Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

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If you’re a parent of a college-bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming.  Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size?  How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year?  Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school: 

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA®?

While the federal government provides nearly $150 billion in financial aid each year, dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress. Even if your child supports himself, he may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. If your child was born on or after January 1, 1992, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

If your child needs to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help:

  • If the child’s legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If the child’s legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them.
  • If the child’s parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If the child’s parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here: http://1.usa.gov/1AbWmp6

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include in the household size: parents, any dependent student(s), and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you.  Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do we need to wait to apply until I file my income taxes?

Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child files his or her FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st to maximize financial aid. You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time your child completes the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed.  After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information.  If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available February 1, 2015.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid.  The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out

Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

5 Reasons You Should Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Did you hear? The 2015-16 FAFSA became available on January 1, 2015! Fill it out: fafsa.gov

If you will be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, you should complete the FAFSA. Here are some reasons why:

It’s FREE!

The FAFSA is free to complete and there is help provided throughout the application. Several websites offer help filing the FAFSA for a fee. These sites are not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. We urge you not to pay for assistance that you can get for free at the official government website: fafsa.gov.

It’s easier than ever.

We’ve done a lot over the past few years to simplify the FAFSA. One of the most exciting enhancements has been the launch of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The tool allows students and parents to access the required information from their IRS tax return to complete the FAFSA, and transfer the data directly into their FAFSA from the IRS website with just a few clicks. This year, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will launch on February 1, so be on the lookout for that. Also, for those who have completed the FAFSA in the past, when you go to renew your FAFSA for the upcoming school year, a lot of your information will automatically roll over, saving you lots of time.

It takes less than 21 minutes to complete.

Did you know that, on average, it takes less than 21 minutes to complete the FAFSA? That’s less time than it would take you to watch your favorite TV show! And think of the benefits! Spend 21 minutes completing the application and you could qualify for thousands of dollars in financial aid. Talk about return on investment…

More people qualify than you’d think.

If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you could be missing out on a lot of financial aid! I’ve heard a number of reasons students think they shouldn’t complete the FAFSA. Here are a few:

  • “I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
  • “Only students with good grades get financial aid.”
  • “The FAFSA is too hard to fill out.”
  • “I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.”

These are all myths about financial aid. The reality is, EVERYONE should fill out the FAFSA! Don’t leave money on the table.

You may need it to apply for state and college financial aid and even private scholarships!

Completing the FAFSA is the first step toward getting financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school. The FAFSA not only gives you access to the $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds that the federal government has available, but many states, schools, and private scholarships require you to submit the FAFSA before they will consider you for any financial aid they offer. That’s why it’s important that every college-bound student complete the FAFSA. You’ll never know what you get unless you apply.

For information and tips on completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

6 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

Need to fill out the FAFSA® but don’t know where to start? We’re here to help. You’ve already done the hard part and gathered all of the necessary information, so now it’s time to complete the FAFSA. Let us walk you through it step by step: 

  1. Go to fafsa.gov. One thing you don’t need in order to fill out the FAFSA? Money! Remember, the FAFSA is FREE when you use the official .gov site: fafsa.gov.
  2. Choose which FAFSA you’d like to complete. The new FAFSA that becomes available on January 1, 2015, is the 2015–16 FAFSA. You should complete the 2015-16 FAFSA if you will be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Remember, the FAFSA is not a one-time thing. You must complete your FAFSA each school year.

Note: The 2014–15 FAFSA is also available if you will be attending college between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, and you haven’t applied for financial aid yet.

