Income-Based Repayment: Could it be Right for You?


At NerdWallet, we stick to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with full confidence. Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. Here’s the way we earn money.

Income-Based Repayment is a federal program that lowers student loan bills if you’re struggling to afford them.

But Income-Based Repayment is among four plans the federal government offers that tie loan bills to earnings. There’s also Income-Contingent Repayment, Pay As You Earn and Revised Pay While you Earn, and each has different features and qualifications. The best plan will cap your student loan payments at 10% of the?monthly?discretionary income.

You may also hear these called “income-driven” repayment plans. Moving into an income-driven plan makes sense for you personally if:

  • You have federal student loans
  • You’re looking for help lowering your payments
  • Your current federal loan bill is much more than 10% of your discretionary income

Your remaining loan balance will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan.

The process to subscribe to income-driven repayment is straightforward.

  1. Go to or request a paper application from your loan servicer.
  2. Choose the option that lets your education loan servicer put you of the routine with the lowest payment per month available.
  3. Recertify each year. In case your income or family size changes, your payment per month could change, too.

Income-driven repayment options

Let’s check out your choices. Click the name of every arrange for additional information.

Plan Who it’s best for
Income-Based Repayment Federal loan borrowers whose bills tend to be more than 10% of discretionary income, and who started borrowing money for school after July 1, 2014. Borrowers with older loans might fare best with Pay While you Earn, if they qualify, or Revised Pay While you Earn if they don’t.
Income-Contingent Repayment Parent PLUS loan borrowers; it is the only plan available to them. Payments are capped at 20% of discretionary income, and you must consolidate your PLUS loans to qualify.
Pay While you Earn Federal loan borrowers whose bills are more than 10% of discretionary income; who were new direct loan borrowers on or after Oct. 1, 2007; and who got another direct loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011.
Revised Pay While you Earn Federal loan borrowers whose bills are more than 10% of discretionary income and who don’t be eligible for a other plans. Married borrowers may pay more on this plan of action than on the others.

The gotchas of income-driven repayment

While income-driven repayment is really a boon for those who require it, the program has some potentially costly quirks.

The right plan will cap your education loan payments at 10% of your discretionary income each month.

You’ll pay more interest. Since income-driven plans extend the repayment term from the standard Ten years to 20 or Twenty five years, they will result in big interest charges. To take down interest rates, you’re better off investigating student loan refinancing.

You’ll need to pay taxes around the leftover balance. The total amount you’re forgiven after the repayment term will be taxed as income, according to current IRS rules. Use Federal Student Aid’s Repayment Estimator to see how much you’ll be on the hook for.

Married borrowers may pay more about Revised Pay As You Earn. This plan of action takes both spouses’ incomes into account, even though you file taxes separately. That may boost the amount you pay each month. Married borrowers who be eligible for a Income-Based Repayment or Pay While you Earn should consider choosing those plans instead.

Parent PLUS borrowers must consolidate loans first. Income-Contingent Repayment may be the only plan that lets parent borrowers lower loan repayments based on earnings. But you must turn your PLUS loans right into a direct consolidation loan first to qualify. Make an application for consolidation on

The rules of income-driven repayment

You must recertify your earnings and family size each year to stay on an income-driven plan.

Applying is just step one. You must recertify your income and family size every year to stay on an income-driven plan, and your loan servicer will show you the deadline for reapplying.

Missing the deadline has consequences:

  • If you’re enrolled in Income-Based Repayment, Income-Contingent Repayment or Pay As You Earn, your payment per month will revert to the amount you’d pay on the standard repayment plan, meaning it will no longer be based on your earnings. If you are signed up for the Revised Pay As You Earn plan, you will be put on an alternative repayment schedule in line with the amount you still owe.
  • You’ll come with an assumed family size one. If your household is larger, this might improve your monthly payment or cause you to ineligible for Income-Based Repayment or Pay As You Earn.
  • If you’re on Income-Based Repayment, Pay While you Earn or Revised Pay While you Earn, any unpaid interest is going to be capitalized, or put into your principal balance. This can increase the amount of interest you’ll pay.

Additional repayment options

The government also offers standard and graduated?repayment plans that aren’t based on your earnings. If you’re able to afford to subscribe to one of these, they’ll generally permit you to repay your loans faster.

Forgiveness options for public service employees can dramatically reduce your debt.

Private education loan repayment options are more limited. When you likely do not possess income-driven?repayment plans to select from, your lender may decrease your rate of interest or let you make interest-only payments for time.