In today’s tough economy, many recent college graduates are looking for ways to shrink their federal student loan payments. Income-Based Repayment (IBR), which allows students to pay a monthly amount based on their earnings, not their federal student loan balances, provides significant relief. However, a new report, Safety Net or Windfall? Examining Changes to Income-Based Repayment for Federal Student Loans, from the Federal Education Budget Project (our sister blog Ed Money Watch's parent initiative) shows that pending changes to IBR are far more generous than previously thought. Borrowers with high student loan balances and high incomes, not low-income borrowers, stand to benefit the most.
Congress created IBR in 2007 to make it easier for college graduates to make their student loan payments even in their first years out of school when they are earning lower incomes. If a student’s monthly payment under standard repayment exceeds 15 percent of his monthly discretionary income, he is eligible for the program. The borrower’s monthly payments increase as his salary increases until they reach a cap at the level he would have paid under standard repayment. After that borrower makes 25 years of payments in IBR, the Department of Education forgives any remaining loan balance.
But in 2010, at President Obama’s request, Congress made the program even more generous. The new IBR will base monthly payments on 10 percent of discretionary income, instead of 15, and loan forgiveness will be provided after only 20 years. That change was set to take effect in 2014 until the Department of Education, as part of the president’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative to circumvent legislative gridlock, sped up the availability of the new IBR by creating a version of it through regulations – “Pay As You Earn” (PAYE). PAYE will take effect by the end of the year.
But little is known about the real effects of this new IBR system. To fill in this knowledge gap, FEBP Director Jason Delisle and Program Associate Alex Holt designed and built a calculator that estimates the monthly payments a borrower will make under the original IBR, the pending version of IBR, and other repayment plans like standard 10-year and consolidation. It accounts for a borrower’s loan balance, interest rate, income, and family size over the entire repayment period. It also calculates the total payments over the life of the loan, and the amount of loan forgiveness he will receive.