  1. Enter your personal information.* This is information like your name, date of birth, etc. If you have completed the FAFSA in the past, a lot of your personal info will be pre-populated to save you time. Make sure you enter your personal information exactly as it appears on official government documents. (That’s right, no nicknames.)
  2. Enter your financial information.* All of it. You should use income records for the tax year prior to the academic yearfor which you are applying. For example, if you are filling out the 2015–16 FAFSA, you will need to use 2014 tax information. If you or your parent(s) haven’t filed your 2014 taxes yet, you can always estimate the amounts using your 2013 tax return; just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2014 taxes. Once you file your taxes, you may be able to automatically import your tax information into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It makes completing the FAFSA super easy!
  3. Choose up to 10 schools to which you wish to apply, and we will send the necessary information over to them so they can calculate the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive. Make sure you include any school you plan to attend, even if you’re not sure yet. This will prevent your financial aid from being delayed. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools: http://1.usa.gov/1mHPD1F
  4. Sign the document with your PIN.* The PIN serves as your electronic signature, or e-signature. You’ll use it to electronically sign and submit your FAFSA. If you don’t have a PIN, you’ll need to get one. If you’ve completed the FAFSA in the past, you probably already have a PIN. You can use the same PIN you used in the past to renew your FAFSA each school year, so keep it in a safe place. If you have forgotten your PIN, you can retrieve it. If you’re considered a dependent student, at least one of your parents or your legal guardian will need a PIN as well. If you or one of your siblings have completed the FAFSA within the last 18 months, your parent(s) will use the same PIN they used before. If not, your parent(s) may need to apply for a new PIN.

*If you are considered a dependent student, your parent(s) will also need to do this.

I’m finished. What’s next?

That’s it. You’ve filled it out. We told you it wasn’t so bad. With the hard part over, check out this page to learn what you should do next.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. Connect with us: StudentAid.gov/social.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

7 Things You Need Before You Fill Out the FAFSA®

If you need financial aid to help you pay for college, it’s important that you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The good news? The FAFSA is simpler than ever! Did you know that, on average, it only takes 21minutes complete? That’s less time than it takes to watch an episode of your favorite TV program, so no excuses about not having the time. Record that TV show and watch it later.

The 2015­­–16 FAFSA becomes available on January 1, 2015, at 12 a.m. Central Time. You can fill it out for FREE on the official government site, fafsa.gov. To speed up the FAFSA process, get prepared early. Here is what you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA:

  1. Your Federal Student Aid PIN* — In order to sign your FAFSA electronically, you’ll need a Federal Student Aid PIN. You can help to prevent processing delays by getting a PIN before you begin the FAFSA. Find out how to get a PINand what to do if you forgot your PIN. It only takes a minute.
  2. Your social security number* — If you don’t know it, it can be found on your social security card. If you don’t have access to that, it may be on your birth certificate or permanent resident card. If you don’t have one of those, or don’t know where it is, ask your parent or legal guardian. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll need their help with portions of the FAFSA anyway. If you are not a U.S. citizen, but meet Federal Student Aid’s basic eligibility requirements, you’ll need your Alien Registration Number.
  3. Your driver’s license number — If you don’t have a driver’s license, then don’t worry about this step.
  4. Your tax records* — Use income records for the tax year prior to the academic yearfor which you are applying: so if you are filling out the 2015–16 FAFSA, you will need 2014 tax information. If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you can always estimate the amounts using your 2013 tax return, just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your 2014 taxes. Once you file your 2014 taxes, you may be able to automatically import your tax information into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
  5. Records of your untaxed income* — This includes a whole bunch of variables that may or may not apply to you, like child support received, interest income and veterans non-education benefits. Parents can find specific details here. Students can find details here.
  6. Records of all your assets (money)* — This includes savings and checking account balances, as well as investments like stocks and bonds and real estate.
  7. List of the school(s) you are interested in attending — The schools you list on your FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically. They will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of financial aid you may receive. You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, you can add more later. Be sure to list any school you’re considering, even if you’re not sure yet.

*If you’re a dependent student, you will need this information for your parent(s) as well.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. Connect with us: StudentAid.gov/social.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

3 Ways to Get Your Loan Out of Default

You didn’t pay your federal student loan for several months, and now a collection agency is calling you telling you your loan has defaulted. If you’re like many borrowers in this situation, you are probably freaked out and don’t know what to do.

options

Don’t worry — you still have options to remedy your situation. You don’t have to run from your debt; you can face it head-on and we can help you.

