I Need a Silent Night

Recruiters of recent graduates are facing a young workforce that is stressed out and strapped with debtTotal student loan debt has approached the one trillion dollar level, with average debt per student exceeding $26,000. As a College Coach finance educator, and former college aid counselor, I've spoken with countless young employees over the years who express the same sentiment. When they signed for those student loans each academic year, they knew somewhere deep inside that they would have to pay the loans back eventually, but, somehow, those payments didn't seem quite real until graduation day came and they knew the student loan bills were on their way.

Loan amounts that may have seemed reasonable in the abstract often become overwhelming when comparing minimum monthly payments to that first full-time paycheck.

That is where College Coach steps in to counsel your employees with our new program on Education Loan Repayment Strategies, where we discuss, among other options, utilization of a brand new student loan repayment plan that may provide repayment relief to some of these anxious borrowers. The plan, known as Pay As You Earn (or PAYE), caps federal student loan payments at 10% of the borrower's (and spouse's, if applicable) discretionary income (defined as income above 150% of the federal poverty line for the borrower's household size), eliminating the hardship of relatively large monthly payments that eat up an entire paycheck for lower-income borrowers. Furthermore, any remaining loan balances are cancelled after 20 years of repayment on the Pay As You Earn plan, though cancelled balances are considered taxable income. Students working in public service are eligible for loan forgiveness after 10 years with no tax liability.

A great relief to borrowers with high loan balances compared to their income, the devil with Pay As You Earn is, not surprisingly, in the details.

There are many restrictions in regards to which borrowers and loans qualify for PAYE, including the below:

  • A graduate must be a new borrower of federal student loans as of October 1, 2007, and must have received a new loan disbursement after October 1, 2011, to be eligible for PAYE. The program therefore only applies to recent and future graduates'earlier borrowers do not qualify.
  • Eligible borrowers must be experiencing a partial financial hardship. A partial financial hardship exists when payments on qualifying loans under a standard 10-year repayment plan would be higher than payments calculated under PAYE (i.e. loan balances must be high in relation to income). Borrowers can utilize the Department of Education's PAYE Calculator to see if they qualify, and income must be documented each year to retain eligibility.
  • Only loans borrowed through the government's Direct Loan program, including Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, Direct Graduate PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans, are eligible for Pay As You Earn repayment. All federal student loans borrowed since July 1, 2010 have been issued through the Direct Loan program, but older student loans may have been borrowed from a bank through the government's Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. Older FFEL loans can be consolidated into the Direct Loan program in order to gain PAYE eligibility.
  • Parent PLUS Loans (and Consolidation Loans including Parent PLUS Loans) do not qualify for PAYE repayment. Therefore, parents struggling with payments on loans they borrowed on behalf of their undergraduate children cannot benefit from the repayment relief offered by Pay As You Earn. Note that another (less generous) repayment plan, Income Contingent Repayment, may be available to parent borrowers.

Though restricted in its implementation, the Pay As You Earn plan can certainly provide repayment relief to many recent borrowers.

Student loan payments capped at a small percentage of income can alleviate some of the repayment stress that is experienced by many new graduates, often facing larger than anticipated loan payments and smaller than expected starting salaries. Providing your young employees with guidance on this repayment plan, through the College Coach Education Loan Repayment Strategies program, can not only improve productivity at work, but can be a boon to recruitment efforts, as it provides evidence to potential recruits that yours is a company that cares about its employees, their financial health, and overall wellness.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.