During and After College: Despite What You May Have Heard, Public Service Loan Forgiveness is Still Available!

IMG_5373Hey current and future public servants! Are you hoping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program will cancel part of your student debt? But do you keep hearing scary things about the program? Well, the PSLF news is both bad and good.

Bad News: Republicans want to kill PSLF. The president’s last two proposed budgets would have eliminated it. So would a Republican bill the House Education and Workforce Committee passed on a party line vote early this year.

Good News: Congress ignored all these proposals. Even if it accepts them in the future, PSLF’s end will probably apply only to those not borrowing qualifying loans (see below) before the following July 1st. If you borrow such loans before that date they’ll likely remain PSLF-eligible.

Keep tabs on PSLF with the U.S. Education Department’s easy to read and very informative PSLF web page.

Bad News: Most who’ve applied for PSLF so far have been disqualified. One problem seems to be that FedLoans, the company administering PSLF for the government, misled many borrowers about PSLF-qualifying repayment plans (again, see below).

Good News: Congress put up $700 million to fund the Temporary Expanded Public Loan Forgiveness program under which PSLF goes on a first-come/first-served basis to borrowers whose PSLF applications were rejected solely because they used the wrong repayment plans.

Bad News: PSLF’s low forgiveness rate is also due to borrower mistakes.

Good News: You can avoid such mistakes. Remember, you must meet four criteria for 120 months to get PSLF. These need not be consecutive months, but they count only if you have:

  1. Qualifying Loans: Only Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) loans qualify for IMG_5374PSLF. The National Student Loan Data System will show you other federal college loans you may have. Replacing them with an FDLP Consolidation Loan makes them PSLF-eligible.
  2. Qualifying Employment: Only months in which you work full-time in public service positions count and you must submit PSLF employment certification forms on which your employers confirm the months you had such jobs. It’s best to submit these forms to FedLoans by certified mail every year or when your qualifying employment with a government agency or nonprofit ends, whichever’s first, and to keep copies and your certified mail receipts.
  3. Qualifying Repayment Plan: As indicated above, a month counts only if you’re making payment under the standard repayment plan or one of the four income-driven repayment plans.
  4. Qualifying Payment: A month counts only if you pay the full required amount on-time.

IMG_5375Don’t qualify for PSLF? Don’t give up! The (Almost) Complete Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness from The Institute of Student Loan Advisors is a wonderful resource for information on over 200 other student loan forgiveness programs in the United States. Use it!

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation about your postsecondary debt if you want to take advantage of its 40 years of experience in the field of college borrowing.

Before College: Step 1 in Building Your Student’s List of Potential Colleges

If you’ve got a college-bound student who’s entering her senior year of high school, it’s time for her to identify a set of schools to which she’ll apply this fall.

Step 1 is to build a list of institutions at which she’ll be happy and that will help her mature and succeed. Lisa Micele, Director of College Counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, recently provided some wonderful guidance about this list.

Ms. Micele cautions against concentrating solely on so-call “top-tier” and “name-brand” colleges and universities. The total cost of attending many of these institutions easily exceeds $60,000 per year. Some admit less than 10% of their applicants, and not all of their admitted students get institutional grants and scholarships to help discount their high costs.

This warning is right on target. And a 2017 report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy found:

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So before your student starts making her list, or at least early in that process, think carefully about your finances and family situation, then come up with answers to the following questions about how much your family will be able to contribute to your student each year from:

  1. Your annual income? Don’t forget expense reductions that can enhance this while she’s away at school – debt payments that’ll come to an end, her share of weekly grocery bills, money you can free up by squeezing your budget, etc.
  2. Your investment and savings accounts?
  3. Your retirement accounts? Think about how close you are to retirement when calculating this.
  4. Other family members? Consider funds from aunts and uncles, grandparents, and divorced spouses.
  5. What you would borrow in Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loans?