When you default on a federal student loan, you have three basic options to get your loan back in good standing:

  1. Loan Repayment: You can repay your defaulted loan, but just know that your lender will ask for the full amount. When you default, the entire balance of the loan is due immediately. If you are able, you can pay by check, money order, or credit or debit card. Get more info on where to send your payment. If this isn’t an option for you, keep reading.
  2. Loan Rehabilitation: You can rehabilitate your loan by voluntarily making at least nine payments of an agreed-upon amount over a 10-month period. You can choose your due date, and your payment has to arrive at the Department payment center within 20 days of that due date. You and the Department of Education must work together to agree on a reasonable and affordable payment plan. After you’ve successfully rehabilitated your loan, you may regain eligibility for benefits such as choice of repayment plan, loan forgiveness, deferment, and forbearance. However, it is possible that your monthly payment could increase after you make those initial nine payments due to the additional collection costs that are added to your principal balance.
  3. Loan Consolidation: You may be able to combine all of your federal student loans, including defaulted loans, into a new Direct Consolidation Loan. Usually, you are required to make at least three consecutive, voluntary, and on-time payments on your defaulted loans prior to consolidating. Please note that the principal balance of your new Direct Consolidation Loan may include accrued interest and collection fees. There is also an option to consolidate without making any payments; however, you must agree to one of our income-driven repayment plans as part of this consolidation, and you are required to complete income verification documents. Learn about your options for consolidating.

Now that you understand your options, it’s time to take action. First, contact the agency that is billing you to explain your situation, ask for more information on your options, and let them know that you want to work out a plan to get your loan back on track. In no time, you will be out of default and your loan will be back in good standing.

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

5 Ways to Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster

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The first thing people say when they find out where I work: “Can you delete my student loans for me?”

If only I had that power. Just like many of you, I am a student loan borrower. Each month, my federal student loan servicer, withdraws my $381.35 student loan payment from my bank account and I still cringe every time. (Do you know how many trips I could take with that money?) Point is, I understand what you’re going through.

That said, there are manageable ways to pay off your student loans faster than you had planned and save yourself money by doing so!

Here are some ideas:

1) Pay Right Away Even though you’re usually not required to, consider making student loan payments during your grace period or while you’re still in school. If you’re short on cash, consider at least paying enough each month to cover the amount of interest you’re accruing. That way your interest doesn’t capitalize and get added to your principal balance. Not doing this was one of the biggest mistakes I made with my student loans.

2) Sign up for Automatic Debit If you sign up for automatic debit, your student loan servicer will automatically deduct your student loan payment from your bank account each month. Not only does this help ensure that you make payments on time, but you may also be able to get an interest rate deduction for enrolling. Contact your loan servicer to see if your loan is eligible for this benefit.

3) Pay More than Your Minimum Payment Even if it’s $5 a month!  Paying a little extraeach month can reduce the interest you pay and reduce your total cost of your loan over time. (Pay attention! This next part is important!) If you want to ensure that your loan is paid off faster, make sure you tell your loan servicer that the extra amount you’re paying is not intended to be put toward future payments. If given the option, ask your servicer if the additional payment amount can be allocated to your higher interest loans first.

4) Use Your Tax Refund One easy way to pay off your loan faster is to dedicate your tax refund to paying off some of your student loan debt. Part of the reason you may have gotten a refund in the first place is because you get a tax deduction for paying student loan interest. Might as well be smart about the way you spend it.

5) Seek Out Forgiveness and Repayment Options There are a number of situations under which you can have your federal student loan balance forgiven. There are forgiveness and repayment programs for teachers, public servants, members of the United States Armed Forces, and more. Most of these programs have very specific eligibility requirements, but if you think you might qualify, you should definitely do some research. Also, research whether your employer offers repayment assistance for employees with student loans. There are many who do!

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid. She is scheduled to finish repaying her student loans in 2021, but is hoping that by taking her own advice, she will finish much faster.

How to Decide Which Income-Driven Repayment Plan to Choose

If your student loan payments are high compared to your income, you may be eligible to switch your repayment plan to one that calculates your monthly payment based on your income and family size.

