Student Debt: How to Lower the Interest Rate Without Refinancing Out of The Loan Forgiveness Program

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about refinancing and leaving IBR for good. We hadn’t refinanced up to that point because we were not sure if we had the frugal muscles and the mental and emotional strength to tackle my student debt, and we knew that refinancing would mean that we could never run back to the Loan Forgiveness Program if we ever hit a rough spot. Once you refinance, you are no longer eligible for the Loan Forgiveness Program. A pro of the Loan Forgiveness Program is the flexibility to revert back to a minimal payment of a small percentage of your income when times are tough. Meanwhile, you also having the choice to pay back the debt aggressively if you are able. If you refinance, well, it’s either you make those whopping payments (which in our case is $6,500 per month) or end up in mad doo-doo if you fail to do so.

After a year of paying back debt aggressively, it was obvious that we were BOTH in it for the long haul! We were ready and capable of getting these loans out of the way. So we said, “SCREW IBR, let’s refinance!” The worst part about IBR is the high interest percent rate of 6.8%, which meant that about half of our monthly payments were going towards interest alone! YUCK. This is the main reason why we wanted out.

We were very serious about the whole thing and even started researching refinance options. The list of lenders that we found included the following:

We got quotes from every lender and were about to pull the trigger, but we didn’t.

Why? By some stroke of luck, we went down the rabbit hole of purchasing our first property and held off on the refinancing of the loans until that was secured. However, once we had settled into our new home, Mr. Debtist’s start-up company went through some tough times and Mr. Debtist’s salary went down by 50%! At the time, this seemed like terrible news, but we were actually lucky in that we hadn’t refinanced yet and life had the opportunity to teach us a lesson: that maybe the flexibility of Loan Forgiveness Program was essential. With a loan this large, the flexibility of the Loan Forgiveness Program makes our journey much more comfortable! Shortly thereafter, I had my third stroke of luck. I spoke with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. If you have not already interviewed with him and you have a lot of student debt, I would just like to say that although his calls are pricey, they are WORTH it! You’ll soon see why!

In this interview, Travis informed me of a way to improve our aggressive loan repayment strategy. I learned that by being in IBR, we were missing out on an opportunity that another loan forgiveness program offered. Which is why it is important to know the differences between IBR, PAYE, and REPAYE! We learned that REPAYE helps our significantly by covering 50% of our interest every month! Just by switching to REPAYE, we were able to save over $7k in 8 months (find out here).

Since REPAYE covers 50% of  the interest, it is as if we refinanced to get a better interest rate. The interest that we have still yet to cover with our payments come out to be about 3.4% of the loans. I like to think of this as a way to get a lower interest rate while still keeping the flexibility of loan forgiveness. Even though Mr. Debtist’s job situation has  stabilized, we still never know what life may throw our way. Being able to fall back on those small payments give us a lot of peace of mind. Meanwhile, we are able to funnel even more money towards paying down principal!  It’s the best of both worlds.

I think that Travis saved us from making a decision that could put us in a bind during tough times, and he also helped facilitate our loan repayment journey. This is why I think it is so important to talk to someone who can really guide you find the most optimal path for your loan repayment journey, especially when you are talking about student loans this big. If you’ve been thinking about talking to someone but are not sure if it will even help, I bet you Travis is your guy. Schedule your consult with Student Loan Planner if you are feeling lost or simply looking for loan repayment alternatives.

In short, my advice is this. If your student debt is less than two times your salary, then maybe refinancing is a doable option. It won’t be easy, but it would be doable. However, tread with care. If your debt is more than two times your salary, highly consider sticking with Loan Forgiveness, even if you have plans to attack it aggressively. Only because life is a mess and would take any chance it has to throw you a curve ball. Ultimately, I truly believe that everyone can find a path that is in line with their lifestyle and life goals.

When we started, we were told that paying down our loans in ten years with our salaries was impossible. But deep down, I knew that we could do it and that it would be the best path for us. So we set a plan to pay it down in 9 years. Before we talked to Travis, I was hoping to escalate the plan even more and pay it back in less than 9 years. After we made the change to REPAYE, I now have hopes to get rid of it all in 7 years or less. We are implementing a number of side hustles and budgeting tactics that are speeding up progress! I can’t wait to see how much more we could do. Thanks for being here, supporting our journey, and following along. 

