Are Income-Driven Repayment Programs Putting Federal Student Loans at Risk?

 February 5, 2018
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Federal student loans are costing the government billions of dollars, according to a recent report from the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Education.

The report states that the biggest culprit is the growing number of borrowers who enroll in income-driven repayment programs (IDR). These programs allow students to extend their student loan terms and make monthly payments based on how much money they make.

This report follows one from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2016 indicating that the federal government drastically underestimated the cost of income-driven repayment.

It is likely that this new report from the Office of the Inspector General will influence the outcome of the PROSPER Act legislation currently working its way through Congress.

Income-driven repayment programs cost the government $11.5 billion in 2015

According to the Office of the Inspector General, the government subsidy for income-based repayment plans such as Pay as You Earn (PAYE) and Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE), rose from $1.4 billion in 2011 to $11.5 billion in 2015.

income-driven repayment programs

Image credit: Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education

The above figure shows that the government has been making money on all other federal student loans. However, when it comes to income-driven repayment programs, the government is losing money. The red line indicates the total — and the trend appears to be moving in a direction where the money repaid by borrowers will no longer offset the cost of student loan forgiveness.

“Borrowers have been signing up for IDR plans, such as PAYE and REPAYE, at a substantial rate,” said the report. “We calculated that the portion of total Direct Loan volume being repaid through IDR plans has increased 625% [from 2011 to 2015].”

The Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is also recognized in the report. “As more borrowers select IDR plans that allow for student loan forgiveness, the cost of this form of nonpayment could be a major issue for the federal government.”

On top of that, FSA expressed concern that uncertain repayment terms related to timing and the potential for more forgiveness could create challenges to managing the government’s student loan portfolio.

A similar report from the GAO in late 2016 took the Department of Education to task for severely underestimating the cost of income-driven repayment programs and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). That report found that close to one-third of federal student loans expected to go through IDR would be forgiven, at the cost of $74 billion for student loans issued between 2009 and 2016.

What does the Office of Inspector General recommend?

To help alleviate this problem, the Office of Inspector General suggests that the Department of Education take the time to publish more information about the costs. The GAO already asked the Department of Education to improve the way it estimates the impacts of policies.

“[I]t is imperative that the department publish additional information on both historical and future estimated costs and the associated assumptions, methodologies, and limitations of the information,” said the report, giving the Department of Education 30 days to submit an action plan to correct the situation.

The Obama administration pushed for increased publicity for income-driven repayment programs as a way to help low-income students better manage their cash flow. However, even with that push, in May 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published findings indicating that many servicers aren’t providing information about IDR options and that some borrowers find it difficult to enroll.

How could the PROSPER Act impact the growing cost of income-driven repayment programs?

While the Department of Education looks at its methodology and attempts to find a solution to its federal student loans portfolio woes, Congress may already be taking steps to solve the problem, courtesy of legislation wending its way through the House and the Senate.

In December, the House introduced the PROSPER Act, and the Senate has been holding hearings about the legislation.

If passed, the PROSPER Act would streamline the repayment program to include a standard 10-year plan and a single income-based repayment program. However, with the new plan, there would be a minimum payment of $25 and borrowers would pay 15% of their discretionary income.

This is a change from current programs that allow for no minimum payment if students have low enough incomes, as well as raising the cap from 10% of discretionary income.

On top of that, the PROSPER Act reduces the loan amount eligible for forgiveness. Borrowers would be required to pay whatever they would have under a 10-year plan, getting rid of any forgiveness for principal loan amounts. There would be forgiveness of any interest that accumulates beyond the interest a borrower would have paid in a standard plan, though.

However, the reduction in the amounts forgiven could help stem the tide of growing costs to the federal government.

“One of the strongest policy reforms in the PROSPER Act is the elimination of loan forgiveness,” said the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. “Ending this policy would come as welcome news to American workers, the majority of whom do not hold bachelor’s degrees and will currently have to pay this massive bill along with any new loan forgiveness.”

The left-leaning Center for American Progress, however, worries the PROSPER Act could hit low-income graduates hard — and even cost them more in the long run.

federal student loans

Image credit: The Center for American Progress

Additionally, the PROSPER Act has no upper limit on the repayment term. Even though excess interest would be forgiven, the fact that the original amount borrowed must be repaid means that some borrowers could continue paying for 60 years, according to the analysis.

“While the desire to reduce complexity for borrowers is laudable, the PROSPER Act would do more than good,” said the Center for American Progress. “The repayment restructuring would increase monthly payments for all borrowers, increase the amount many borrowers will pay overall, and increase the time they will spending doing it.”

What can you do about your student loan situation?

Since their introduction, income-driven repayment programs have provided a way for borrowers to stay current on their payments without breaking their budgets. For now, IDR makes sense when you need increased monthly cash flow.

However, long-term, it’s possible that you could end up paying more than you borrow, depending on how long you are in repayment. The longer you pay interest, the more it will cost you. Plus, current IDR solutions can potentially result in a hefty tax bill after your remaining balance is forgiven 20 or 25 years down the road.

For many borrowers, especially those who don’t qualify for PSLF, it might be a good idea to find ways to pay down debt faster. As your income increases, consider making larger payments, or even refinancing to a lower interest rate and term, to help you get rid of your debt ahead of time — and pay less doing it.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.74% – 9.51%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.89% – 6.20%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.05% – 5.25%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

1.74% – 7.99%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit NaviRefi

2.24% – 7.99%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.74% – 7.99%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.86% – 7.98%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.74% – 7.99%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Purefy

2.24% – 9.23%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Citizens

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of June 1, 2022.


2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


4 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.99% – 8.24% APR (2.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (1.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 2.24% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.


6 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.24% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.


7 Important Disclosures for Purefy.

Purefy Disclosures

Purefy Student Loan Refinancing Rate and Terms Disclosure: Annual Percentage Rates (APR) ranges and examples are based on information provided to Purefy by lenders participating in Purefy’s rate comparison platform. For student loan refinancing, the participating lenders offer fixed rates ranging from 2.73% – 7.99% APR, and variable rates ranging from 1.74% – 7.99% APR. The maximum variable rate is 25.00%. Your interest rate will be based on the lender’s requirements. In most cases, lenders determine the interest rates based on your credit score, degree type and other credit and financial criteria. Only borrowers with excellent credit and meeting other lender criteria will qualify for the lowest rate available. Rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice. Terms and conditions apply.  


8 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

CitizensBank Disclosures

Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24%-9.23% (2.24%-9.23% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29%-9.73% (4.29%-9.73% APR). 

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.37%- 8.81% (5.37% – 8.81% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.87% – 9.31% (5.87% – 9.31% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24% – 8.75% (2.24% – 8.75% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29% – 9.25% (4.29% – 9.25% APR).

Education Refinance Loan for Parents Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24%- 8.40% (2.24%- 8.40% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29% – 8.90% (4.29% – 8.90% APR). 

Medical Residency Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.24% – 8.75% (2.24% – 8.75% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.29% – 9.25% (4.29% – 9.25% APR).