Pay As You Earn: The True Cost of Student Loan Forgiveness

When you’re struggling under the burden of federal student loans, the possibility of loan forgiveness sounds like a fantasy. But thanks to the expansion of the government’s income-driven student loan repayment plan called Pay As You Earn (PAYE), more borrowers are inching close to student loan forgiveness than ever before.

PAYE was previously only available to people who took out loans after October 2007, but last year, the Department of Education launched the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan, which expanded the program to all eligible borrowers regardless of when their loans were disbursed.

A leg up for those borrowers who have trouble making ends meet, PAYE and REPAYE limit monthly student loan payments to 10% of their discretionary income and, after 20-25 years (10 years if you work in public service), forgives the remaining loan balance.

How Does PAYE Work?

For those who qualify and sign on for PAYE, payments are generally around 10% of your discretionary income. If your income increases and your monthly payments get recalculated, your payments will never exceed what you would be paying under the standard repayment plan, as long as your income is still under the qualifying threshold.

So what’s the catch? For one thing, lower monthly payments will, of course, mean a higher accumulation of interest. And while your loan balance could be eligible to be forgiven in 20 years, that forgiveness in many circumstances is seen as income in the eyes of the IRS.

So if in 20 years you still owe, say, $20,000, even if the total balance is forgiven, you might have to pay taxes on that $20,000 the same year its forgiven.

Am I Eligible for a PAYE Plan?

Not everyone is eligible for the PAYE program. First off, PAYE only works for federal direct loans. And because PAYE was created for those struggling to meet loan payments, PAYE is only available to those who can demonstrate economic hardship. This makes sense, of course, because 10% of a high discretionary income would be a high monthly payment and over the payments of a federal standard plan.

PAYE plans are given to those whose monthly payments are lower than they would be on the standard 10-year payment plan.

Right about now you’re probably thinking, Lower payments and eventual loan forgiveness—where do I sign?

But there’s a catch. There’s almost always a catch.

While the idea of loan forgiveness may sound like the ultimate ‘get out of loan-jail free’ card, income-driven plans like REPAYE, PAYE and their predecessor, Income-Based Repayment (IBR), come with some less-than-obvious costs.

Costs Associated with PAYE and Income-Driven Repayment

In some cases, those costs outweigh the potential benefits—even the benefit of ultimate loan forgiveness. What costs should you be aware of when it comes to income-based repayment plans? Here are the big three:

1. The Straight Costs

Under an income-driven plan, lower student loan payments are primarily a result of lengthening your loan’s term from the standard 10 years to 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. You still owe the same amount in terms of principal, but you’ll pay it off much more slowly and make a smaller dent—if any dent at all—in the principal with each payment.

In other words, an income-driven plan is a recipe for significantly higher interest costs than you would incur with a 10-year repayment plan. Plus, any loan balance forgiven at the end is taxed as income by the IRS.

How much do these costs matter? Let’s say you’re a single California resident with a $100,000 direct subsidized 10-year loan at a 4% APR, and you make $50,000 per year with a projected 5% annual salary bump.

On the standard repayment plan, you’d spend $121,494 total on principal and interest over 10 years. But on REPAYE, you’d spend $173,225 total—and you’d pay off your loan just a few months shy of the 25-year forgiveness mark.

Of course, your own income and loan details will make a difference in the outcome here, so find out how different repayment plans would affect you, check out our Student Loan Navigator tool, which can help personalize options to your situation.

2. The Surprise Costs (and Administrative Burden)

Under any income-driven repayment plan, you have to “recertify” your income and “family size” annually. Recertification can be a cumbersome process, and if you miss the deadline, which happens over 50% of the time, according to the Department of Education, things can get messy.

For one thing, if your payments are so low they don’t cover your monthly interest cost, the interest builds. Miss the recertification deadline, and you risk having accrued interest capitalized, or added to your loan’s principal.

Paying interest on your interest can cost you thousands more over the life of the loan.

Late recertification can also delay the date your loan is eligible to be forgiven, since you are automatically removed from the plan each time your certification lapses, and then put back on once you’ve completed the process.

