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What Is the Student Loan Forgiveness Act?

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

With Americans facing over $1.6 trillion in combined student loan balances, many borrowers are on the hunt for ways to ease their debt burden. One option you may have seen was called the Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, which according to some websites, was a way for some borrowers to escape their debt for a small fee.

This offer might sound appealing, but there’s one problem: It’s fake. It’s just one example of real ads that scammers have used to target and bilk borrowers.

Fraudsters have used lines like this to lure in their marks, then charged them hefty fees to fill out forms they could’ve filled out themselves for free. In the worst cases, people end up paying for nonexistent services.

Here are some answers to your burning questions on student loan forgiveness, so you can get a better idea of how the program works:

Does Any Student Loan Forgiveness Act Exist?

Yes. The Student Loan Forgiveness Act (SLFA) was a congressional bill introduced in 2012 intended to help borrowers with paying down their student debt.

In addition to capping interest rates for all federal loans, the proposed law would have introduced a repayment plan that allows borrowers to have their loans forgiven after 10 years if they made monthly payments equivalent to 10% of their adjusted gross income. The bill also would have made borrowers in public service jobs eligible for loan forgiveness after five years, instead of 10.

Sound too good to be true? It was. The bill never made it out of committee.

So, What is Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Program?

Even though you may have heard about it, “Obama’s new student loan forgiveness program” doesn’t exist. During his tenure, President Obama did expand the reach of federal loan forgiveness programs. A bill he signed in 2010 allowed students who took out certain federal loans to have their balances forgiven in 20 years, rather than 25.

The same bill capped annual payments at 10% of adjusted gross income, rather than 15%. It also ushered in loan forgiveness after 10 years for borrowers working in qualified public service jobs.

Those changes preceded the introduction of the Student Loan Forgiveness Act (SLFA), and was never officially called “Obama’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program.” Likewise, there is no “new” student loan forgiveness program in Obama’s name, either, obviously.

Then Why Have I Read About Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Program?

Because it’s a term that debt relief companies use to confuse student loan borrowers. The name seems convincing since President Obama did take action on federal student loans and legitimate federal loan forgiveness programs exist. That’s why some borrowers have been duped into paying high fees for pointless—or nonexistent—services. Don’t be fooled: The program isn’t real!

Debt relief companies advertising the “Student Loan Forgiveness Act” or “Obama’s New Student Loan Forgiveness Program” are bad news. Understanding which programs are real and which are fake can help you avoid being scammed—and find legitimate ways to actually have some of your student loans forgiven.

What Are Some Legitimate Options for Student Loan Forgiveness?

No, Obama’s Student Loan Forgiveness Act never passed. However, there are several real options for having federal student loans forgiven.

In fact, in response to the coronavirus epidemic, the CARES Act suspended federal student loan interest and payment suspension through September 2020. (Update: The pause on federal student loan repayment has been extended through Dec. 31, 2022)

The pending HEROES Act (narrowly passed by the House in mid-May, 2020) proposed $10,000 each of federal student loan AND private student loans forgiveness initially but may have more stringent eligibility requirements if passed by the Senate. While it’s definitely something to keep an eye on, here are some existing programs that may be helpful.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

The government currently offers four income-driven repayment plans for federal student loans that can forgive borrowers’ balances after 20 or 25 years.

There are eligibility requirements, like making required monthly payments for a designated period of time, which are tied to a person’s income. The plans a borrower qualifies for will depend on the types of loans they have and when they took them out.

These student loan repayment plans are based on borrowers’ discretionary income, or the amount they earn after subtracting necessary expenses like taxes, shelter, and food. Here is a brief overview of each one:

•   Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE): Borrowers’ monthly payment is typically 10% of their income. If all loans were taken out for undergraduate studies, they’ll make payments for 20 years; if they also took out loans for graduate or professional studies, they’ll make payments for 25 years. At the end of 20 or 25 years, the remaining amount will be forgiven.
•   Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE): People pay up to 10% of their discretionary income each month, but they never pay more than they would under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. After 20 years, the remaining debt will be forgiven.
•   Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR): People will pay 10% of their discretionary income for 20 years if they became a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, and 15% for 25 years if they were a borrower before July 1, 2014. They will never pay more than they would under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. Borrowers’ debt will be forgiven after either 20 or 25 years.
•   Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR): Borrowers choose whichever repayment plan is cheaper—20% of their discretionary income or what they would pay if they spread their payments out equally over 12 years. Any remaining balance will be forgiven after 25 years.

These four plans are designed to help borrowers make monthly payments they can actually afford. Some people may assume that an income-driven repayment plan that results in forgiveness is best for them, when in reality, this might not be the case.

Note that if the remaining balance of your loan is forgiven, you may be responsible for paying income taxes on that amount.

