plan with another. Let us do the hard part for you. If you’re looking for the lowest monthly payment, there’s a box you can check on the application to request that your loan servicer evaluate you for all income-driven repayment plans, and put you on the plan with the lowest initial payment.
Where can I get more information?
There’s more to know about REPAYE than what you see in this blog post.
Get more information about REPAYE and income-driven repayment plans at StudentAid.gov/idr.