TIP: If you are seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you should repay your federal student loans under an income-driven repayment plan.

If you need to make lower monthly payments, one of the three following income-driven plans may be right for you:

  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
  • Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)

What’s the difference between the three plans?

While there are other minor differences between these three repayment plans, these are four significant ways they differ:

You can compare the high-level differences below:

IDR-Chart-Final

It’s also important to note that your loan types must also be eligible to be repaid under an income-driven plan.

How do I decide which income-driven repayment plan to choose?

1) See which plans you qualify for. Not everyone qualifies for an income-driven repayment plan. You can use our Repayment Estimator to estimate your payment amount for all repayment plans, including income-driven plans.

    • Check and see whether the types of federal student loans you have are eligible. In some cases, you may need to consolidate your student loans in order to be able to repay the loan(s) under an income-driven plan or the income-driven repayment plan that offers the lowest monthly payment.
    • If you’re considering our IBR or PAYE, you’ll need to make sure you meet the debt-to-income ratio requirement. To qualify, the payment that you would be required to make under the IBR or PAYE (based on your income and family size) must be less than what you would pay under the Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period. Generally, you will meet this requirement if your federal student loan debt is higher than your annual discretionary income or represents a significant portion of your annual income.

2) Compare Plans Based on YOUR Circumstances. Using our repayment estimator, you can estimate your monthly payment amount, repayment period, projected loan forgiveness, and the total interest you’ll pay over the life of your loan. Just log in using your Federal Student Aid PIN, enter basic information about your income, family size, tax filing status, and state of residence and out pops a comparison based on your individual circumstances. You can also view the comparison in graph format!

10.10-repayment-estimator-screenshot

3) Weigh the Pros and Cons. Income-driven repayment plans may lower your federal student loan payments. However, whenever you make lower payments or extend your repayment period, you will likely pay more in interest over time—sometimes significantly more. In addition, under current Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, you may be required to pay income tax on any amount that is forgiven if you still have a remaining balance at the end of your repayment period.

Before you apply for an income-driven repayment plan, contact your loan servicer with any questions. Your loan servicer will help you decide whether one of these plans is right for you.

I’ve decided which income-driven plan is right for me. How do I apply?

If you decide that an income-driven repayment plan is right for you, there are a few steps you need to take. To apply, you must submit an application called the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request. You can submit the application online at StudentLoans.gov or on a paper form, which you can obtain from your loan servicer. Along with the application, you’ll need to provide income information. Find out more information about the documentation you must provide.

FACT: The application allows you to select an income-driven repayment plan by name, or request that your loan servicer determine what income-driven plan or plans you qualify for, and to place you on the income-driven plan with the lowest monthly payment amount.

Is there anything else I should know about choosing an income-driven repayment plan?

      • You must provide updated documentation each year You must provide your loan servicer with updated income documentation and certify your family size on the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request each year, generally around the same time of the year that you first began repayment under the income-driven plan that you selected. It’s important for you to provide the required information by the annual deadline specified by your loan servicer. If you miss the deadline, you’ll remain on the same income-driven repayment plan, but your monthly payment will no longer based on your income (this means your payment will increase).
      • Your payment amount can change from year to year. Your required monthly payment amount may increase or decrease if your income or family size changes from year to year.

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement strategist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Missed a Few Student Loan Payments? We Can Help You Get Back on Track.

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You’ve recently missed a few payments on your student loan. It might not seem like a big deal, but you are responsible for repaying your federal student loans and when you don’t, you could face huge consequences. You don’t need me to tell you about those; you probably already know what they are. (If you don’t, you can read more about those here.) Instead, let’s talk about how you get back on track. It may be easier than you think.

One of the many benefits of having federal student loans is the flexibility of repayment options. You owe it to yourself (and your credit score) to take advantage of these options.

First things first: whenever you are unable to make your federal student loan payments, you should contact your loan servicer. Your loan servicer can explain your options for lowering or temporarily postponing your payments and help keep your loan in good standing while you get your finances in order.