 

Finance: The Second Year of Paying Down $550,000 in Student Loans, An Update

I can’t believe how fast time flies! The second year of paying down my student debt has passed, and I didn’t even notice. After the first year, I posted an update that outlined a review of our journey. It seemed to help some, so I decided to do the same for the second year. This year there were some ups and downs (a lot more downs than we thought would happen), but I am so pleased to announce that we are on track to finish paying off our debt in under 10 years. In fact, if we continue on this same trajectory that we’ve been on, we are actually estimated to finish 6.9 years from now, for a total of 8.9 years!! And I have high hopes to bring that number even lower. Read on to find out how we got here, and where we plan to go.

Related Posts:

To recap, we started off our journey with $574,034.50 of student debt (including the interest that had accrued)! All of which was mine. To date, we have paid a total of $145,128.48 towards my student debt over the last two years, bringing the principal amount down to $481,368.06.

To understand the progress, do recall that after year one, only $28,000 went towards paying down the principle. The rest of the $84,000 that we had paid towards the loan went towards the interest only. This means that only 33% went towards paying down the principle amount of the loan.

In year two, you start to see improvement. Of the $61,000 we paid to the loans, $29,000 went towards paying down the principle. That’s 47.5% of our payments going towards actually making the loan smaller!

Off course, you will see right away that we paid way less towards the loans in year two ($61,000) versus year one ($84,000). If we had paid the same amount or higher, we would have had an even higher percentage going towards the principle balance. So I guess this is a great time to recap what slowed us down this year.

THE SET-BACKS

  • In September of 2018, we decided to buy property. Property ownership was something we felt was right for us to do. We bought a live/work space that we hope to utilize in the future for some sort of business. Meanwhile, we are co-housing, or as financial independents might say, house-hacking, our way towards paying down the mortgage. Buying the property did entail two things to happen: We used some of our emergency fund to place a down payment on the home. Because of that, we are now re-building the emergency fund back up to what it was, which decreased our ability to pay back loans. Currently, we are setting aside $1k a month to rebuild the emergency fund and are on track to being back to normal in March of 2020. Also, it raised our total payments towards our housing a teeny bit, since now we pay for things like HOA fees and home insurance.
  • In October of 2018, we were delivered some shocking news. Mr. Debtist’s company experienced a laying off of 80% of the people working there, and even though Mike was one of the “lucky” few to stay, his pay got decreased by more than 50%! It was something we were not really prepared for, so on top of wanting to re-build the emergency fund, we also had to deal with a huge blow to our income. Since we were living off of one income, the change in salary really affected our ability to pay down the loans. But we made it work! That’s part of the joys of being on Loan Forgiveness Program even though we were paying it back aggressively. They still only required the minimum payments. Off course, we continued to pay more than the minimum. We were able to keep up with the interest that accrued and to slowly bring the loans down.

THE POSITIVES

Now that those two negatives are laid out, here are some positive things that happened!

  • A conversation with Travis from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link) is saving us THOUSANDS of dollars. He brought to our attention that we could optimize the loan repayment by switching from IBR to REPAYE. How does this help? Under REPAYE, the government subsidizes the interest at 100% for the first three years for an subsidized loan, and at 50% for unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans that have been present for longer than three years. Which means every month, we are given a free $850 to go towards our loans and help us out! This is fantastic because now that Mr. Debtist has a new job and we are back to our previous income, we also are getting help to pay back the debt. Whereas last year we were paying $6,500 per month towards the loans, we are now sending $7,300 towards the debt with the help of REPAYE’s stipend. And while we were dealing with the smaller income stream for four months, we were still getting that helpful $850 to add to the few thousands that we were contributing to the loan. If you want some loan advice, I really think Travis is your guy, and you can schedule a call with him to discuss your particular situation.
  • Additionally, the side hustle game has been ramping up since 2019 started! Now that we have our budgeting in order, it was time to start increasing our income. I was already writing on this blog and doing some dog-sitting on Rover, but I just recently started as a bread baker, and soon thereafter opened my own bakery called Aero Bakery. In January, I made only $14 in side-hustles, which made sense since we were off traveling in Australia and New Zealand for the first half of January. In February, I made $450, and in March, I made $750. For April, I am on track to make an extra $1,500 in side hustles! Read more about why I am an advocate of side hustles, here.

