Repaying Student Loans

Repaying Your Federal Student Loans

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When dealing with federal student loans, you’re presented with a menu of eight distinct repayment possibilities. Familiarizing yourself with these options is crucial in order to pinpoint the one that aligns most favorably with your financial circumstances. To accomplish this, it’s imperative to evaluate your individual requirements, encompassing an understanding of both your monthly budget and the time frame available for settling your loan.

An online tool at your disposal for aiding this decision-making process is the Repayment Estimator offered by the Department of Education. By inputting specifics such as your loan balances, interest rates, tax filing status, income, and family size, this tool serves to generate a comprehensive array of potential strategies:

  • Which repayment plans you are eligible for
  • The amount of your first and last monthly payments
  • Total amount paid
  • Any projected loan forgiveness
  • How long you have to repay your student debt

Since there are different plans and grace periods, it is crucial to get to know the features of each choice. Often, a student loan servicer can work with you, but it is a good idea to go into a meeting prepared. For quick reference, the main types of student loan repayment plans are as follows. Before you start, these differ from the ways you’d pay back a private loan, which we discuss further on in the article.

  • Standard Plan
  • Extended Plan
  • Graduated Plan
  • Income-Driven Plans
  • Income-Sensitive Plan


The Standard Repayment Plans (SRPs) serve as the default payment arrangement for both Federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL). These plans grant you the opportunity to clear your loan within a span of 10 years, during which you’ll be making fixed monthly payments. The exact amount of these payments is contingent upon your loan balance and is meticulously calculated to ensure complete repayment within the stipulated decade. However, it’s important to note that you might need to fulfill a minimum monthly payment of at least $50 throughout the entirety of your loan’s lifespan.

An appealing facet of the Standard Repayment Plan is its inherent flexibility. In the event of encountering financial hardships, you have the liberty to transition to an alternative plan. Conversely, if all unfolds as anticipated, you can bid adieu to student debt after the span of 10 years, subsequently diverting your focus toward other financial aspirations.

Another point to consider pertains to the matter of interest charges. When juxtaposed with the Income-Based Repayment Plans (which we shall delve into shortly), the Standard Repayment Plan tends to entail lower interest fees. This divergence can be attributed to the elongated duration of Income-Based Repayment Plans, which could potentially lead to higher accrued interest. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that this plan’s monthly payments might surpass those associated with certain alternative plans.


For those grappling with student loan debt, income-driven repayment (IDR) plans can serve as a valuable tool. These plans achieve this by reducing your monthly payment obligations, offering immediate relief to your cash flow. Nevertheless, it’s essential to recognize that over the long haul, you might face implications like taxable income on forgiven loans and elevated interest fees.

Borrowers who qualify have access to four distinct income-driven repayment plans, designed to assist individuals who find it challenging to meet their payment obligations on their current income. In the overview provided below, the significance of your disposable income (discretionary income) becomes apparent when considering these options.


Under this plan, your monthly payments typically amount to 10 percent of your discretionary income, divided by 12. Any remaining balance is eligible for forgiveness after 20 or 25 years.


Monthly payments, within the PAYE plan, are typically equivalent to 10 percent of your discretionary income, divided by 12. Any outstanding balance becomes eligible for forgiveness after 20 years.


Within the Income-Based Repayment Plan, monthly payments usually correspond to 15 percent of your discretionary income, divided by 12. However, if you’re a new borrower, the payment percentage is lowered to 10 percent. Any remaining balance is subject to forgiveness after 20 or 25 years.


This plan entails monthly payments equal to 20 percent of your discretionary income, divided by 12. Alternatively, it can be the amount you would pay under a fixed 12-year repayment plan (longer than the 10-year SRP). Any remaining balance becomes eligible for forgiveness after 25 years.


The Extended Repayment Plan presents you with the option to spread out your loan repayment over a more extended timeframe compared to the Standard and Income-driven plans. In contrast to the 10-year term of the SRP, you have the ability to make payments over a span of up to 25 years. During this period, your payments can either remain fixed or follow a graduated pattern. Generally, this translates to more manageable monthly payments compared to what the Standard and Graduate Repayment Plans demand. Nonetheless, if your objective is to swiftly eliminate your student debt in order to allocate funds for purposes such as purchasing a house, retirement, travel, or other aspirations, this plan might not align with your goals.


The Graduated Repayment Plan initiates your repayment journey with lower initial payments that increment every two years. In essence, you remain on a 10-year track (or a 30-year track for consolidated loans), but your monthly payments commence at a lower level and progressively rise. This payment structure assumes that as you advance in your career, you’ll be in a position to make more substantial contributions toward your loan.