Here are some options that your servicer may suggest to help you:

  • Switch your monthly payment date: You may be able to change the date that your monthly payment is due. For example, if you get paid once a month on the 1st, you may request your federal student loan payment is due on the 2nd of the month instead of the 28th.
  • Switch your repayment plan: You may be able to change your repayment plan to one with lower monthly payments. Just beware that lowering your monthly payments may result in paying more over the life of the loan. You can compare your payments under each repayment plan using our Repayment Estimator.
  • Ask about income-driven repayment plans: You may qualify for a repayment plan that bases your monthly payment amount on your income. Depending on your income, your initial payment could be as low as $0 per month. This is a good option if you cannot afford your current monthly payment amount. Just note that income-driven repayment plans usually end up costing you more over the life of the loan.
  • Consolidate your loans: If you have multiple federal student loans, you may consider combining them into one loan. A Direct Consolidation Loan often results in a lower monthly payment, but does extend the amount of time you have to repay your loan which causes you to pay more over the life of the loan. Find out more about the .

If the options described above won’t work for you, there are a few other options to consider:

  • Ask for a deferment or forbearance: deferment or forbearance allows you to temporarily postpone or reduce your federal student loan payments. You may qualify for a deferment or forbearance for a variety of reasons, including financial/economic hardship, unemployment, or military service. It’s important to note that, in most cases, interest will continue to accrue on your loans when they are in a deferment or forbearance status (except for subsidized loans in deferment).

For more information about options for successfully managing your loans, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans or contact your loan servicer.

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Is Student Loan Consolidation Right for You?

A Direct Consolidation Loan allows you to combine multiple federal education loans into one loan. Before making the decision to consolidate your loans, you’ll want to carefully consider whether loan consolidation is the best option for you. Keep in mind, once your loans are combined into a Direct Consolidation Loan, they cannot be removed.

FACT: You never have to pay to consolidate your student loans. If you have questions about consolidation, contact your loan servicer.

FACT: You never have to pay to consolidate your student loans. If you have questions about consolidation, contact your loan servicer.

Advantages of consolidating your student loans:

  • It’s Free!
    It’s free to apply to consolidate your federal student loans. If you are contacted by someone offering to consolidate your loans for a fee, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Simplified Payments
    You’ll have a single monthly payment and a single lender (the U.S. Department of Education) instead of multiple payments and multiple lenders.
  • Lower Monthly Payments
    You may get a longer time to repay your loans, often resulting in lower monthly payments.
  • Qualify for Income-Driven Repayment or Loan Forgiveness

Some benefits such as the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan and Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program are only available for Direct Loans. If you choose to consolidate your Federal Family Education Loan Program loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan, you may be able to take advantage of these programs.

  • Fixed Interest Rate
    Direct Consolidation Loans have a fixed interest rate, meaning your interest rate won’t change year to year. The fixed interest rate is based on the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.

Disadvantages of consolidating your student loans:

  • More Interest Paid Over Time
    You will likely pay more money in interest over the life of the loan. The amount of time you have to repay your Direct Consolidation Loan can vary from 10-30 years depending on the amount of your Direct Consolidation Loan and the amount of your other student loan debt. The longer it takes to repay your loan, the more you will make in interest payments.
  • Loss of Borrower Benefits
    You may lose any borrower benefits, such as interest rate discounts, principal rebates, or some loan cancellation benefits, offered with the original loans.

In weighing your options, be sure to compare your current monthly payments to what your monthly payments would be if you consolidated your loans. If you’re just interested in temporarily lowering your monthly payment, consolidation might not be the answer.  Contact your loan servicer to consider alternative options such as switching repayment plans or requesting a deferment or forbearance.

To find out more information about loan consolidation, including eligibility requirements, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/consolidation.

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

The 5 “Qs” of Public Service Loan Forgiveness

#StudentLoanForgiveness. It’s a hashtag now, so you’ll all pay attention, right? Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify for any forgiveness programs. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Most people don’t, or misunderstand how it works. Let me break down some key points of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to help you figure out if you could qualify.

10.31 How to Determine if You Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Can you check the all the boxes?

[ 1 ] Work in “Qualifying Employment”

First, you need to work in “qualifying” employment; that is, you must work in “public service.” But what does that mean? Everyone seems to have a different definition. Ours is based on who employs you, not what you do for your employer. The following types of employers qualify:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • Not-for-profit organization that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • A not-for-profit organization that provides some specific public services, such as public education, law enforcement, public health, or legal services

The following types of employers do not qualify:

  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations
  • For-profit organizations

[ 2 ] “Qualifying Employment Status”

If you work at one of these types of organizations—great! That’s the most difficult criteria to meet. Next, you need to work there in a “qualifying” employment status, which means that you must be a full-time employee of the organization. Full time, for our purposes, generally means that you meet your employer’s definition of full time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

[ 3 ] Have a “Qualifying Loan”

A “qualifying” loan is a Direct Loan. It’s that simple. Of course, it’s the government, so nothing is actually that simple. You see, there are (or were) three big federal student loan programs:

  • The Direct Loan Program, which is now the biggest program,
  • The Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, which is what many students borrowed from until mid-2010, and
  • The Federal Perkins Loan Program, which is a relatively small program.

You may have loans from just one of these programs, or you may have borrowed from all three. If you’re not sure which loan program you borrowed from, I can’t blame you—I had 20 separate loans by the time that I finished graduate school! You can use the National Student Loan Data System to determine which program you borrowed from. Here’s a tip from me to you: basically, if you see “Direct” in the loan type name, it’s a Direct Loan. Otherwise, it’s not.

Don’t have a Direct Loan? Don’t despair! You can consolidate your other federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify that way. Not having a Direct Loan is the biggest reason that borrowers who are seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness aren’t on the right track, so be sure that all of your loans that you want forgiven are Direct Loans before you proceed to the next step. If you do need to consolidate, be sure to check the box in the application that says that you’re consolidating for the purposes of loan forgiveness. It will make your life easier, I promise.

[ 4 ] Have a “Qualifying Repayment Plan”

Next, you need a “qualifying” repayment plan. All of the “income-driven repayment plans” are qualifying plans for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. So is the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, but if you’re on that repayment plan, you should switch to an income-driven repayment plan straight away, or you will have a drastically lower loan balance left to be forgiven after you meet all of the criteria.

If you’re consolidating your loans, you can apply for an income-driven repayment plan in the consolidation application, but if you don’t, you will be placed on the Standard Repayment Plan for Direct Consolidation Loans, which is almost never a qualifying repayment plan for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you already have Direct Loans, you can submit an income-driven repayment plan application on StudentLoans.gov.

[ 5 ] Make 120 “Qualifying Payments”

Lastly, you need to make “qualifying” payments—120 of them. A qualifying payment is exactly what you would expect it to be. You get a bill. It has an “amount due” and it has a “due date”. Make the payment in that amount by the due date (or up to 15 days after), and the payment is a “qualifying payment”. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment or you paid your student loan early—then that doesn’t count. But if you reliably make your payment every month for 10 years, you should be okay. The best way to ensure that your payments qualify is to sign up for automatic payments with your loan servicer.

Note that these payments do not need to be consecutive. So, if you had made 10 qualifying payments, and then stop for a period of time (say, you go on a deferment), then start making qualifying payments again, you don’t start over; instead, you pick up where you left off.

And, I’m sorry to have to mention a seemingly arbitrary date, but a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness until 2017 at the earliest.

Ok, so do I qualify?

Now that you have the details, let me explain how all of the criteria work together. For any payment to count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you need to meet all of the criteria when you make each payment. Stated differently, you need to be working for a qualifying employer on a full-time basis when you make a qualifying payment under a qualifying repayment plan on a Direct Loan. When you break these criteria down separately, it seems simpler. It’s when you try to pack it into one sentence that it seems overwhelming.