Why the Future Is Bright

So now, we are not only back on track with making $6,500 payments, but we are actually on track to be finished one year early! How did we do that? By being AGGRESSIVE. The minimum payment for a 10 year repayment plan was $6,063 a month. We set our sights on $6,500 a month. Even with the lapse during those few difficult months while Mr. Debtist struggled with his work situation, we were still able to be at a point where we have only 6.9 years to go! How exciting is that?! And what’s even more exciting is that I predict this will all snowball even more! I turn 30 years old this year, and wouldn’t it be great if this would all be cleared by the time I turn 35? That’s right! I have my sights set on getting rid of this in 5 more years. Here’s what we have planned.

  • Since we are now switched to REPAYE, we are making $7,300 contributions towards the loans, instead of the $6,500 that we were previously doing under IBR. That will vastly improve the trajectory of our path.
  • In March of 2020, we predict to have saved enough for our emergency fund, leaving an extra $1k to be funneled into the loans. That would increase our contributions next year to $8,300/month.
  • Also in Spring of 2020, Mr. Debtist is scheduled to finish his car loan payments. While I was in dental school, Mr. Debtist got a car loan and we currently pay $585 towards it every month. Freeing up $585 will increase our loan contribution to $8,885/month.
  • The side-hustling is just getting started. I hope to continue with many of these hobby-turned-hustles, and we will see how that impacts our payments.
  • Lastly, we decided not to refinance our loan at this time because of the risk of not being able to meet the minimum payments in case we have another fiasco like the job situation. However, when the loan is small enough (say under $300,000), we may still consider refinancing the loan. It’ll be less of a risk at that point, since the monthly payments will be way more doable. If we DO refinance as we get closer towards paying the loans off, then we will be able to attack the loans at an exponentially improving clip.

Please note that we are paying back student loans aggressively, but we are also doing it responsibly. We are living within our means, investing in our 401ks respectively, and are diversifying by entering real estate last year. I make myself less susceptible to fluctuating job conditions by having my own dental S corporation, opening my own bakery, working as a dog-sitter, working as a baker for another company, and doing some writing on the side. We are also a dual-income household, which greatly affects the possibility of this success.

If you are feeling lost in your student loan repayment journey, or you simply want to know your options, I would start with talking to a consultant at Student Loan Planner. This path is not for everyone, but it also may be more doable than they want us to believe. For those who just want to get budgeting down, why not start with my free course on creating a budgeting tool?

How Switching Your Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Can Save You Thousands of Dollars!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

How would you like to save thousands of dollars a year, simply by switching the loan forgiveness program you are on? We know we did! A recent conversation with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner informed us that we could speed up our loan repayment simply by switching from IBR to REPAYE! The information that Travis shared with us was so valuable, because it could in fact save us thousands of dollars on our student loans! That’s equivalent to refinancing to a lower rate, thus cutting down our repayment timeline, while still allowing us the safety net of being in a loan forgiveness program. After conversing with Travis for an hour, I would highly recommend Student Loan Planner as the starting point for any student or new grad looking for student debt advice.

So how do we save $$$ this year? It’s simple. All we need to do is to switch from IBR to REPAYE. Today, I will outline why.

Related Posts

A Case Study: IBR VS REPAYE

We were under the IBR program since we embarked on this journey to repay our student debt of $574,000. Before you consider which loan forgiveness program you want to choose, you should probably read Finance: Student Loan Forgiveness Options: IBR VS PAYE VS REPAYE. We had initially chosen IBR despite the fact that the monthly payments would be 15% of discretionary income vs REPAYE’s 10% of discretionary income because of this one factor: IBR allows you to file taxes separately as a married couple and it will only consider the loan holder’s income, versus REPAYE which will consider the income of your spouse as well. Since Mr. Debtist also makes a six figure number, we figure that we would have the better deal using solely my income.

Here is an example of how to calculate that:

Let’s use estimates from our personal story to calculate the difference.

Assume that our loan is an even $550,000, my income (the debt holder) is $125,000 and Mr. Debtist’s income is $120,000.

Under IBR, they would calculate our yearly loan payment by multiplying my income by 15%.

125,000 * 0.15 = 18,750

Now we divide that by 12 months to find the monthly payment.

18,750 / 12 = 1,562.50

Therefore our monthly payment would be $1,562.50 under IBR.