Since time spent off the plan doesn’t count toward the 20-year forgiveness requirement, this could mean making some extra monthly payments before forgiveness can occur.

Additionally, if your income steadily increases and you’d like to switch to a standard plan to save money and be done with debt sooner, you may want to think twice. If you leave REPAYE all your accrued interest is capitalized, which means the longer you’ve been using the plan, the more the amount you owe has increased.

3. The Emotional Cost

Imagine for a moment that you do make it to the promised land of student loan forgiveness under an income-based repayment plan.

That means you’ve spent 20 years experiencing some level of financial hardship to make monthly payments toward a balance that might have grown exponentially with each passing year (if your payments were so low they didn’t effect the principal).

In other words, there’s an emotional tax attached, and that’s probably not what you pictured when you signed up.

The more common scenario (and frankly, the more desirable path) is that your financial picture will improve over time—you’ll get job offers, raises, and maybe even an inheritance or a bonus or two. And if that means becoming ineligible for eventual loan forgiveness, you’re probably going to be okay with the trade-off.

The Big Picture

Despite its downsides, an income-based repayment plan can be a useful tool for some borrowers. If you have a large amount of student loan debt, a low-to-modest salary, and, most importantly, don’t anticipate your income increasing much over the next couple of decades, you should give it serious consideration.

If, on the other hand, you expect your salary to moderately increase at some point, an income-driven plan could cost you more money in the long run.

The Main Income-Driven Repayment Options

If PAYE isn’t right for you, there are plenty of other options offered by the federal government or by private lenders. If you have federal loans, there are three other income-driven repayment options:

• Income-contingent repayment (ICR)<, which asks for generally 20% of your discretionary income. Your loans are eligible to be forgiven after 25 years. And just like the PAYE loan forgiveness option, you could be taxed on the amount that’s forgiven. • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), which takes generally 10% of your discretionary income. There is a forgiveness option after 20 years if you’re paying off your undergrad degree, or 25 years if you’re paying off undergrad and grad school loans. • Income-based repayment (IBR), which takes generally 10% to 15% of your discretionary income. Your loans are forgiven after 20-25 years, though you could get taxed on the amount that’s forgiven. If lowering your monthly loan payments is the goal, but you don't want the costs and headaches associated with REPAYE, consider refinancing your student loans at a lower interest rate instead.

Refinancing can decrease your payments and cut your total interest costs significantly. You can also shorten your payment term to save even more money, and be done with loans that much sooner.

For the borrower who bets on eventual loan forgiveness as a panacea for student loan woes, it’s important to take a hard look at the price of that journey. Because, in the end, loan forgiveness is never free. Get more information on forgiveness and other student loan strategies at SoFi’s student loan help center.

Check out refinancing your student loans with SoFi to see if it is the right decision for you.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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4 To-Do’s Before Taking Out a Personal Loan

It’s the classic financial dilemma: you’ve got a home improvement project you’d like to start or maybe you have some unexpected medical bills, but you don’t want to dip into your savings to cover the expenses.

If you have good credit, a personal loan could be the answer. But there’s a lot to consider, especially if you’re paying off student loans while also trying to build a solid nest egg. Here’s a five-point plan to help you out:

1. Decide if a Personal Loan is Really the Ticket

In theory, a personal loan can be used for anything; in practice, though, it’s more suited to some uses than others. For example, major purchases that won’t offer a financial return, such as jewelry, a wedding or a European vacation, are not great uses for a personal loan.

When you take out a loan, your monthly payments will include interest. So avoid paying that interest by saving up for these types of purchases instead.

If you need to cover a smaller expense, like a new TV or espresso machine, using a credit card makes more sense than turning to a personal loan. Even though the interest rate on a credit card is typically higher than on a personal loan, you can pay off less expensive items off over a short period of time, accruing less interest in the long run—or even no interest. Remember, when you use a credit card vs a personal loan, you aren’t charged interest until 30 days after your purchase.

For larger expenses that double as investments in your financial or physical health, or in your career and home, a personal loan is a great solution. Use it to:

Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Average credit card interest rates range from around 13% to 23%, but personal loan rates can be much lower. Using a low-interest personal loan for credit card debt consolidation could save you thousands.

