Obama Budget Reforms Income-Based Repayment, Reduces Windfall Benefits

President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request proposes key changes to the Income Based Repayment program for federal student loans. The changes will help make the program more fiscally and politically sustainable.

Over the last few years we’ve sounded the alarm that changes the Obama administration made to Income-Based Repayment overwhelmingly benefit graduate students and allow borrowers earning high incomes to qualify for loan forgiveness. The changes also exacerbated a loophole in the student loan program where schools combine the unlimited benefits of Public Service Loan Forgiveness with unlimited borrowing under the Grad PLUS program to capture windfall taxpayer subsidies for themselves and their graduate and professional students.

Because we believe IBR should be the foundation of a more streamlined repayment system -- one in which all borrowers would be automatically eligible to make a minimum monthly payment based on their incomes -- we proposed a series of changes to rein in IBR’s windfall benefits (here, here, and here). At its current level of benefits, the program is only sustainable so long as it remains complicated and opt in, as those features minimize both the costs and visibility of its lopsided benefits.

The president’s fiscal year 2015 budget includes a number of the reforms we’ve recommended, such as a new loan forgiveness threshold for borrowers with high levels of debt and a cap on Public Sector Loan Forgiveness. It closes a loophole that allowed married borrowers to exclude their spouse’s income from the IBR calculation. And it uses the savings generated by the proposals to expand access to IBR -- though it doesn’t make it an automatic and universal repayment plan like we have advocated.

Below is an outline of the problems in the current IBR terms that we have identified in the past, the changes we recommended to address them, and the proposals announced in the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget. A follow-up post explaining the changes more fully is here.

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Author:

Jason Delisle is the former director of the Federal Education Budget Project, which is part of the Education Policy program at New America.