February 2016 – I challenged myself to do a video explaining Parent Plus Loans in under 3 minutes. Here it is:
In the process I learned something about this loan that makes it remarkable. There are features affecting Parent Plus Loans in the current structure of the Education Department’s loan repayment plans that could allow almost all low income families to send their children to college free or nearly free…no matter how high the cost of attendance. In fact, the higher the cost of attendance, the more families further up the income scale can participate!
Yup! Parents can legally borrow money to pay for their child’s college education UP TO the “Cost of Attendance” minus any scholarship or grant money their child receives for each year of undergraduate study.
Colleges: Let’s Just Make-up a Cost-Of-Attendance!
The cost of attendance is whatever the college says it is (!), and includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, personal supplies and travel. Students, on their own, can borrow subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans up to certain limits each year of undergraduate study. The total amount is capped at $31,000. That’s not nearly enough for four years at most private non-profit institutions or larger state universities. It’s barely enough for smaller public colleges either, even if the student lives at home. Most students can borrow additional funds from private lenders, but the repayment terms are not nearly as good as Federal student loans.
“Adverse Credit” Is What We Say It Is!
Most parents are eligible to take out Parent Plus Loans to help their students. The only thing standing in the way of getting these loans is if the parent-applicant has “adverse credit” as revealed through a credit report.
After much negotiation, rule-makers recently came up with new definitions of “adverse credit” regarding Parent Plus Loans. Applicants will be considered to have an adverse credit history if he or she has debts greater than $2085 that are 90 or more days delinquent as of the date of the credit report, or any debts that have been placed in collection or charged off in the previous two years.
Some provisions for extenuating circumstances, like having large medical bills, are available. And, having a co-signer who is not the student and who does not have adverse credit, can overcome most obstacles to obtaining a Parent Plus loan.
Demand for Parent Plus loans has been rising steadily, barely dented by the new adverse credit rules. The harm caused to low and moderate income families by this loan has been rising as well. The trouble is that there are no limits in place regarding a parent’s ability to repay their Parent Plus loans. Credit counseling, which would help parents understand this loan, is either ineffective or unavailable. Or both.
Parents with very low incomes can and do borrow enormous amounts to pay for their child’s education. Interest rates for Parent Plus loans are currently at 6.84% for the 2015-16 school year. There is an origination fee of about 4% for each Parent Plus loan. Interest rates change for new loans every year according to a formula based on the 10-year Treasury yield. The Department of Education is the lender, and has an ever- increasing number of parent-borrowers in some stage of financial distress due to these loans.
Finally, The Secret Sauce… But, You Have To Dig For It!
Back in 2005, in an effort to unify the terms of income dependent repayment plans, the Department of Education made the Parent Plus loan eligible for one of the more borrower-friendly repayment plans through the transformative power of loan consolidation. But few parents know about this path to making their child’s college dreams come true (without wrecking the family’s finances). Here’s the scoop and it’s available for viewing on the Department of Education’s student loan website. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans
Here’s a screen shot of the important part (lower right corner):
Borrowers of one or more Parent Plus loans can consolidate their loans into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan in order to be eligible for the Income Contingent Repayment plan. This strategy applies only to those borrowers who started repayment in 2006 or later. It’s important to note that Parent Plus loans should not be consolidated with any other types of Federal loans. Doing so causes non-Parent Plus loans to lose their eligibility for more favorable repayment plans like IBR, PAYE and REPAYE. Federal Direct Consolidation is a free service offered by the Department of Education.
Under the Income Contingent Repayment plan, most borrowers get lower monthly payments (as compared to regular Parent Plus payments). These payments are determined by a formula which includes a percentage of the borrower’s adjusted gross income, the borrower’s family size, and the amount of the loan left to pay. Some very low-income borrowers could even end up with zero dollar monthly payments for the entire length of the loan!
The repayment period for ICR is 25 years. At that time any remaining principal and interest balance would be forgiven. However, today’s rules would tax the forgiven amount at the borrowers future tax rate.
Bonus! – Meaningful Use Of Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Also, under the Income Contingent Repayment plan, former Parent Plus borrowers with new Federal Direct Consolidation loans can take full advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Parent-borrowers working in public service jobs may be able to get a substantial portion of their loans forgiven in as little as 10 years with no tax consequences.
Oh, And Let’s Throw In “Married-Filing-Separately”!
In 2012, President Obama mandated that the ICR plan would no longer require married borrowers to declare the income of both spouses, as long as the parent-borrower files taxes separately. That move by the President made the Parent Plus loan even more flexible when consolidated into the ICR plan.
The Hazard Of Omission
Some education writers and experts may opine that the Parent Plus loan is a hazard for borrowers. Well yes, it will continue to be a hazard if the Education Department doesn’t tell everyone about the repayment plan that can potentially help so many borrowers.
Why not advertise the heck out of it? The Parent Plus consolidation-to-ICR feature is not a mistake. It was put there to help parent-borrowers, wasn’t it? Surely those who negotiated this feature knew they had designed a way for low-income families to send their children to the same colleges as wealthier families. Right?
But, even if these parent-borrowers do get a taxpayer-funded deal for their children, they are not going to have an easy journey. For 25 years they will have to make on-time payments, follow the rules carefully, keep every scrap of paperwork, and stay on top of any changes. What’s more, they will have to be their own experts and advocates in the face of recalcitrant loan servicers.
Not many people have this level of discipline. I know I would slip up who-knows-how many-times during a quarter century of payments. And it’s well known that loan servicers can trip borrowers up at any moment for no good reason.
So, here is a list of several things that could happen if word gets out about the Parent Plus loan being almost a free ticket to college for low income students. For this list I am putting my mind on the “free-range” setting, which is good for a laugh or two. Mull these over:
1. The private loan industry would be crushed. Sorry about that! (Not!)
2. Private non-profit colleges would be less (or not at all) motivated to use their endowments to help low-income students. No more grants and scholarships, just go get a Parent Plus loan!
3. More low-income students would feel empowered to apply to top colleges. Colleges would find it easy to admit well-qualified students from across the socio-economic spectrum (no strain on the endowment funds!).What a concept!
4. Colleges of all types would accelerate increases in their stated costs of attendance, but wealthier families would force a reversal of this trend. At least for top-ranked schools.
5. The Department of Education would become permanently linked with the IRS. For a preview of this, see the President’s new College Scorecard. Eventually, all Parent Plus borrowers would have their loan payments automatically deducted from their paychecks or tax refunds thus reducing mistakes and the need for interaction with loan servicers.
Sound far fetched? Maybe.
But seriously, could the Parent Plus Loan be the pathway to universal low-cost college in America? And is that even a good thing?
Let me know what you think by commenting below this post. Or, contact me at TheCollegeMoneyMom@gmail.com