Complete Guide to the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Program

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

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Pay As You Earn

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If you’re struggling with high student loan payments, switching to the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan could help make your monthly dues more affordable. PAYE is an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan for federal student loans. Eligible students on the PAYE plan can have monthly payments on qualifying federal student loans reduced to 10 percent of their discretionary income. After 20 years of payments, any remaining loan balance will be forgiven.

PAYE is one of several IDR plans that are ideal for student loan borrowers having difficulty making monthly payments. PAYE — along with the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan — does more than just reduce monthly payments. Opting for PAYE as your student loan payment plan could mean you don’t have to repay your entire loan balance.

If you’re interested in having your student loan payment adjusted for your income, read on to learn more.

What is Pay As You Earn?

“[PAYE is] a type of income-based repayment option where the amount you pay will be based on your discretionary income,” Michael Solari, the certified financial planner for Solari Financial Planning, LLC, explained. “The idea is that your payments will be less as you enter the workforce and gradually grow as you earn more.”

Federal student loan borrowers can choose the PAYE repayment program if they struggle to make normal loan payments. For qualifying borrowers, the repayment plan limits payments to 10 percent of discretionary income. At the end of a 20-year repayment term, any outstanding loan balance is forgiven as long as no payments were missed during the term.

PAYE differs from traditional Income-Based Repayment (IBR) because, depending upon the date your student loans were initiated, PAYE may cap loan payments at a smaller percent of income than IBR. This means monthly payments would be lower under PAYE. PAYE could also result in earlier loan forgiveness and better interest benefits for subsidized loans.

“If you qualify for PAYE, it is always superior to IBR,” said Chase Branham, an associate financial planner at Wrenne Financial Planning. However, qualifying for PAYE is more challenging, and loan consolidation may be required before you apply.

How PAYE lowers your monthly costs

The default repayment method for student loans is a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. Payments are determined based on the loan balance under this option. Unfortunately, this isn’t affordable if your loan balance is high but your income is low.

Under PAYE, payments are not determined by your loan balance. Instead, PAYE will “reduce your payment to 10 percent of your discretionary income and will cap your monthly payment,” Branham explained.

The difference can be substantial. Consider the difference between PAYE and standard repayment if you have a $35,000 student loan balance at 5.7% interest; your income is $20,000 and grows 3.5 percent annually; and you are single.

Original PAYE Savings
First month $383 $16 $367
Last month $383 $86 $297
Balance paid $45,960 $11,086 $34,875
Total forgiveness $0 $63,884 $63,884
Repayment term ~ 10 yr. ~ 20 yr. ~10 yr.

Often, your monthly payments under PAYE aren’t enough to cover interest accruing on loans. Under both IBR and PAYE, interest is not capitalized — or added to the principal balance — until you leave the repayment program, as explained by the Department of Education.

However, under PAYE, unpaid interest is only capitalized until the principal increases by 10 percent. This cap is a substantial benefit, because when interest is capitalized, you pay interest on the interest.

Under both IBR and PAYE, low payments also mean you often won’t repay your loan even after decades. You’ll have the remaining balance forgiven under both, as long as you made all your payments. PAYE provides for loan forgiveness after 20 years, while IBR payments on loans taken before July 1, 2014, must be made for 25 years before loans are forgiven. However, under both PAYE and IBR, you will have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven.

How your monthly payment is calculated under PAYE

To calculate your payment under PAYE, start by figuring out your discretionary income. Discretionary income is calculated by subtracting 150 percent of your state’s poverty level from your household income. State poverty levels are based on household size.

The poverty level for a household of one in New York was $12,060 in 2017, according to New York State Community Action Association. If you are single and living in New York with a $20,000 income, you would subtract $18,090 ($12,060*1.5) from $20,000. Your discretionary income would be $1,910. Your payments would be equal to 10 percent of this amount, so you’d owe $191 a year or $15.91 monthly.

The easiest way to calculate your PAYE payment — and the savings this payment method provides — is to use our Student Loan PAYE calculator.

To use the calculator:

  • Input your adjusted gross income
  • Select your family size
  • Select your state of residence
  • Input information about your current student loan balance and student loan interest rate.
  • Estimate how much you expect your income to grow annually. The historical average income growth is around 3.5 percent, so that’s what our calculator defaults to.

The calculator will show your monthly payment, the forgiven amount, your savings, and the total amount repaid.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Calculator

First month

Last month

Balance paid

Total forgiveness

Repayment term

First month
Last month
Balance paid
Total forgiveness
Repayment term
Your monthly payment on PAYE would be , a difference of from what you are currently paying. If your income increases over time, your payments may increase. Assuming annual income growth of 3.5%, your final monthly payment would be . After making payments for — years, you will have paid a total of and would receive in forgiveness, compared to your current plan where you will pay over the next — years.

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Because your salary can change annually and PAYE is based off how much you make, you’ll need to recertify your plan each year. To recertify, you will need to provide proof of income. Your payment can go up as you earn more, but will not be more than 10 percent of your discretionary income.

