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Most people assume federal repayment plans for student loans only matter if you’re struggling to make your monthly payments. However, a graduated repayment plan is designed to help you pay off your loans faster and more efficiently. This helps minimize total interest charges and can decrease the amount of time it takes to repay your student debt.
How a graduated repayment plan starts low, then grows
Graduated repayment is the second most efficient method of federal loan elimination after standard repayment plans. Standard plans focus solely on paying off debt quickly. By contrast, graduated plans account for income challenges you can face at the start of a new career.
This is basically the federal government’s way of acknowledging that recent graduates often have low starting salaries. As a result, your monthly payments start lower on a graduated plan than they do with standard repayment.
After two years, the monthly payment amount increases by 7%. Then it increases again by 7% every two years until your loans are fully repaid. The idea is that over the two-year span you should get at least one raise or promotion. As a result, you would have more money available for repayment. This plan reflects that and helps you use career and income advancement to your advantage.
What loans are eligible for graduated repayment?
Just like a standard repayment plan, graduated student loan repayment allows you to include more loans than other programs. Hardship based programs typically don’t apply for PLUS loans to parents. Standard and graduated repayment plans, however, do.
You can use a graduated repayment plan for any of the following:
- Direct student loans, subsidized and unsubsidized
- Stafford loans, subsidized and unsubsidized
- PLUS loans (Direct or FFEL) for parents and graduate students
- Direct and FFEL Consolidation Loans
Really, the only loans that can’t be included are Perkins Loans and any private student loans you took outside of your federal financial aid application.
Want help figuring out your student loans? We can connect you to the right person for the job.
Determining the Term
“Term” refers to the length of your repayment plan – i.e. the number of months you can expect to make payments. For a graduated repayment plan, the term depends on two things:
- Do you plan to include a Direct or FFEL Consolidation Loan in your repayment plan?
- If so, how much total student loan debt do you have to pay back?
Basic plans with no consolidation loan
If you don’t have a Federal Consolidation Loan, then it’s pretty straightforward. You have a choice between a 10-year Graduated Repayment Plan and a 25-year Extended Graduated Repayment Plan. The 10-year plan means higher payments, but it minimizes time to payoff and total interest charges. The 25-year plan lowers the monthly payments so it’s easier to manage. However, that means you pay more over time to eliminate your debt.
What happens if you have a consolidation loan?
Things get more complicated if you want to include a Federal Direct or FFEL Consolidation Loan in a graduated repayment plan. In this case, the term for a Graduated will be more than 10 years. The exact length of the plan depends on your “total education loan indebtedness.”
|Total education indebtedness||Term|
|Less than $7,500||10 years|
|More than $60,000||30 years|
3 Key Points about Graduated Student Loan RepaymentYou can also use Extended Graduated Repayment even if your plan includes a consolidation loan. For instance, if your total education loan indebtedness is $15,000 then your plan should take 15 years. However, you can extend it to 25 years if you need lower monthly payments.
#1: The interest rate is not credit-based
Just like when you applied for loans through FAFSA, credit score has nothing to do with interest rates on repayment plans. You can have a great credit score or rock-bottom bad credit; it doesn’t matter. The interest rate applied to your debt on a graduated repayment plan will be the same in either case.
Interest is calculated by taking a weighted average of the rates applied to your original loans. In other words, it basically takes the average of the rates on every loan you include in the program. Loans for larger amounts have more “weight” in the final interest rate calculation.
If you’re trying to get a lower interest rate on your federal student loan debt, you will need to refinance your loans with a private lender. Just be aware that doing so will make you ineligible for any federal relief program, including student loan forgiveness.
#2: Payments can be high at the end of your plan
Although the payments start out lower than what you would pay on a standard plan, they increase over time. Since payments increase by 7% every 2 years, you may finish with payments that are significantly higher than standard plans.
This could cause problems down the road if you don’t advance through your career as quickly as you’d hoped. The incremental increases may exceed what you can afford with slow income growth. Luckily, you can always switch plans if it turns out the graduated plan doesn’t work for you. You can move into a standard payment plan or even a hardship-based plan if you have severe income challenges. Choosing a graduated repayment plan isn’t set in stone.
#3: Extension only applies in certain cases with consolidation
Extended graduated repayment can apply to basic plans that don’t include consolidation loans. But it can also apply to plans that include consolidation loans in some cases. The extension doesn’t really apply if your total education indebtedness is over $40,000. That’s because plans for higher debt amounts have terms from 25-30 years. So, essentially there’s nothing to extend.
Pros and cons of graduated repayment plans
Like any plan for paying off student loans, there are pros and cons to this plan. Obviously, the main pro of graduated repayment plans is the more manageable monthly payments. It’s also a program that’s available to all borrowers. Many other programs have strict qualifications you must meet to enroll, so the openness of graduated repayment plans is a nice change of pace.
One of the cons is that you may pay more in the end because the longer payment period gives interest more time to accumulate. Additionally, if your income doesn’t increase as expected, the gradually rising payments could become a problem.
Get to know your student loan repayment options by talking to a debt specialist today.
Alternatives to a graduated repayment plan
If a graduated repayment plan doesn’t fit your needs, there are other ways to lower your monthly payments on student loans. Here are some of the most popular:
Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
This plan sets your payment amount as a percentage of your income, usually between 10 and 15% of your discretionary income. You also have to prove financial hardship to qualify.
Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
ICR is similar to IBR except it determines your payments with a larger percentage of your income – 20%. If you think you can handle the larger payments, this might work for you.
Fixed Extended Repayment Plan
Technically, a graduated repayment plan is an extended repayment plan. A fixed plan is a different type of extended repayment plan. Instead of payments gradually increasing as the term of the loan goes on, the payments are fixed even though the term is longer.
Pay as You Earn (PAYE) and REPAYE
Qualifying for these programs can mean paying even less than you would in an ICR or IBR. You could end up reducing your payments to 10% or less of your income.
Article last modified on August 11, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC