Understanding the Pay As You Earn Plan (PAYE)

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Updated on Thursday, June 4, 2015

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If you have federal student loans, then you will have to choose a repayment plan when it is time for you to start making payments on your loans. There are many repayment plans to choose from, including a standard (10 year) repayment plan, an extended (25 year) repayment plan, and one of three repayment plans based on your income. One of these three income repayment plans is the Pay As You Earn plan (PAYE).

[Learn about Income-Based Repayment and Income Contingent Repayment Plans.]

What Is the Income Pay As You Earn Plan?

The PAYE plan was passed by President Obama on December 21, 2012, and is the newest income driven repayment plan. Under the PAYE plan, your student loan payments are capped at 10% of your discretionary income.

If you file taxes individually or you are married filing separate, only your income will count. If you file jointly, both incomes will count.

After 20 years, your remaining loan balance is forgiven. However, you will owe taxes on the forgiven amount.

Direct Loans and Direct PLUS loans qualify for PAYE, but private loans and Parent PLUS loans do not qualify.

What Makes You Eligible for the Pay As You Earn Plan?

In order to qualify for the PAYE plan, you must show a “partial financial hardship”. You must be a new borrower as of October 1, 2007 and you must have received a disbursement on or after October 1, 2011.

To show a partial financial hardship, you must show that the annual amount due on your loans exceeds 10% of the difference between your adjusted gross income (AGI) and 150% of the poverty line for your family size in the state you live.

Generally, people who qualify for PAYE will have borrowed for the first time in the 2008-2009 school year and will have borrowed after 2011 (basically, only new borrowers qualify for PAYE). This means that people who were freshmen in college in 2008 will qualify, as well as people who were sophomores, juniors, or seniors in 2008-2009 and then went to graduate school and took out federal loans.

Considering the limiting date restrictions, President Obama announced that the PAYE plan will be extended to borrowers who took out loans before October 1, 2007 in late 2015.

Pros and Cons of the Pay As You Earn Plan

PAYE is the most generous income driven plan. Like other income driven plans, on the PAYE plan, your payments are lower than if you were on a traditional plan. Lower payments mean that your loans will be more manageable, giving you more money to live on.

The downside of the PAYE plan is that it is only available to new borrowers (at least for right now). Additionally, you will pay taxes on any debt that is forgiven, and you will likely pay more in interest than if you were on a standard plan.

The fact that PAYE is a relatively new repayment plan that is set to change later this year shows how the government is still making strides to help student loan borrowers in ways that it hasn’t before. It remains to be seen how PAYE will benefit borrowers over time.


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