Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, Explained

By Rebecca Lake · August 08, 2021 · 7 minute read

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Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, Explained

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, set your monthly payment amount based on use 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 oldest plan and the only one that sets the payment cap at 20% of discretionary income. With income-based repayment (IBR), Pay as You Earn (PAYE) and Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), monthly student loan payments max out at 10% of your discretionary income.

The interest rate for an ICR plan stays the same for the entirety of the 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.

Recommended: PAYE vs REPAYE: What’s the Difference?

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 always base your monthly payment on income and family size. This means that if your income, or your family size, changes over time, your monthly payments could change as well. By comparison, if you’re enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, your monthly payments would be the same for the entire repayment term.

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%.


ICR Plan

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 would take you longer to pay your loans off and you’d pay more than $3,000 more in 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 allows you to include 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. Those include:

•  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 out 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 could result in a lower payment
•   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, you can tailor your payments to your income, making it easier to follow your budget from month to month.

But an income-driven repayment plan won’t reduce the interest rate you pay on your student loans. That’s something you can do, however, with student loan refinancing.

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.

That said, the interest rate isn’t the only factor to consider. Refinancing federal loans into private loans forfeits the protections and privileges that federal student loans provide, such as the ability to enroll in an income-based repayment plan or access to some forbearance or deferment programs.

With SoFi Student Loan Refinancing, you can take advantage of competitive rates on refinance loans. It’s easy to compare rates from multiple lenders online and get pre-qualified.

If you’re struggling to keep up with student loan payments, consider all the options open to you, including an ICR plan and refinancing. Most importantly, stay in touch with your loan servicers to avoid falling behind.

Student Loan Refinancing
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) 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, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.

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