As much as I’d like to think that all of you now have a perfect understanding of this program and how it works, I know all of you are thinking—“okay, but do I qualify?” Here’s how you find out. Download this form. Fill it out. Have your employer certify it. Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers), queue up How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, and wait for an answer. FedLoan Servicing will do the following:

  • Check whether you have any qualifying loans.
  • If you have qualifying loans, validate that your employment qualifies. If none of your loans qualify, they’ll tell you so.
  • If your employment qualifies, they will send you a letter confirming that your employment qualifies. Then, any of your federally held loans that are not serviced by FedLoan Servicing will be transferred to them so that we can keep better track of your loans and payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If your employment doesn’t qualify, they’ll tell you so.
  • After your loans are transferred, they will match up the dates of employment on the form that you submitted to the payments you made during that time and determine how many qualifying payments you made. You’ll receive a letter with a count of qualifying payments and an anticipated forgiveness date (which assumes that all your future payments also qualify).

It’s after you get this payment count back that you’ll know whether you’re on the right track. So, it really is a good idea to submit this form early and often. We recommend that you submit the form once per year or when you change jobs. The beauty of submitting these forms early and on an ongoing basis is that it means that you won’t have to submit 10 years’ worth of them when you ultimately want to apply for forgiveness. It also means that when you apply for forgiveness, that you’ll be able to do so with confidence that you qualify for it.

One more piece of good news: Public Service Loan Forgiveness is not considered income by the IRS. That means that it’s tax-free.

Ian Foss has worked as a Program Specialist for the Department of Education since 2010. He’s scheduled to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness on October 6, 2021, if all goes according to plan.

How to Choose the Best Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan

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If you have federal student loans, it’s important that you understand your loan repayment options. For example, did you know that you have the option to choose a repayment plan? That’s right. While your loan servicer (the company that handles the billing and other services on your federal education loan) will automatically place your loan on the Standard Repayment Plan, you CAN choose another plan.

The Department of Education offers several traditional and income-driven repayment plans with different payment options. So, make sure to take the time to understand these options and find the plan that works best for you.

Generally, our repayment plans offer three types of payments:

  • Fixed Payments: Our Standard Repayment Plan and Extended Repayment Plan offer payments that remain the same amount for the life of the loan.
  • Graduated Payments: Our Graduated Repayment Plan and Extended-Graduated Plan offer payments that start out low and gradually increase every two years.
  • Income-Driven Payments: Our three income-driven repayment plans offer payments that are calculated based on your income.

Choosing a repayment plan can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry—there are several resources available to help you understand the repayments plans, determine your eligibility for each plan, and make the right decision for you.

  • Use our online Repayment Estimator to find out which plans you may be eligible for and to estimate how much you would pay under each plan. (If you log-in, the Repayment Estimator will use your actual loan balance to estimate your eligibility and payment information.)
  • Get detailed information about each repayment plan on our website.
  • Watch our Repayment: What to Expect video to get a high-level overview of the repayment plans.
  • Check out our Repayment Plans infographic for an easy-to-understand visual that will give you some key points to keep in mind as you are choosing a repayment plan.
  • Read our Repay Your Federal Student Loans fact sheet for additional information on loan repayment and the repayment plans.
  • Contact your loan servicer to discuss your options and choose a federal student loan repayment plan that’s best for you.

Remember, the repayment plans discussed here are for federal loans only. If you have private loans, check with your lender about available repayment options.

For more information on federal student loan repayment plans, visit Studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans.

Tara Marini is a communication analyst at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

How to Make Student Loan Payments Based on Your Income

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Maybe you’re just getting out of school and you got a letter from your student loan servicer about repayment, or maybe you read on a blog or in the newspaper about an income-driven repayment plan. Maybe you’re not really sure what they are, how they work, or what they could mean for you. Let me give you the fundamentals.