Make a Home Improvement

A personal loan is a great option for a home improvement project that’s just out-of-reach of your budget. And it could pay for itself down the road if you sell your home.

If you aren’t sure how much your renovation project will cost use our Home Improvement Cost Calculator to find out.

Pay for Large or Unexpected Medical Bills

Using a personal loan to pay health expenses is a smart alternative when the monthly payments attached are more manageable than the payments demanded by a doctor or hospital.

Pay for Moving Expenses to Advance Your Career

Expenses attached to career success are great investments. Moving to take a better job, for example, could be key to increasing your earning potential.

Once you know that a personal loan is for you, it’s time to be uber-responsible and do some pre-application homework. Take these steps:

Determine Exactly How Much you Need to Borrow

Your high credit score is valuable, and not something you want to damage. A solid loan strategy will help you maintain it. So, plan on borrowing only as much as you need, and know exactly what you can afford to pay monthly, so there’s no risk of overextending yourself.

2. Choose the Type of Loan you Want

There are two types of personal loans—secured and unsecured. A secured loan requires you to put up assets, such as property or stocks, as collateral, and it comes with a lower interest rate because it presents a lower risk to the lender.

But there’s a serious downside if you fail to make your monthly payments: You could lose the assets you’ve put on the line. An unsecured loan, on the other hand, is granted based on your credit history rather than on your assets.

3. Research Lenders and Ask the Right Questions

Choosing the right lender can save you thousands in interest payments and fees. So take a close look at your options to determine the lender and loan terms that best suit your needs. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down, ask lenders these key questions:

Can I Borrow the Exact Amount I Need?

Many lenders only offer loan amounts up to $40,000. But SoFi offers loans up to $100,000, so there’s a good chance you’ll get the amount you require.

What’s the Best Interest Rate you Can Offer me, and Can I Sign up for Automatic Payments?

Interest rates on personal loans can be over 30%. SoFi’s rates are some of the lowest—from just 5.95% fixed APR. Plus, if you sign up for Autopay, SoFi discounts your rate 0.25%.

What Loan Term Best Suits my Goals?

Personal loan terms can range from six months to 7 years, depending on the lender. SoFi offers 3, 5, and 7-year terms.

Are origination fees or prepayment penalties attached to the loan? Some lenders charge an origination fee of 1% to 6% of the loan just to process your application, and/or a prepayment penalty when you pay off your loan ahead of schedule. SoFi doesn’t do things like that —what you see is what you get.

What if I lose my job and can’t make payments for a few months? Missed payments could lower your credit score, incur late fees, or even involve collections agencies or a lawsuit.

SoFi personal loans include unemployment protection, allowing you to suspend your monthly payments for up to 12 months (though interest will continue to accrue). Plus, you’re eligible to receive job placement assistance in the meantime.

4. Crush Debt Faster

With your questions answered and your loan secured, you’re ready to embark on your project or pay some big bills. As you do, remember to stick to your budget and keep your spending in check. The last thing you want to do is take on more debt.

If you receive a raise or find yourself with a few extra bucks at the end of each month, think about making larger payments and applying the extra amount directly to your loan principal.

Get a year-end bonus? Use it to help pay off your loan months or even years early. Pro-tip: making a one-off payment on the day your auto-pay bill is due ensures that 100% of that payment goes towards paying down the principle of the loan.

With a low rate and monthly payment, a SoFi personal loan can help you pay off high-interest credit card debt, increase the value of your home, or even help you move forward (literally) in your career.


The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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4 Smart Student Loan Repayment Strategies for New Grads

Congrats to the Class of 2016! May your lives after graduation be a reflection of everything you’ve worked so hard for – a successful career, stable finances, and much more. And if you’re one of the 40 million people in the U.S. with student loans, may your student loan repayment strategy help you eliminate that debt efficiently, so you can focus on your life’s journey.