Under REPAYE, we need to use the total household income of $245,000 to calculate the yearly payment, however we will only be paying 10% of our household income.

(245,000 – 1.5 * 16,460) * 0.10 = 22,030.85

To find the monthly payment, divide by 12 months.

22,030.85 / 12 = 1,835.90

Therefore our monthly payment would be $1,835 under REPAYE.

As you can see from this example, IBR would be the better payment plan because you would be paying the cheapest amount per month and allowing the program to forgive as much as possible.

HOWEVER, there is a rule with REPAYE that IBR does not have. REPAYE will subsidize 100% of the interest accrued for the first three years for subsidized loans, and 50% of the interest accrued after the first three years, which changes the game. Note, if you have unsubsidized loans or GRAD PLUS loans, they will only pay 50% of the interest accrued, period. Let’s see how.

Under REPAYE, the government will subsidize the interest that does not get covered by your minimum payment. In my case, I took out GRAD PLUS loans, so that would be 50% of the interest that accrues. We have already calculated the monthly payment to be $1,835.90. Let’s convert that to yearly payments.

$1,835.90 * 12 months =  $22,030.85 owed this year under REPAYE

This year, based on last year’s income, we owe $22,030.85 in total payments under REPAYE. We also know that interest on $550,000 at 7% is $38,500. Therefore, our payments under REPAYE are not even enough to cover interest, as is usually the case with a loan this large.

So the difference is calculated as follows:

$38,500 – $22,030.85= $16,469.15 * 0.5 = $8,234.58

Which means that for our case, the government will subsidize over $8k per year! You would be missing out on thousands of dollars just by being on the wrong program! We certainly did.

Why We Stuck with IBR in the past

We decided to be under IBR right when I got out of dental school, BEFORE we decided to pay back our loans aggressively. The reason being in my first year, I only worked for the last three months of the year, having waited for my license to be approved after graduating in June. In my first year’s taxes, I made $25,000. So taking 15% of $25,000 would be cheaper than 10% of $145,000. Now in the second year, the numbers completely changed since I started working full time for the entire twelve months. My salary jumped from $25,000 to $125,000. The ultimate question: Why didn’t we make the switch?

In April of my first full year of work, we had decided to pay back the loans aggressively. Meaning, our monthly payments were MORE THAN the minimum amount required. In order for there to be excess interest accrued on the loan, our monthly payments should not exceed the interest gained, which was about $3,000. But since we were paying our debt like CRAZY, we were actually paying $6,500 towards the loans, so no interest was accruing and it did not matter if we stayed in IBR or went to REPAYE.

Or so we thought…

We were VERY wrong!

A Common Misconception

According to Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner, REPAYE calculates the difference between the interest accrued and the amount paid back on the loan at the beginning of the year. REPAYE assumes that you will only make your minimal payment each month, which means that they lock in the assumption that $11,500 would be accruing in interest (for our particular example). Every month, they will subsidize a portion of your loan to make up for the interest that will supposedly accrue, REGARDLESS OF THE MONTHLY PAYMENT YOU ACTUALLY PAY. It doesn’t matter if we pay $6,500 towards the loans or if we pay the minimum amount. Either way, REPAYE will subsidize the difference between the minimum payment and the interest that’s being charged. So we have actually missed out on an opportunity here! What’s passed is past, but we are definitely jumping from IBR to REPAYE ASAP!

What Switching from IBR to REPAYE will save us.

We need to make this jump because of the following:

  • It will save us tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.
  • Making the change will be the equivalent of refinancing to a lower rate without actually having to refinance! Which then gives us the safety net of staying in a loan forgiveness program. If ever life throws us a curveball (such as an accident, layoff, disability, sickness, or our worlds fall into chaos and we cannot work), then the loan forgiveness program will give us the flexibility to not HAVE to pay $6,500 per month.
  • After all the money we save, we can cut our repayment timeline down to 7.5 years!

Off course, not everyone under IBR should automatically jump to REPAYE! You have to pick the financial path that is right for you, considering your personality, your goals, your lifestyle, and more. If you are looking for sound advice on how to create a student loan repayment plan customized for your situation, don’t hesitate to contact Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, using my affiliate link. It will be a very rewarding hour! And check out my second podcast episode with Travis, to be released in 2019! Stay tuned.