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Are Your Student Loan Payments Higher Than Necessary?

Source: Tulane Public Relations via Flickr.

If you’re among the millions of Americans who make student
loan payments each month, it’s important to know all of the
repayment options available to you. Certain plans could lower
your monthly payments, freeing up more of your cash.

Here’s an overview of the most advantageous repayment plans,
along with the pros and cons of reducing your payment.

The Pay As You Earn plan

Pay As You Earn

is designed to keep your payments low when you’re fresh out of
school and not earning much money. Then, as your income grows, so
do your repayments.

The required payment amount is actually quite low: It’s capped
at either 10% of your discretionary income

what your payment would be under a standard 10-year repayment
plan. For the purposes of this calculation, your discretionary
income is the difference between your income and 150% of the
poverty guidelines for your family size and state of

As an example, let’s say you earn $60,000 per year, live in
any of the 48 contiguous states or Washington, D.C. (the poverty
guidelines are only different for Alaska and Hawaii), and are
married with one child (family size of three). The poverty
guideline for 2015 is $20,090, and 150% of that amount is
$30,135. Therefore your discretionary income is $60,000 minus
$30,135, which comes to $29,865. Divide this over 12 months and
apply the 10% rule, and you can see that your monthly payment
would be capped at about $250, no matter how high your student
loan balance is.

Now, the most common concern I hear is that such a low payment
may not even cover the interest on the loans, and therefore it
could take decades to pay off the balance. However, under the Pay
As You Earn plan, any remaining loan balance will be forgiven
after 20 years of on-time payments, regardless of how much is

It’s also worth noting that Pay As You Earn isn’t available to
all borrowers yet. It was announced last year that the program
will be available to all borrowers by the end of 2015, but for
now it’s only open to borrowers who took out their first loan
after October 2007. For those who are currently ineligible, the
Income-Based Repayment, or IBR, plan, offers similar benefits:
The payment cap is slightly higher at 15% of discretionary
income, and any remaining balance is forgiven after 25 years.

Extended repayment

If you’d prefer payments that stay the same over the years but
find the 10-year repayment plan a little too expensive, there’s
also the option of an extended repayment plan, which spreads your
payments over a longer time frame (up to 25 years). This tends to
be an appealing option for people who earn too much to take full
advantage of the Pay As You Earn plan but find the 10-year
payment amount to be too high to manage along with their other

Another advantage of the extended option is that your loan

go down over time, which can provide a nice boost to your credit
score. According to the FICO scoring formula, 30% of your score
comes from “amounts owed,” which takes into account, ;among
other things, the remaining balances on your loan relative to the
original loan amount.

The downsides of choosing the extended repayment plan are that
you’ll never be eligible for loan forgiveness as you would with
the Pay As You Earn plan, and you’ll end up paying a lot more
interest over the life of the loan than you would under a
standard 10-year repayment plan.

For example, if you owe $35,000 in student loans at 6%
interest, your monthly payment under the standard 10-year plan
would be $389 per month. So, over the life of the loan, you’ll
pay $11,680 in interest. However, if you choose to pay it back
over 25 years, your monthly payment falls to about $225, but
you’ll end up paying $32,650 in interest.

The downside to lower payments

As with anything else in life, there are pros and cons to all
repayment options, including Pay as You Earn and extended
repayment. As I mentioned before, you’ll end up paying more
interest with an extended repayment plan than with a standard
repayment plan, and if your income increases over the years, this
could be the case with Pay As You Earn as well.

And with Pay As You Earn, remember that your payments will
rise in proportion to your income, and this could cause a rather
sharp increase if you get a raise or a higher-paying job. In the
earlier example of a borrower who earns $60,000 per year, a
promotion to a job paying $80,000 per year (33% raise) would
increase the allowable loan payment from $250 to $415 (67%
increase). With a raise that size, a higher loan payment isn’t
the end of the world, but it’s definitely something to keep in

Aside from these drawbacks, the Pay as You Earn plan and the
extended repayment plan can be excellent ways to manage your
student loan expenses while still building up a solid payment

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Are Your Student Loan Payments Higher Than

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