A repayment calculator can be a useful tool to help determine enrolling in an income-based forgiveness program that would be beneficial. After a borrower plugs in their information, they could discover that they would pay less, in the long run, should they enroll in, say, the government’s Standard Repayment Plan.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Borrowers can have their loans forgiven in 10 years under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. To potentially qualify, they must work full-time for a qualified government organization, nonprofit, or certain public-interest employers, such as a public interest law firm, public library, or public health provider.

Over those 10 years, borrowers must make 120 qualifying monthly payments, and the payment amount is based on their income. Those 120 payments don’t necessarily have to be consecutive. For example, let’s say a borrower works for the local government for three years, then switches to the private sector for a year.

If they decide to go back into public service after that year, they can pick up where they left off with payments rather than start all over.

The PSLF program can be difficult to qualify for, but some people have successfully enrolled. As of March 2020, 145,758 borrowers had applied for the program. Only 3,174 applications were accepted. 171,321 applications had been rejected, and the remaining applications were still processing.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Qualifying teachers can also get up to $17,500 of their federal loans forgiven after five years teaching full-time under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. The American Federation of Teachers has a searchable database of state and local loan forgiveness programs.

To qualify for the full amount, teachers must either teach math or science at the secondary level, or teach special education at the elementary or secondary level. Otherwise, borrowers can have up to $5,000 forgiven if they are a full-time teacher at the elementary or secondary level.

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

Health professionals have access to other loan assistance programs. The federal government’s NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program pays up to 85% of eligible nurses’ unpaid debt for nursing school.

To receive loan forgiveness, borrowers must serve for two years in a Critical Shortage Facility or work as nurse faculty in an accredited school of nursing.

After two years, 60% of their nursing loans will be forgiven. If a borrower applies and is accepted for a third year, an additional 25% of their original loan amount will be forgiven, coming to a total of 85%.

Borrowers interested in the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program can read about what qualifies as a Critical Shortage Facility or an eligible school of nursing before applying.

Indian Health Services’ Loan Repayment Program

The Indian Health Services’ Loan Repayment Program will repay up to $40,000 in qualifying loans for doctors, nurses, psychologists, dentists, and other professionals who spend two years working in health facilities serving American Indian or Alaska Native communities.

Once a borrower completes their initial two years, they may choose to extend their contract each year until their student loans are completely forgiven.

In 2019, the Indian Health Service’s budget allows for up to 384 new awards for two-year contracts, and around 392 awards for one-year contract extensions. The average award for a one-year extension is $24,840 in 2019.

Even those who aren’t typical medical professionals, like doctors or nurses, may still qualify. The IHS has also provided awards to people in other fields, such as social work, dietetics, and environmental engineering.

The National Health Service Corps

The National Health Service Corps offers up to $50,000 for loan repayment to medical, dental, and mental health practitioners who spend two years working in underserved areas.

Loan forgiveness programs are generally available for federal loans, as opposed to private ones. In rare cases, such as school closure while a student is enrolled or soon after, they could qualify to have their loan discharged or canceled.

Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) include facilities such as correctional facilities, state mental hospitals, federally qualified health centers, and Indian health facilities, just to name a few. Each HPSA receives a score depending on how great the site’s need is.

Scores range from 0 to 25 for primary care and mental health, and 0 to 26 for dental care. The higher the score, the greater the need.

Borrowers have the option to enroll in either a full-time or part-time position, but people working in private practice must work full-time. Full-time health professionals may receive awards up to $50,000 if they work at a site with a score of at least 14, and up to $30,000 if the site’s score is 13 or below. Half-time employees will receive up to $25,000 if their site’s score is at least 14, and up to $15,000 if the score is 13 or lower.

Interested in learning more about your options for student loan repayment? Check out SoFi’s student loan help center to get the answers you need about your student debt. The help center explains student loan jargon in terms people can understand, provides loan calculators, and even offers student loan refinancing to hopefully land borrowers lower rates.

Refinancing student loans through a private lender can disqualify people from enrolling in federal loan forgiveness programs and loan forgiveness programs, and disqualifies them from CARES Act forbearance and interest rate benefits.

Check out SoFi to see how refinancing your student loans can help you.

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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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Sallie Mae Loan Consolidation is Gone—Now What?

Sallie Mae, the private student loan company, used to offer loan consolidation for the loans they issued. But here’s the thing: that’s not happening anymore. Student loan consolidation refers to the process of combining multiple loans into one, in order to have just one monthly payment.

When you consolidate federal loans, through a Direct Consolidation Loan, the interest rate becomes the weighted average of all your interest rates combined, rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percent.

But even without Sallie Mae offering direct student loan consolidation, there are still options available to those with private Sallie Mae loans looking to consolidate or refinance their student loans.

