One of the fastest-growing segments of student loan borrowers is senior citizens. Many seniors worry that Parent PLUS loans will consume the social security checks they need to survive.
Some face huge bills and major sacrifices. Others, despite their best efforts, find their social security checks garnished due to student loans.
The good news for student loan borrowers living on social security is that if they take the right steps, the odds are pretty good that they may never have to make a student loan payment again.
Income-Driven Repayment Plans for Parent PLUS Borrowers
One of the major advantages of having federal student loans is the income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. The significance of an IDR plan is that it allows borrowers to make payments based upon what they can afford rather than what they owe. Thanks to IDR plans, many borrowers can get a monthly payment of $0 per month.
These IDR calculations are done by determining a borrower’s discretionary income. The more a borrower makes each month, the more the borrower must pay.
Without going into the full details on discretionary income calculations, borrowers who live on social security and have no other income will likely qualify for a $0 per month payment.
The catch with Parent PLUS loans is that they are not eligible for any federal income-driven repayment plans. The good news is that borrowers can convert Parent PLUS loans into eligible loans by going through federal direct consolidation. After consolidation, Parent PLUS loans become eligible for the income-contingent repayment (ICR) plan.
ICR is not the best of the income-driven repayment plans, but it is the only option for Parent PLUS loans. ICR is eligible for $0 per month payments.
Parent PLUS Loans vs. Other Federal Loans: Parent PLUS loans are different than other federal loans. Borrowers living on social security who have other federal loans have more options and flexibility in repayment.
Federal Direct Consolidation
We will skip the history lesson on federal student loans that explains why federal direct consolidation is necessary for the ICR plan. This extra step is government red tape at its worst, but the good news is that the consolidation process is pretty simple.
The Direct Consolidation Loan Application is available through the Department of Education’s student loan website. According to the Department of Education, it takes about 30 minutes to complete the application.
They do a nice job explaining the process, but a couple of essential details are worth highlighting:
- If you have just a single Parent PLUS loan, you can consolidate the loan.
- Do not consolidate Parent PLUS loans with other federal student loans – the other federal loans lose their eligibility for certain repayment plans if combined with a Parent PLUS loan.
A Warning About ‘Help’ with Consolidation: There have been services that have popped up over the years, offering to help borrowers go through the consolidation process to get $0 per month payments. These “services” are usually shut down fairly quickly by the government. Most are nothing more than a scam. Borrowers shouldn’t pay for outside help to consolidate and enroll in an income-driven repayment plan.
Three Steps for $0 Student Loan Payments for Social Security Recipients with Parent PLUS Loans
Step #1: Apply for federal direct consolidation.
Visit the direct consolidation website and fill out the form. Be sure that Parent PLUS loans do not get combined with other federal student loans (if you also have other federal loans). If you get confused or need help, contact your federal student loan servicer for guidance.
Step #2: Sign up for an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan
For borrowers with Parent PLUS loans, the only IDR plan that they will be eligible for is ICR. Borrowers can submit IDR applications on the Studentloans.gov website. The easiest way to verify your income is to have them automatically pull your most recent tax return. However, if your income has dropped since your last tax return, you may have to go through the steps to submit alternative documentation.
Step #3: Certify income every year
Your student loan servicer should remind you each year, but it is important to certify your income yearly. This will keep payments low and manageable. If the monthly payment suddenly jumps up, it is likely because you missed a certification deadline. If that happens, complete the IDR request again.
How does the loan get paid off with $0 payments?
If you are making $0 per month payments, the loan balance will only grow. Though unfortunate, it is the only option for many senior citizens on the fixed income of social security.
There are provisions to have the loans forgiven after 25 years, but the reality for many seniors is that they will certify their income yearly and never make any payments on the loan.
Estate Planning Concerns
Those concerned that the government will collect the debt after they die do not have to worry.
One feature of all federal student loans is that the debt dies with the borrower.
Even if you still owe money on the student loan when you die, the government will not collect from life insurance proceeds or an inheritance left for your kids. The death discharge process is fairly simple.
Digging Deeper: Learn how to manage student debt during your retirement.
Dealing with Parent PLUS loans and Living on Social Security
The steps required for Social Security recipients to ensure their checks don’t get garnished is probably more complicated than necessary. Fortunately, jumping through a bit of government red tape will address the issue.
To make sure that steps don’t get missed, it is a good idea to have your child remind you of deadlines and help you with the paperwork. Given that you took out the loan to pay for their school, it is the least they can do.