Now help your student answer these questions for herself:

  1. What’ll she be able to earn during summers and while in school?
  2. How much does she have in savings?
  3. What’s she willing to borrow in Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans?
  4. How much Federal Pell Grant does the government’s FAFSA4caster estimate she’ll receive? It’s too early to count institutional, state, or private scholarships.

Add everything up and you’ve got an annual price range for schools your student can afford to put on her list. To find these prices, counsel her to search for “cost of attendance” on each school’s website, and then add another 4% per year (the approximate average annual increase in college cost over the last decade) for every year she’ll be enrolled.

Don’t worry. The U.S. has 4,360 degree-granting institutions, so your student will surely be able to some good “fits” in her price range while boosting her chance of graduating and keeping college debts lower – and isn’t that what it’s all about?

College Affordability Solutions can advise you and your student on strategies for keeping postsecondary education within your price range. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-charge consultation.

After College: Were You Wrongly Denied Public Service Loan Forgiveness? There’s a Chance to Fix That!

Are you a Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) borrower who applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) after completing a decade of public service employment? Did you do exactly what you were told to qualify for PSLF, then told you weren’t eligible because you used the wrong student loan repayment plan? If so, help is now available!

What is PSLF?

Normally, PSLF forgives your remaining FDLP debt after you use a qualifying repayment IMG_2908plan to make 120 qualifying monthly payments while performing qualifying employment.

What’s the Problem?

Congress recently found that student loan servicing personnel hired by the U.S. Education Department (ED) to administer FDLP steered untold numbers of public servants into FDLP repayment plans that didn’t qualify them for PSLF.

After faithfully making payments for 120 months under the repayment plans they were directed to use, FedLoans (the loan servicer administering PSLF) informed these public servants they didn’t qualify for PSLF because they used the wrong plans.

So Congress created a $350 million fund to help borrowers left in the lurch by this fiasco. Applications for this money are now being reviewed under a program ED calls Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or “TEPSLF.”

What Should You Do?

If you were denied PSLF because of this blunder, ask for loan forgiveness again by sending an email to TEPSLF@myfedloan.org. Here’s the model ED recommends for this email:

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Do You Qualify for TEPSLF?

TEPSLF will forgive what’s left of your FDLP debt only if:

  • You submitted a PSLF application that was denied solely because some or all of your 120 monthly payments were made under the Extended or Graduated repayment plans — which don’t qualify for PSLF; and
  • Your employer(s) certified that you completed a total of 120 months of qualifying employment; and
  • FedLoans Servicing accepted your employer certification(s); and
  • Your payment amount for the 12 months before you applied for TEPSLF, and the last payment you made before applying for TEPSLF, equaled or exceeded what you would have paid under one of the four income-driven repayment plans qualifying for PSLF. FedLoans Servicing will make this determination and, when it does, it’s supposed to notify you by email.

Hurry Up!

While $350 million sounds like a lot, it’ll be used to forgive debts on a first-come/ first-serve basis. So if your PSLF application was rejected over the type of repayment plan you used, don’t miss your chance — email FedLoans Servicing right away!

Looking for advice on managing the debts you took on for college? College Affordability Solutions has been 40 years experience with student loan repayment issues. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com to consult us at no charge.

Before and During College: Get Answers to These Questions Before Borrowing Private Student Loans (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series we identified answers to get on “up-front” issues when IMG_2699comparing a private versus federal student loan. Today we recommend questions to ask about things that happen after you get your money, but which are nevertheless essential to determining which loan is better for you.

Repayment Begin

  • When must you begin repaying your debt?

Payments aren’t required on federal student loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time and during a “grace period” lasting six months for Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) loans and nine months for Federal Perkins loans. Private student loan repayment start dates vary by loan.

Deferment and Forbearance

  • Under what conditions may payments be temporarily postponed or reduced?
  • What happens to interest that accrues (builds up) during these postponement and reductions?
  • Must you pay a fee to get your payments postponed or reduced?