Sallie Mae Ends Loan Consolidation

Sallie Mae began as a government-sponsored entity, but went private in 2004. Then in 2014, the company split into two separate organizations; Sallie Mae is a private student loan lender, and now Navient Corporation helps to service government loans.

If you previously had multiple Sallie Mae student loans, you were able to consolidate them into one Sallie Mae loan. But the company no longer offers loan consolidation—and loan refinancing through Sallie Mae isn’t an option either.

Recommended: Can You Get Your Sallie Mae Loans Forgiven?

Student Loan Consolidation vs. Refinancing

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they do have some important distinctions. Sallie Mae consolidation is no longer offered for their private loans. However, students can refinance their Sallie Mae and other private student loans through another private lender or bank, which would then switch over the management of the new refinanced loan to that lender.

For federal loans, a Direct Consolidation Loan allows you to combine multiple federal student loans into one loan with a fixed interest rate. You might not receive a lower interest rate by choosing to consolidate your loans (because of the weighted interest rate rounded up), but you will only have to make one monthly payment. Private student loans cannot be consolidated via a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Refinancing your student loans is another repayment option to consider. While Sallie Mae does not offer refinancing, other private lenders do, including SoFi. These companies essentially purchase your existing student loans and offer you a new loan to pay them off, with a new interest rate and new terms. Private and federal loans are both able to be refinanced into a private loan.

You can refinance just a single loan, possibly lowering the interest rate, or combine multiple loans to refinance your overall student loan debt. If you refinance federal loans, they become private loans in the sense that you will no longer be eligible for federal repayment plan benefits such as Income-Driven Repayment or Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Student loan consolidation and refinancing with a private lender can offer the chance to restructure your loans. While consolidation can simplify debt and possibly lower monthly payments, refinancing can help you pay less over the life of a loan with a lower interest rate or different repayment terms. You can calculate what you might save if you consolidate or refinance your Sallie Mae or federal student loans.

Consolidating Student Loans

You may be able to consolidate your federal student loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan. While private Sallie Mae loans will not be eligible, federal student loans serviced by their new company, Navient, may qualify for consolidation. Stafford Loans, Direct Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans are all federal student loans eligible for Direct Loan Consolidation, too.

Consolidation may help make repayment easier to manage, since there will only be one monthly payment to make, rather than multiple payments. You can also choose new loan terms, with the possibility of extending out the repayment term to 20 or even 25 years.

While this can help you manage your monthly bill and possibly lower your payments, you must also remember you may be in debt longer and pay more interest over the life of your new consolidated loan.

Direct Consolidation Loans from the government also take the weighted average of your previous interest rates, rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percent so it’s possible that you will end up with a higher overall interest rate than you had before.

Before you make a decision on what to do with your Sallie Mae loans, could be a good idea to check that your loans are private loans from Sallie Mae, and not federal loans managed by their sister company, Navient, to avoid any confusion.

Considerations Before Consolidating or Refinancing Student Loans

Whether or not you have Sallie Mae or other private loans, or are just considering applying for a Direct Consolidation Loan for your federal loans, it’s important to review your current payment plan and rates before consolidating loans. Ask yourself this: Will you save money overall, or will you wind up paying more over the life of the loan?

Refinancing Your Private or Federal Loans

For those with private student loans, federal student loans, or a combination of the two, refinancing is another option to consider. Unlike consolidation, refinancing with a private lender such as SoFi allows you to combine private and federal loans into one, and it may lower the amount of interest you’re currently paying or lower your monthly payment.

Refinancing may be better for people whose financial situation, including employment, cash flow, or credit, has improved since graduating. And just like with consolidation, refinancing gets you one loan, and one monthly payment, so you no longer have to juggle multiple loan servicers and payments.

Check to see if refinancing your loans could be the right choice for you.

No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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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20 Year Student Loan Refinance vs Income-Driven Repayment

Considering the over trillion-dollar student debt-load carried by millions of graduates in the U.S., it’s not exactly a surprise that many are exploring options for what their repayment journey will look like. For those looking for a lower monthly payment, a common option is income-driven student loan repayment.

For some students, an income-driven repayment plan, could be the best available choice. For example, this may be the correct course of action for those planning on having their loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Other times, this might not be the best or most affordable option over the long run, even for those looking for a lower overall monthly payment. That’s because lowering your payments often means extending your repayment timeline, which could mean paying more interest over the life of the loan.

It can be hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the two common options (a student loan income-driven repayment plan via the federal government and a student loan refinance from a private lender). That’s simply because what a borrower might pay on an income-driven repayment plan varies from person to person. However, it is still possible to make an informed decision about which makes more sense for your financial and personal situation and money goals.

