Some Student Loan Borrowers Get Some Relief

Starting in 2012, about 1.6 million student loan borrowers will be able to make smaller monthly payments, and make less of these payments before the remaining balances are forgiven. On October 26, President Obama announced these improvements to the Income-Based Repayment Plan.

The changes are simple.

1. Monthly payments:  Under the Income-Based Repayment Plan, payments are capped “at an amount intended to be affordable based on your income and family size.” The payment amount has been 15% of your disposable income. It is now going down to 10% of disposable income. (Click on the above link for more details on how to determine your disposable income and payment amount.)

2. Repayment term:  The current 25-year repayment period is being shortened to 20 years.

Although 20 years is still a very long time, if your income is low enough the monthly payments can be very low, or even $0, meaning that you may not have to pay very much during those 20 years.

Unfortunately, this new improved Income-Based Repayment Plan only applies to people who 1) graduate in 2012 or later, 2) took out their first student loan no earlier than 2008, and 3) will be taking out at least one new federal student loan during 2012 or later. It’s clearly designed for current and future student loan borrowers.

But even if you don’t qualify for the 10%/20-year improved version, the older 15%/25-year Plan can also be very helpful—saving you money right away in your monthly budget, and also potentially saving a lot of money in your lifetime budget.

However, there ARE other limitations: none of this, including the Income-Based Repayment Plan, applies to private student loans. You need to contact your private lender to find out your options. And even if you do have a federal student loan, you cannot be in default on the loan to qualify for this Plan. To find out what type of student loans you have and their default status, go to the National Student Loan Data System for this and related information.