You may temporarily postpone or reduce your monthly loan payments through various deferments and forbearances. Interest doesn’t accrue on FDLP Subsidized and Federal Perkins loans during deferment, but keeps accruing on other federal loans during deferment and all federal loans during forbearance.

The government charges no fees for deferment or forbearance, but some private lenders do — if they offer deferments or forbearances at all.

Loan Consolidation

  • May my federal and private college loans be consolidated?
  • Does my interest rate change if I consolidate? How much?
  • Does consolidating change my repayment period or other terms and conditions?

An FDLP Consolidation loan pays off whatever federal student loans you choose, but not your non-federal debts.

FDLP fixes your consolidation loan interest rate at the weighted average of all the loans it pays off, plus .125%.

You can usually get lower monthly payments on an FDLP Consolidation loan, which get extended repayment periods based on their size:

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Repayment Plans

  • How long will you have to fully repay your debt?
  • Do you have different repayment options. If so, what are their terms and conditions (monthly payment amounts, etc.)?

The FDLP allows you to choose from seven different repayment plans. The standard plan requires a monthly payment amount sufficient to pay off your debt within 10 years. Four others help ensure you’ll not be overwhelmed by monthly payment amounts by making such amounts a percentage of your Adjusted Gross Income, even if this requires a repayment period longer than 10 years.

Loan Discharge and Forgiveness

  • May any portion of your debt be cancelled? If so, under what circumstances?

Most private student loans offer no opportunities for discharge or forgiveness. Federal student loan debts may be discharged or forgiven under various reasons, including Public Service and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

College Affordability Solutions offers free advice and counsel on college borrowing based on 40 years experience in student financial aid and student loans. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for such assistance.

Special Bulletin: Congress Considering Cuts to Student Aid Programs

On Monday the White House released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins this coming October. The prospective budget is similar to HR 4508, the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform” IMG_0890(PROSPER) Act. This is a bill designed to revamp federal higher education programs. It will soon to be debated in the House.

If your student is now or likely will be a federal financial aid recipient, contact your  U.S. Representatives and Senators to let them know your thoughts on the proposed budget and HB 4508. Why? If Congress passes either as written, several federal student aid programs would be reduced or eliminated.

Subsidized Federal Direct Loans: Currently, no interest is charged on these loans until six months after their undergraduate borrowers leave college. But they would end for those first borrowing on or after July 1, 2019. Even at current interest rates, which are expected to rise, this would increase the cost of borrowing the $27,000 maximum allowed over 4 academic years by at least $2,800.

Income-Driven Repayment: Four repayment options would be replaced by one repayment plan requiring ex-students to pay 12.5%, instead of the current 10%, of their discretionary income toward their federal college debts. The repayment period would last 15 years instead of 20 to 30 years for undergraduates, and 30 years for graduate students. Discretionary income is the amount a borrower’s income exceeds 150% of poverty-level.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Any student first borrowing a federal loan on/after July 1, 2019 would be ineligible for PSLF.

Federal College Work-Study (FCWS): The budget would reduce FCWS funding by 49.5%. FCWS currently helps over 630 thousand students earn more than $1 billion a IMG_0891year to pay college costs. Graduate students would become ineligible for FCWS.

Federal Pell Grants: College costs keep rising, but the budget proposes to limit Pell Grants to the same amount as in FY 2019 as this year.

Pell Grant eligibility would be extended to students in short-term programs providing certificates, licenses, or other credentials for “in-demand fields”. For-profit vocational schools usually offer such programs, but their certificate earners average 1.5% higher unemployment rates, 11% lower earnings, and $5,000 more in student debt than students earning similar certificates at community colleges.

Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs): The FSEOG program, which provides extra grant dollars to approximately one million of the nation’s neediest Pell Grant recipients, would be eliminated.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation you have questions about how to pay for college.

During College: Save by Prepaying Unneeded Loan Funds Within 120 Days of Disbursement

So your student’s currently in college? And he borrowed a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan for this fall? He can save a lot on that loan by prepaying during the next 6 weeks. This is worth considering, because only 38.6% of college seniors look back and feel all they borrowed was essential to continuing their education.