The first step is gaining a thorough understanding of both common options. Then, you can make an informed decision about which is a better fit to your life and goals. Below, we’ll look at some pros and cons of both.

Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment

To understand income-driven repayment plans, it helps to first wrap your head around a standard repayment plan. Most people who take out a federal student loan or loans are opted into a repayment plan parsed out over 10 years. But standard repayment might not be the best option for everybody, because those carrying high debt balances may have a sky-high monthly payment.

The federal government also offers four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, which are need-based options where monthly payments correspond to your income. Depending on your income, and by stretching these payments out over as many as 20 or 25 years, monthly payments could be quite minimal compared to the standard 10-year repayment plan.

You may have already caught onto this, but a student loan income-driven repayment plan is only offered on federal student loans. Federal loans typically offer more flexibility in repayment than private loans, which are procured from a bank, credit union, or other lender.

If you are looking for some respite from your monthly payments on private loans, you’ll have to speak with each lender to see whether they can work with you. (That, or you can consider refinancing, which we’ll discuss below.)

While choosing one of these plans may help to lower monthly payments, they generally will not lessen how much you pay over time. Spreading your loan out over 20 or 25 years could actually increase how much you pay in interest.

Why does this happen? Because with a low monthly payment, the borrower might not be chipping away at much of the loan’s principal, on top of which interest payments are calculated. Even worse, if payments are too low they might not even cover the entire interest charge for the month, which means that interest is added to the balance of the loan (is capitalized).

Because your monthly payment amount is contingent on your income, your income and corresponding payments will be reassessed each year. This means that your monthly payments will likely fluctuate over time.

Loans on an income-driven repayment plans are often forgiven at the end of the 20 or 25-year repayment period. But, under the income-driven repayment plans, any amount that is forgiven will be taxed as ordinary income in the year that the loan is forgiven. For many graduates, this is a harsh realization in the year that the loans are forgiven, especially if the loan has grown in size over time due to capitalized interest.

Any person considering one of these plans in order to have their loans forgiven will want to seriously consider the implications of a hefty tax bill. You should consider how you will be prepared to pay this bill. Will you save extra each month for taxes, in addition to your monthly student loan payment? These are all questions that you may want to research on your own, and potentially discuss with your loan servicer or a financial advisor.

Refinancing Student Loans

People with a student loan or multiple loans, especially loans with higher rates of interest, could consider refinancing instead. With refinancing, the new lender will pay off a borrower’s old loans with a new one.

Depending on the lender, this can be done with both federal or private loans. Generally, the bank or lender evaluates a potential borrower’s financial situation to see if they qualify for a better interest rate. At this point, the potential borrower can also look at options for lengthening or shortening the repayment timeline. This is typically called “changing the terms” of your loan.

Let’s talk about what it means to change the terms of a student loan. In an ideal world, you’re either keeping the same term (or even shortening the term), and when combined with a (hopefully) better rate of interest, you’ll likely save some money on interest. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. You could also extend the length of the loan, remove cosigners, change from a variable rate to a fixed rate, and so on.

Why might one extend the life of their loan via refinancing? Usually, a borrower would do this to get lower monthly payments than they have on a standard, 10-year repayment plan. To be clear, this could cost a borrower more over time even if the loan is refinanced to a lower rate. That said, for some borrowers it still may be a better option than switching to an income-driven repayment plan.

Of course, you’ll want to do a side-by-side comparison of both options, although that’s not a particularly easy task considering that you can’t really predict how much you’ll pay on an income-driven repayment plan over the duration of a student loan, because it varies depending on your income each year.

And with a 20-year fixed-payment refinanced loan, you’re actually paying off the entire balance of the loan. This means you won’t have any part of the loans forgiven, which saves you from a potentially high tax bill .

Something else to consider: When you do a 20-year refinance that allows you to pay extra toward your loans without penalty, you can pay your student loans back faster than the 20-year period. For example, you could potentially pay a 20-year loan back in 10 years by making extra payments, all while keeping the flexibility of the resulting lower monthly payment.

Every lender has their own criteria for determining whether someone qualifies for particular types of loan and at what rates, but it’s usually based on credit score and history and your income (and may include other factors).

When is refinancing not a good idea? Basically, if you are ever planning to use one of the federal loan repayment or forgiveness options, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Because refinancing is the process of paying off loans with a private loan, refinancing federal loans with a private lender means you won’t have access to these federal repayment programs anymore.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make an informed decision about which of the two options is best for you and your financial situation. Good luck in your journey and in paying back your student loans!

Checking to see whether you qualify to refinance your student loans costs nothing and is unbelievably easy. SoFi offers competitive rates, borrower protections, and award-winning customer service.

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.
This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice about bankruptcy.

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