Make no mistake – student loan repayment does require a strategy. Right now, it might seem as simple as picking a repayment plan and writing the first check, but the decisions you make today and during the course of the loan can affect how much interest you pay in the long run. A smart repayment strategy ensures that you don’t spend a penny more than is necessary.

Student loans may be a fact of post-grad life, but you can take four steps to put your repayment strategy on the right track:

1. Know Exactly What You Owe

Chances are you haven’t looked at your loan statements since you signed on the dotted line. So spend time getting reacquainted. Find your federal loans on the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) website .

If you’ve got private loans, gather your statements or check with your school’s financial aid administrator. Many private loans are also listed on the Clearinghouse Meteor Network . If necessary, pull your credit report ; all of your loans will be listed there.

Once you’ve tracked everything down, make a list of your loans and their important details—the type (e.g., Direct, PLUS, private), the balances, and the interest rate you’re charged for each. This information is key to intelligent planning.

2. Understand the Grace Period

Some student loans offer a grace period of several months (six, usually) after graduation before you’re required to start making payments. This can come in handy if you haven’t yet found employment or you’re taking a break before entering the working world.

Just remember that the interest clock is usually ticking on most unsubsidized and private loans during this timeframe. Those loans begin to accrue interest the moment they’re disbursed, and will continue to do so throughout the repayment period.

At that point, the accrued interest is capitalized and added to a loan’s principal, which means that you end up paying interest on a larger loan balance. Translation: higher interest cost for you.

Bottom line? Use the grace period if you need it, but consider making at least interest-only payments during this timeframe in order to save money long-range.

3. Do the Math

Most lenders will offer you a choice of repayment plans, allowing flexibility around the length of the repayment term (e.g., 10 years vs. 20 years), which impacts your monthly payment amount and total interest cost. While it might be tempting to choose the option with the lowest monthly payments, the long-term repercussions can be costly.

For example, let’s say you have a $100,000 student loan at a fixed 6.8% interest rate. If you pay it off in 10 years, your monthly payments will be $1,150, and the total interest will be $38,096. If you extend the term to 20 years, your monthly payments will go down to $763 but your total interest will spike to $83,201. If you can afford the higher monthly payments, you can save more than $45,000 in interest with the 10-year plan.

Recommended: Explore our student loan help center for tips, resources, and guides to help you navigate your student loan debt.

However, the most important factor is the ability to pay your monthly student loan bill, because missing or making late payments can have a disastrous effect on your credit. If you need to choose a lower payment option initially, do so.

But when you’re able, switch to a more aggressive plan or keep the longer term but pay more than the minimum each month to accelerate loan repayment. The sooner you do, the less interest you’ll pay and the faster you’ll be done with your loans.

4. Consider Refinancing

One of the best ways to save money on interest is by lowering your interest rate, and the only way to do that is through student loan refinancing. Refinancing typically requires the borrower to have a solid income and a track record of capably handling debt.

So if you’ve landed a great job and have a history of managing loans and credit cards responsibly, lowering your interest rate may be a cost-saving option for you.

Using the above loan example, let’s see what happens if you refinance that loan at a lower rate. By refinancing a $100,000, 6.8%, 10-year term loan to 5%, your payments would go down to $1,060, and your total interest would be $27,278. In other words, refinancing would mean lower monthly payments and a total savings of almost $11,000.

But before refinancing federal student loans, remember that fed loans offer benefits like potential loan forgiveness and income-based repayment plans.

These programs don’t transfer to private lenders, so it’s important to know whether they apply to your situation before refinancing. If you don’t benefit from these programs, and saving money is your priority, refinancing federal loans can be a cost-saving option.

When ready, do the math on refinancing your own loans using our student loan calculator.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Arguably the most important aspect of any student loan repayment strategy is to keep a positive, can-do attitude. When starting out, each monthly payment can feel like a drop in an ocean. But stick with it, increase your payments when possible, and soon you’ll build momentum and experience some satisfying results.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to determining the very best strategy, if you take time to understand all of your repayment options, you can create a course of action that works best for your situation, saves you money over the long term, and works toward paying off loans as efficiently as possible. An effective plan will allow you to focus on what’s really important: life after graduation.