First, let me explain the naming. “Income-driven repayment” is an umbrella term for three different repayment plans available to those with federal student loans:

  • The Income-Based Repayment Plan
  • The Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan
  • The Income-Contingent Repayment Plan

Notice how the names of all three plans reference “income” or “earnings”? Well, that’s because, under these plans, your payment amount is based on how much money you make. To really understand the differences between income-driven and “traditional” repayment plans, you must understand how your payment amount is calculated under each type of repayment plan.

How Monthly Payments Are Calculated

“Traditional” repayment plans are those such as the Standard and Extended Repayment plans. These traditionalists take three variables—the interest rate, principal balance, and repayment period—and determine the least amount of money that you can pay each month to pay the loan off by the end of the repayment period (usually 10-25 years, but sometimes as much as 30 years). This means that borrowing more, having a higher interest rate, or having a shorter repayment period will increase your monthly payment (and vice versa). Those three variables are all the traditional repayment plans care about—they don’t care if you can afford that payment, they just want your loan to be paid off within a specific time frame.

Income-driven repayment plans take these variables and stand them on their heads. These plans say, “you’ll pay what you can afford: a percentage of your ‘discretionary income’” (hint: that’s something less than your total income). Depending on the plan, that may be 10%, 15%, or something else. What you ultimately pay depends on the plan you choose and when you borrowed, but in all cases, it should be something you can afford. Sometimes, it can be as low as $0 per month.

Student Loan Forgiveness and the Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Because your payment under the income-driven repayment plans is not calculated to ensure that your loan is paid off within a specific time frame, the plans have another special feature: loan forgiveness. These plans do have a repayment period—20 or 25 years. However, it’s not the point at which your loan must be paid off; instead, it serves as a counter toward loan forgiveness. Under these plans, if your loan is not repaid in full at the end of your repayment period—20 or 25 years—then the remaining balance will be forgiven. Let me be clear: this is not to say that everyone who selects an income-driven repayment plan will receive forgiveness. You may end up paying your loan off in full before you’re eligible for some forgiveness. Because your payment is based on your income, your payment changes when your income rises (or falls). Your income is the “x” factor, and we don’t know what will happen to it in the future. Under these plans, then, you may pay your loan off in full, or not, but the income-driven repayment plans are happy either way.

What else affects whether you will receive loan forgiveness? Well, it’s those familiar variables of loan balance and interest rate. Remember, interest accrues each day on whatever your principal balance is. The income-driven repayment plans do not change this fact. So, even though your payment isn’t related to how much interest is accruing, that interest still accrues and must still be paid before you can pay down the principal balance on your loan. Ultimately, because your payment is less than it would be under another plan and may even be less than the amount of interest that accrues on your loan, then you will pay down your principal balance more slowly and increase the likelihood of receiving loan forgiveness. This also means that your loan will cost you more over time. Does this mean that you shouldn’t choose an income-driven repayment plan? Of course not! But, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explain that there was some sort of cost to receiving this benefit.

Disclaimers

To be a good bureaucrat, I need to give you a few disclaimers before I wrap this up:

  • If you receive loan forgiveness under an Income-Driven Repayment Plan, it may be considered taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service.
  • The Income-Based and Pay As You Earn Repayment plans both have an eligibility criteria that tests to see whether you “need” to enter the plan—this test checks how much federal student loan debt you have relative to your income.
  • There are loan-based eligibility criteria that I didn’t even mention, but know that these plans are only available for federal student loans—loans made under the Direct Loan and Federal Family Education Loan Programs, to be specific.
  • If you are married, how you file your federal income tax return matters; sometimes it matters a lot.

How to Apply

In closing, let me give you some actionable steps that you can take:

  • Use the Repayment Estimator to model your eligibility and payment amount for an income-driven repayment plan.
  • If you have still questions, call your loan servicer and discuss whether one of these plans is a good fit for you.
  • Apply online at StudentLoans.gov. Because this stuff is complicated, check the box that allows your loan servicer to put you on the income-driven repayment plan with the lowest monthly payment amount.

The English language was not marred through the use of acronyms in this blog post. Ian Foss has worked for the Department of Education since 2010, and, thanks to the Income-Based Repayment Plan, has been able to eat more than just ramen noodles since he finished school.