Federal regulations say any prepayment received within 120 days of disbursement must be used to reduce that disbursement’s principal — and interest and loan fees on the prepaid principal must be automatically cancelled, too.

IMG_9849For example, a college freshman prepays $100 of his fall 2017 Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan within this 120 day period. This’ll reduce the total amount he must repay by an additional $175. Actual savings will depend on his choice of the federal repayment plans he’ll be offered — a choice he’ll make after leaving school.

These regulations also apply to upperclassmen. Their savings may be a bit less, but they’re still significant.

How to do this? First, your student should check with his financial aid office to see if it’ll submit his prepayment for film. If so, he should follow its directions. Otherwise:

  • Do Some Research: The National Student Loan Data System has his most recent Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan disbursement date (i.e. “Loan Date”). It’ll also identify his federal student loan servicer and its mailing address.
  • Meet the 120-Day Deadline: He’ll write a check to his loan servicer for the amount IMG_9854he wants to prepay and mail it 7-10 days (for delivery and processing) before the 120th day after disbursement.
  • Direct the Prepayment’s Application: To make sure his prepayment goes 100% to his most expensive federal loan — that Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan — he should write “Apply to [INSERT LOAN DATE] Unsubsidized Loan” on his check’s memo line before mailing it.

But be careful. You student should only prepay funds he doesn’t need to finish the current term. So if he doesn’t already have a spending plan, help him build one when he’s home for Thanksgiving. More about this next Wednesday.

The right to prepay at any time without penalty helps make federal loans superior to most other forms of credit available to America’s college students. And prepaying within 120 days of disbursement saves extra money, making them even better!

College Affordability Solutions offers 40 years of experience in a wide variety of student finance issues, including student loan debt management. Contact us at (512) 417-7660 or collegeafford@gmail.com for cost-free consultations.

After College: Pick Your Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan Carefully

If you graduated this past spring after borrowing Federal Direct Loans, your loan servicer will soon contact you about how to repay them. You can pick from as many IMG_8761as seven different repayment plans.

There’s information about these plans on the government’s federal repayment plan website. To see how each plan will work for you, use the government’s Federal Student Aid Repayment Estimator. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Standard Repayment: You get a standard plan if you don’t select any other repayment approach. It offers fixed monthly payments for up to 10 years (30 years for Direct Consolidation Loans). It’s the quickest way to eliminate your debt, and you’ll repay the least amount possible over time. But it’ll also generate the highest monthly payments of all the plans at your disposal.

Other plans lower your monthly payment amounts but generally increase the total amount you repay:

  • Extended Repayment: This is available only if you owe $30,000 or more in Federal Direct Loans. You’ll get a 25 year repayment period, but no loan forgiveness when it ends.
  • Graduated Repayment: This begins with low monthly payments that increase every two years regardless of your income. Your repayment period will be 10 years — 30 years if you consolidate. But there’s no loan forgiveness after 10 or 30 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR): Depending upon when you borrowed your IMG_8763first Federal Direct Loan, IBR sets your payment amount at 10% to 15% of each year’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for a 20 to 25 year repayment period. If you still owe money when your repayment period ends, it’ll be forgiven.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): ICR payments equal 20% of each year’s discretionary income, with debt you still owe after 25 years forgiven.
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE): PAYE requires monthly payment amounts equal to 10% of your discretionary income every year for 20 years. Anything you may then owe will be forgiven. Discretionary income resets every 12 months based on your family income and size. Spousal college debt and AGI are also factors if you’re married and filing jointly.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): REPAYE is identical to PAYE, except it gives you 25 years to repay and to await the forgiveness of any remaining loan balance.

Don’t forget, you can change repayment plans any time, so pick a plan and then, as your financial situation evolves, decide whether to switch to another plan.

College Affordability Solutions offers no-charge consultations on student loan repayment strategies. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.