See how SoFi can help you save money by refinancing your student loans.


The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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Is an Interest-Only Mortgage Your Ticket to Buying a Home in 2017?

Thinking of buying a home this year? With interest rates, rents and housing prices all on the rise, this could be an opportune time to make it happen – and an interest-only mortgage loan might be the thing that makes it possible.

How Does it Work?

While not for everyone, an interest-only mortgage offers a host of advantages for some borrowers. As the name suggests, these loans allow you to pay only the accrued interest on the loan each month for a period ranging from 5 to 10 years.

Because you make lower monthly payments during this timeframe, you enjoy increased financial flexibility (meaning you can invest the difference or choose to pay principal in conjunction with a bonus or other cash influx).

After the interest-only period expires, the loan converts to a more standard structure where both principal and interest are paid on a monthly basis. At this point, you’ll see your mortgage payment go up – sometimes substantially.

Because of this, interest-only loans are typically better for borrowers who expect to be able to cover those higher payments in the future – for example, if you believe your income will increase before the interest-only period is up.

A Checkered Past

Interest-only mortgages have been around for decades, but for the most part they weren’t attractive to the masses. Typical borrowers were often affluent homeowners who viewed their homes as part of an investment portfolio: interest-only mortgages provided the opportunity to seek better returns with the capital that would otherwise have been used to make a higher mortgage payment.

Then came the housing bubble of 2004 – 2006, when lenders started approving interest-only loans for unqualified borrowers who wanted to keep mortgage payments low while trying to flip houses as quickly as possible.

After the bubble burst in 2008, the market for interest-only loans went dormant for several years – and these products were left with a less-than-favorable reputation.

The Opportunity Today

Between the current economic environment and the advent of new interest-only loan products, this type of loan is once again worth considering for some borrowers.

Again, the main stipulation is that you’re not biting off more than you can chew – meaning you expect to be able to handle the increase in payments once the interest-only period is up.

If you meet those criteria, here are a few advantages to consider:

1. Lower Upfront Monthly Payments

Because you only pay the interest that is accruing on the mortgage, initial monthly payments are substantially lower than if you were also paying the principal.

For example, on a $1 million, 30-year, 4% fixed mortgage, the initial monthly payment would be $4,774 – with about $1,440 of that going to principal. On an interest-only mortgage with the same criteria, the monthly payment would be $3,333.

2. Tax-Deductible Payments

Generally speaking, you can deduct 100 percent of your interest-only mortgage payments,as long as the total deduction is on debt less than $1 million.

On the other hand, mortgage payments that include payments on both principal and interest are only deductible for the amount of interest paid. In the example above, for each month’s payment of $4,774, only the interest portion ($3,333) would be deductible.

3. Rent vs. Own

As rents continue to skyrocket in metropolitan areas, many people would rather put that monthly check toward a home of their own. For example, the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is about $3,500.

With interest-only mortgage rates currently hovering around 4 percent, payments on a $1 million mortgage would be less than the cost of renting. Factor in the tax deduction benefit, and buying a home becomes even more attractive.

4. Seek Higher Returns

There are situations where paying down the balance of a mortgage may not be the most efficient use of capital, specifically when funds can be allocated to higher-yielding investments.

Much like the savvy borrowers in the early days of interest-only loans, you can take advantage of the flexibility afforded by lower mortgage payments to seek investments with higher returns. This advantage makes an interest-only mortgage a compelling choice for long-term wealth building.

The Takeaway

Forecasts for 2016 and beyond include rising interest rates, increasing housing prices and the continuing escalation of the cost to rent.

These factors make 2016 look like an opportune time to buy a home. If the structure of a traditional mortgage has prevented you from buying a home, an interest-only mortgage may provide a solution that helps make that happen in the near future.

Download the SoFi Guide to First Time Home Buying to get valuable tips on these topics and more. Our guide also demystifies modern mortgage myths around down payments, the pre-approval process, student loans, rising interest rates, and more.


The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi Mortgages not available in all states. Products and terms may vary from those advertised on this site. See sofi.com/eligibility-criteria for details.

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