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Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, Explained

By Rebecca Lake · October 18, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, Explained

Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.

Income-contingent payment (ICR) plans are one kind of Income-driven repayment plan, which can help make federal student loan payments more affordable. The income-contingent repayment plan allows you to extend your loan repayment period while reducing monthly payments to help them better align with your income. Any remaining loan amounts due at the end of your ICR plan term may be forgiven.

An ICR may be a good fit if you’re just starting your career and aren’t earning a lot of money. You may also consider an income-contingent repayment plan if you’re hoping to qualify for federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

But is an ICR plan right for you? And what are the pros and cons of income-contingent repayment? Weighing the benefits alongside the potential downsides can help you decide if it’s an option worth pursuing managing your student loan debt.

What Is Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)?

Income-driven repayment plans, including ICR, determine your monthly payment amount based on your household size and income. Depending on how much you make and how many people there are in your household, it’s possible that you could have no monthly payment at all.

Like other income-driven repayment plans offered by the Department of Education (DOE), an ICR plan aims to make it easier to keep up with federal student loan payments.

With income-contingent repayment, your monthly payments are capped at the lesser of:

•   20% of your discretionary income

•   What you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted for your income

Of the four income-driven repayment options, income-contingent repayment is the oldest plan, and it is the only one that sets the payment cap at 20% of a borrower’s discretionary income. With income-based repayment (IBR) and Pay as You Earn (PAYE), monthly student loan payments max out at 10% of your discretionary income. The Department of Education recently introduced a new IDR plan called Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), and starting in July 2024, borrowers on the SAVE plan could see their payments reduced from 10% to 5% of income above 225% of the poverty line.

The interest rate for an ICR plan stays the same for the entire repayment term. The rate would be whatever you’re currently paying for any loans you’ve consolidated or the weighted average of all loans you haven’t consolidated.


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How an ICR Plan Works

Income-contingent repayment can reduce your federal student loan payments, allowing you to pay 20% of your discretionary income each month or commit to making fixed payments based on a 12-year loan term.

You have up to 25 years to repay all loans enrolled in the plan. If you still have remaining payments after 25 years of monthly payments, the DOE will forgive the balance. But while you may not owe any more payments on the loan, the IRS considers student loan debts forgiven through ICR or another income-driven repayment plan to be taxable income, so you may owe taxes on it.

Income-contingent repayment plans base your monthly payment on your income and family size. This means that if your income, or your family size, changes over time, your monthly payments could change as well. With all of the federal IDR plans, borrowers must recertify their loan every year to show any changes to your income or family size.

If you’re enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, your monthly payments would be the same for the entire repayment term, and you never have to recertify your loan.

Here’s an example of what your payments might look like on an ICR plan versus a Standard Repayment plan, assuming you’re single, make $50,000 a year, get 3.5% annual raises, and owe $35,000 in federal loans at a weighted interest rate of 5.7%.

Standard

ICR Plan

Savings
First month’s payment $383 $319 $64
Last month’s payment $383 $336 $47
Total payments $45,960 $49,092 -$3,132
Repayment term 10 years 12.4 years -2.4 years

As you can see, an income-contingent repayment plan would lower your monthly payments. But it will take you longer to pay your loans off and you pay more than $3,000 in additional interest charges over the life of the loan. If you start earning more while you’re on the ICR plan, your payments could also increase.

If you get married, and you and your spouse file your taxes jointly, your loan servicer will use your joint income to determine your loan payment. If you file separately or are separated from your spouse, you’ll only owe based on your individual income.

Recommended: How is Income Based Repayment Calculated?

Who Is Eligible for an Income-Contingent Repayment Plan?

Anyone with an eligible federal student loan can apply for the income-contingent repayment plan. Eligible loans include:

•   Direct student loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)

•   Direct consolidation loans

•   Direct PLUS loans made to graduate or professional students

Other types of federal student loans may also be enrolled in income-contingent repayment plans if you consolidate them into a Direct loan first. For example, you could use an ICR plan to repay consolidated:

•   Federal Stafford loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)

•   Federal Perkins loans

•   Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) PLUS loans

•   FFEL consolidation loans

•   Direct PLUS loans for parents

The income-contingent repayment is the only income-driven repayment plan option that includes loans taken out by parents. So if you borrowed federal loans to help your child pay for college, you could enroll in an ICR plan (after consolidating your loans) to make the payments more manageable.

Two types of loans are not eligible for income-contingent repayment or any other income-driven repayment plan:

•   Private student loans

•   Federal student loans in default

If you’ve defaulted on your federal student loans you must first get them out of default before you can enroll in an income-driven repayment plan. The DOE allows you to do this through loan consolidation and/or loan rehabilitation. Either one can help you get caught up with loan payments and loan rehabilitation will also remove the default from your credit history.

Pros and Cons of ICR Plans

Income-contingent repayment is just one option for paying off student loans, and it may not be right for everyone. It’s important to look at both the advantages and potential disadvantages before enrolling in an ICR plan.

Pros of income-contingent repayment:

•   Can lower your monthly payments

•   Parent loans are eligible for income-contingent repayment, after consolidation

•   Extends the loan term to 25 years to repay student loans

•   Remaining loan balances are forgivable

•   Qualifying repayment plan for PSLF

Cons of income-contingent repayment:

•   Other income-driven repayment plans like PAYE or SAVE base monthly payments on 5 to 10% of your discretionary income

•   Taking longer to repay loans means paying more in interest

•   If your income changes, your payments could increase

•   Enrolling certain loans requires consolidation first

•   Forgiven loan amounts are taxable

If you’re interested in an income-driven repayment plan, it may be helpful to do the math first to see how much you might pay with different plans. An income-based repayment option, for example, might lower your payments even more than ICR so it’s worth running the numbers through a student loan repayment calculator.

The Takeaway

Income-contingent repayment plans are something you might consider if you have federal student loans. With an ICR plan, your monthly payments may be lower than they are with the Standard Loan Repayment Plan, allowing you more money for other bills.

You won’t receive a lower interest rate when you sign up for an income-driven repayment plan. The only way to change your interest rate is through student loan refinancing. But if you refinance your federal loans, you will lose access to benefits like ICR and other income-driven repayment plans.

When you refinance student loans, you take out a new loan to pay off your existing ones. If you’re able to secure a lower interest rate on the new loan and don’t extend the term length of the loan, you could pay less in total interest over the life of the loan while having lower monthly payments. This could give you more breathing room in your budget. If you have both federal and private loans, you may choose to place the federal loans in an income-driven repayment plan and then refinance the private loans.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.



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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Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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