Eligibility requirements for PAYE

PAYE requires that borrowers and their loans pass strict eligibility requirements. These include the following:

  • The payment you’d owe under PAYE must be less than the payment you’d make if you were on the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan.
  • You must be a new borrower as of October 1, 2007. You are not eligible if you had an outstanding balance on a Direct Loan before October 1, 2007.
  • You must have received a Direct Loan disbursement on or after October 1, 2011.
  • Your loans must qualify for a PAYE plan. Qualifying loans include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, Graduate PLUS Loans (but not Parent PLUS Loans) and consolidation loans made after October 1, 2011, as long as the consolidation loans do not include Direct or FFEL Loans made before October 1, 2007.

Pros of PAYE

PAYE has some significant benefits for borrowers. “The biggest pro is that you could have a ton of debt forgiven after paying 20 years,” Solari said. “For some that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Other pros, according to Branham, include “the ability to reduce and cap your payments, more favorable interest subsidies and capitalization rules than IBR, and flexibility to file taxes to keep payments low.”

Cons of PAYE

Cons of PAYE, according to Branham, include an interest rate that is less favorable than REPAYE, which could really hurt people with higher loan balances. Further, Solari points out that “since your payments are lower to start and paying over a longer period than a standard 10-year repayment, you will pay more interest.”

Solari also pointed out another big con: the risk that PAYE will not always remain an option. “These loan forgiveness programs were established under President Obama’s presidency. Any administration could take it away,” he warned. “Since you don’t get the benefit until you’ve paid in 20 years there is a big risk that the benefit will be there.”

REPAYE: A Pay As You Earn expansion

If you are not eligible for PAYE, you may be eligible for REPAYE, which was a Pay As You Earn expansion. “This program extends PAYE to all federal student loan borrowers,” explained Steven J. Richardson, a student loan lawyer at Richardson Law Offices. However, as Richardson explains in a comparison of PAYE and REPAYE, REPAYE has some cons that PAYE doesn’t.

In 2015, the Department of Education introduced the Revised Pay As You Earn program, also known as REPAYE. This modified version of PAYE allows more borrowers to qualify because you can become eligible regardless of when you took out your loans.

However, PAYE and REPAYE have important differences in how they treat spousal income and how student loan interest is treated.

Under IBR or PAYE, a student loan debtor can file taxes separately from a spouse and the spouse’s income won’t count for determining loan payments. This option goes away under REPAYE and a spouse’s income factors into determining monthly REPAYE payments.

REPAYE provides more help with interest to borrowers whose interest exceeds their monthly payments. If your loans accrue $100 in interest monthly and you pay only $50, your student loan balance would increase even as you made payments. REPAYE allows borrowers to have 50 percent of excess interest forgiven monthly. This means you’d only have $25 in monthly interest added to your loan balance each month if you paid $50 and monthly interest in the amount of $100 accrued.

However, there are no monthly payment caps under REPAYE, so your payments could end up much higher than they would on the Standard Repayment Plan.

Is Pay As You Earn right for you?

Whether PAYE is right for you or not is “highly borrower-specific,” Branham said. Factors Branham recommended considering include: “current loan balance, current income, expected future income, spousal income, spousal loan balances, and where you work.”

You’ll need to make sure you are eligible for PAYE, estimate current and future income, use our PAYE calculator to project payments, and decide which option makes sense both now and in the future.

Branham suggested PAYE could be a good option for eligible borrowers going for public service loan forgiveness, because it is the most aggressive option for lowering payments. “A good example of someone who might want to do PAYE would be a married borrower with high loan balances, who is going for PSLF, and whose spouse has no loans and high income,” he said.

However, if you have a higher income and neither spouse can take advantage of public service loan forgiveness or interest subsidies, Branham recommended refinancing over PAYE. “Basically at that point, you have to pay off loans, so refinancing to a lower rate can make sense,” he said.

It’s just a matter of doing the math to find out how to keep your overall costs of student loan repayment low and to find out if PAYE is the best answer for you.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 8 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.20% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.99% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.89% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 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% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of December 13, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 12/13/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit, email us at, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.46% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% APR (without AutoPay). Variable rates currently from 2.31% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% (without AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.31% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.31% plus 0.75% margin minus 0.25% for AutoPay. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your credit history and the term of the loan and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR 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. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

3 Important Disclosures for Figure.

Figure Disclosures

Figure’s Student Refinance Loan is a private loan. If you refinance federal loans, you forfeit certain flexible repayment options associated with those loans. If you expect to incur financial hardship that would impact your ability to repay, you should consider federal consolidation alternatives.

4 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

College Ave Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.

2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.

4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 1/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

5 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

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. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
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.

This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.


There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.


For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
For eligible Associates degrees in the healthcare field (see Eligibility & Eligible Loans section below), Lender will refinance up to $50,000 in loans for non-ParentPlus refinance loans. Note, parents who are refinancing loans taken out on behalf of a child who has obtained an associates degrees in an eligible healthcare field are not subject to the $50,000 loan maximum, refer to for more information about refinancing ParentPlus loans.


Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).

Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.

All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to for applicable terms and conditions.

For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.


The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.


The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.


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.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.

If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.


This information is current as of November 8, 2019 and is subject to change.

6 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.

7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 1.76% effective November 10, 2019.

8 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via 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 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 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 12/019/2019 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% to 8.59% Variable APR with AutoPay and 3.49% to 7.75% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

1.99% – 6.89%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.31% – 7.36%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.06% – 6.81%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Figure

2.62% – 6.12%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit College Ave

1.99% – 6.65%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.99% – 7.06%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.85% – 6.13%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.90% – 8.59%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Published in Student Loan Repayment