Your student loan billing is managed by your loan servicer, and each servicer follows its own payment procedure. It’s your responsibility to directly submit payments to your servicer; however, they often offer assistance if needed. In case you’re unsure about your servicer’s identity, you can verify it by checking your account on My Federal Student Aid.

How much will your payment be? Typically made on a monthly basis, your payment hinges on four key factors:

  1. The specific type of loan you obtained
  2. The total amount you borrowed
  3. The repayment plan you’ve selected
  4. The interest rate associated with your loan


The time lapse after graduation and before you start making payments is a “grace period”. Usually it is a set time frame which gives you the space to settle your finances and select your repayment plan.

No grace period – PLUS Loans (possible eligibility for deferment)
6-month grace period – Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
9-month grace period – Federal Perkins Loans
Up to 3-year extension – Military service members

Caveat: While it may sound great to have this breathing room, interest will mount up if you have unsubsidized loans. It’s the same when you don’t pay a credit card balance on time.

In contrast, Perkins loans, direct subsidized loans, and subsidized Stafford loans don’t accrue interest during the grace period. You can, however, use your grace period to make interest payments. If this is easy for you to do, it’ll put you one step ahead when your grace period is up.


Do you need to postpone your payments? In some cases, one may be eligible to receive a deferment or forbearance. These are temporary pauses which allow you to stop making payments. Or, reduce your monthly payment amount for a specified period.

For instance, there’s a provision in the Department of Education Appropriations Act, 2019 which allows cancer patients to get deferments while they are in treatment. Part-time students, military persons and others may also be eligible for a deferment.

One thing to remember is that with a deferment, you may not be responsible for paying the interest your loan amasses. This applies only to specific types of loans. During a forbearance though, you are responsible for paying the interest that accrues on all types of federal student loans.


Do you have many federal student loans? You may be able to merge them into one loan with a fixed interest rate. The amount of the loan depends on the average of all the joined interest rates and there is no cost to you. To do so, you need to file a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan Application and Promissory Note. Overall, this may simplify your repayment process.


The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program. It forgives the remaining balance on Direct Loans for eligible student loan debt holders. How do you qualify for public service loan forgiveness? To be eligible for PSLF, you’ll need to meet several criteria:

  • Where you work matters. Qualifying employers include the government or not-for-profit organizations.
  • You must first enroll in a qualifying repayment plan. Examples include REPAYE, PAYE, IBR, ICR and SRPs.
  • You need to be a full-time employee. This means more than 30 hours per week.
  • Under one of these plans, you’ll have to make 120 qualifying monthly payments.


Are your federal student loan payments high compared to your income? If so, you may want to repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan. Most federal student loans are eligible for at least one (of the four) income-driven repayment plans.

If your income is low enough, your payment could be all of $0 per month. Remember though, you’ll need to make calculations using your discretionary income as a guide. To calculate your discretionary income, find the difference between your adjusted gross income and 150 percent of the annual poverty line for a family of your size and in your state.

You may also want to familiarize yourself with the different repayment periods and payments. The table below is an overview of this information.

Income-driven Plan NameTerm LengthMonthly Payment CapDescription
Income-based repayment (IBR)20 years if you’re a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014
25 yearns if you’re not a new borrower
After July 1, 2014
10% of discretionary income (for new borrowers) on or after July 1,2014 but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount
15% of discretionary income if you’re not a new borrower on/or after
July 1,2014
  • Low monthly payments
  • Loans eligible for forgiveness after repayment period
  • Possibility of higher interest fees
  • If your loans are forgiven, the balance may be taxable
Income-contingent repayment12 yearsThe lesser of either 20% of your discretionary income
what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted according to your income
  • No income eligibility requirement may make it easier to qualify
  • You may be eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Parents with PARENT PLUS Loans can qualify once they consolidate their loans into a Direct Loan
  • Highest potential payment amount of all 4 plans
  • If your loans are forgiven, the balance may be taxable
Pay as you Earn20 years10% of discretionary income
  • Lowest payment amount for eligible borrowers
  • Loans eligible for forgiveness after repayment term
  • Only new borrowers can qualify
  • If your loans are forgiven, the balance may be taxable n qualify
Revised Pay as you Earn (REPAYE)20 years if the loans are for undergraduate study
25 years if the loans are for professional or graduate study
10% of discretionary income
  • Lowest payment amount for eligible borrowers
  • Loan forgiveness terms depend on whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student
  • Monthly payments factor in your spouse’s income regardless of filing status
  • If your loans are forgiven, the balance may be taxable


To apply for one of the Income-driven Repayment Plans, there are some easy steps to follow. You won’t need an application fee, but the process requires you to complete it in one session. If you’re nervous about filling out official forms, you can download a PDF version of the Request and do it manually. Otherwise, here’s how to prepare.

  1. Create an FSA ID (or have your ID number handy)
  2. If you are married, make sure you have your spouse’s SSN and information
  3. Have your personal information and income figures handy
  4. Set aside at least 10 minutes
  5. Go to StudentLoans
  6. Log in to start the application
  7. Complete the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request

Each year you’ll need to recertify, in order to remain eligible for the lowest possible monthly payment amount.


Basic Federal Student Loan Repayment Plans often balance a monthly payment you can afford today and a lesser total amount overall than income-driven plans. That said, an IDR may lower your payments today even though in the long run, you may be paying more.

Basic Repayment Plan NameTerm LengthDescription
Standard Repayment10 yearsFixed Monthly Costs
Graduated Repayment10 or 30 years for consolidated loansMonthly payment starts out low and gets higher over time
Extended Repayment25 yearsYour payments are either fixed or graduated for the term of the loan


Private Student Loans do not qualify for federal income-driven repayment plans. Or forgiveness programs. Yes, a debt is a debt, but Federal Student Loans begin with the U.S. Department of Education. They also come with standard benefits and protections.

The reason for this is that to get a private student loan, you’ll usually deal with a bank. Or, you’ll borrow from a private financial institution. In general, neither comes with either income-based repayment plans or forgiveness options.

Also, because these institutions don’t have to offer financial assistance to student borrowers, there aren’t as many ways to repay the loan. This limits the ways you can repay your loan, although may have a few options if you start to struggle.

To help you better grasp how to potentially lower your private student loan payments, check out some suggestions below. These may give you some food for thought on how to better manage your monthly payments.


If you are up for giving it the ‘old college try’, setting a budget that covers your needs rather than wants is a good place to start. Some loan lenders also suggest that you make auto-debit payments which may lower your interest rate. This is useful if you can count on your income (and can generate more money). Not so good if you think you might be hit with overdraft fees.


You do need to go through hoops (credit scores for e.g.) set by your financial institution. Yet refinancing student loans may help you manage any flux in your budget. This is where you’ll have to shop around for lenders to see what terms they offer – 5, 7,10, 15 and 20 are common. Some also allow you to merge private and student loans. As such, you may be able to find a lower interest rate, decrease your monthly payment, or both.


Some lenders may offer Repayment Assistance Options to help students manage their loan repayments. Some of these are similar to federal loans, only you’ll have to qualify with a
Lender such as Discover.

  • Deferment – A temporary postponement of payments
  • Forbearance – postpones your loan payments for up to 12 months during the entire term of your loan, though there are stipulations
  • Hardship – A temporary reduction of interest rates for up to 12 months, subject to stipulations
  • Early Repayment Assistance Program – A 3-month postponement of payments
  • Payment Extension –Allows students to bring their loan current by making 3 minimum monthly payments (or the equivalent amount of 3 minimum monthly payments) within a 90-day period
  • Reduced Payment – The Minimum Monthly Payment is reduced, subject to a $50.00 minimum, for an initial period of six months.


If the prolonged duration of paying off your debt is causing frustration rather than financial strain, there are methods to expedite your journey towards repaying student loans. To initiate this process, acquaint yourself with your projected payoff date, and then strive to bring it closer. Do any of these alternatives seem like opportunities to achieve this objective?


While the allure of discretionary spending is ever-present, consider redirecting windfalls such as overtime pay, commissions, or tax refunds toward supplementary or lump-sum payments on your loan. Remember, every bit contributes to achieving the goal.


Should you find yourself with extra funds, contemplate making payments exceeding the minimum requirement either weekly or monthly. This approach provides you with the flexibility to decide how much you wish to contribute beyond the minimum. Alternatively, set up automatic payments slightly above the minimum. Even forgoing the cost of five weekly coffees accumulates over time.


For those embarking on careers in fields like teaching or public service, as previously discussed, loan forgiveness might be attainable. Certain states also provide Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs). Naturally, eligibility criteria apply, but this avenue presents an opportunity to channel funds toward settling federal (and occasionally private) student loans.


Ensure that you maximize any applicable tax credits and deductions. If you’re in the process of repaying student loans, you might qualify for the student loan interest deduction on your federal taxes. Assuming you receive a substantial tax refund, adhere to your plan while considering strategies 1 and 2.


Refinancing stands as a mechanism to expedite debt elimination while securing lower interest rates and monthly payments. To initiate this process, compare various refinance terms to identify the alignment with your goals. Notably, refinancing can alter your monthly payment structure. Therefore, verify that the revised payments are sustainable. If your financial situation is precarious, this step might exacerbate issues. However, if you possess solid credit and income stability, conducting research and exploring different options could prove to be a viable approach.

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