Education & Family

Student loans for parents can be a debt trap. But there’s a loophole

The U.S. Department of Education received’t talk about this loophole. And if a borrower calls their mortgage servicer and asks about it, the decision heart employee will possible greet the query with a confused silence. It’s known as the double-consolidation loophole.

The dad or mum PLUS debt entice

According to federal information, 3.7 million Americans maintain $111 billion in debt from dad or mum PLUS loans. Though they’re federal loans, in the event you shut one eye and squint at them sideways, dad or mum PLUS loans look an terrible lot like a bear entice. The rate of interest is way increased than the speed on a normal undergraduate mortgage — 8.05% versus 5.50% — and parents don’t have quick access to the low month-to-month funds of income-based reimbursement plans. There’s additionally just about no restrict on how a lot households can borrow. Which can be good. Or calamitous.

In the best, dad or mum PLUS loans can be engines of fairness, serving to low-income households and households of shade ship their kids to varsities that, due to value and generational wealth gaps, may in any other case be out of attain. But analysis means that these loans typically develop into the other: drivers of inequity.

“Because low-income families, and especially Black and Latino/a parents, are disproportionately taking out Parent PLUS loans, their heavy use and unfavorable terms and conditions exacerbate the racial wealth gap,” stated a 2022 report from the Century Foundation titled “Parent PLUS Borrowers: The Hidden Casualties of the Student Debt Crisis.”

At a recent forum on scholar mortgage debt, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., opined on this dad or mum PLUS disaster, saying she’d “spoken to Black parents who say, ‘I’m of age to retire, but I cannot retire — because I’m still paying on loans that I took out so my baby could have a better life.’”

“I’m actually nervous about dad or mum PLUS debtors,” stated Wisdom Cole, nationwide director of the NAACP’s Youth & College Division.

Making issues worse, Cole stated: These dad or mum debtors have been unfairly excluded from the newest, most flexible repayment plan, SAVE. Cole stated the NAACP had expressed its concern over this exclusion to each the Biden administration and the Education Department.

In reality, in a letter sent Tuesday, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson warned Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that “Parent PLUS borrowers face a grim reality as loan repayments restart.”

Parent PLUS debtors can’t formally entry essentially the most forgiving cost plan

Parents’ official exclusion from SAVE is a large deal. (Unofficially, that is the place the loophole is available in — extra on that beneath.)

Technically, dad or mum PLUS mortgage debtors qualify for solely the Standard, Graduated and Extended reimbursement plans, none of which take a borrower’s earnings under consideration or promise mortgage forgiveness after a given time period.

Parent PLUS debtors can qualify for the least versatile income-based reimbursement plan, often called Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), in the event that they consolidate their loans into a Direct Consolidation mortgage. But month-to-month funds on ICR can be high in contrast with these on the SAVE plan.

ICR calculates funds primarily based on 20% of a borrower’s discretionary earnings, whereas SAVE makes use of half that: simply 10%. Also, ICR defines discretionary earnings as any cash you earn above 100% of the federal poverty level. Translation: Any earnings a person borrower earns over $14,580 is factored into the month-to-month cost math. The SAVE plan, alternatively, protects greater than twice as a lot of a borrower’s earnings, permitting anybody who earns lower than roughly $33,000 to qualify for a $0 month-to-month cost.

In brief, if there have been a manner for dad or mum PLUS debtors to entry SAVE, their month-to-month funds would be vastly decrease than they’re on ICR.

That’s why, in Johnson’s letter, the NAACP president urges Cardona to make use of his authority to increase SAVE entry to dad or mum PLUS debtors. Otherwise, he writes, “millions of families will see the resumption of crippling payments as student loan payments resume this month.”

It’s unclear whether or not the Education Department believes it can — or will attempt to — do as Johnson asks. In the meantime, although, there is a manner for parents to entry SAVE, by an unofficial backdoor.

How the double-consolidation loophole works

The federal scholar mortgage system — in addition to this loophole — rely upon layers, just like the flooring of a house. Consolidating a dad or mum PLUS mortgage, for instance, is like laying a rug over a hardwood ground. The Education Department and its mortgage servicers can see the rug — the newly consolidated mortgage — however they can additionally nonetheless see the hardwood — a dad or mum PLUS mortgage — beneath.

But while you consolidate a mortgage twice, it’s like laying wall-to-wall carpet over all of it: Servicers can not inform what’s beneath. And the system can forestall dad or mum PLUS loans from qualifying for the SAVE plan provided that it is aware of they’re dad or mum PLUS loans.

The Education Department is aware of that is a downside.

“In the past, limitations in Department data may have enabled a parent PLUS loan that was consolidated and then re-consolidated to enroll in any [income-driven repayment] plan, despite the Department’s position that such loans are only eligible for the ICR plan,” the division acknowledged in the Federal Register in July. Still, it’s not instantly closing the loophole.

So, how does a borrower match by this slender opening?

It is sophisticated, and, as we stated earlier, the Education Department and its servicers received’t show you how to with it. So in the event you select to proceed, you’re by yourself. Sort of.

You’ll discover explainers here, from Student Loan Planner, and here, from the College Investor. Below, we’ve reprinted detailed instructions from Massachusetts’ Office of the Attorney General, really helpful for debtors with a minimum of two dad or mum PLUS loans:

Step 1: Fill out a consolidation utility on-line on for only one Parent PLUS Loan. Pick Nelnet for the servicer. Download a copy of your utility that can assist you with Step 2. It will include account numbers, steadiness info, mortgage kind codes, and servicer names wanted for your subsequent utility.

Step 2: Fill out a paper consolidation application for the second Parent PLUS Loan.

  • On web page two of the appliance, determine the loans that you just need to embody within the consolidation. Fill in details about the Parent PLUS Loan that you just excluded from the consolidation utility you accomplished on
  • On web page three of the paper utility, determine the loans you need to exclude from the consolidation. Fill in details about the Parent PLUS Loan that you just included within the utility you accomplished on
  • Send the finished paper utility to Aidvantage.

Step 3: After you’ve gotten acquired discover from each Nelnet and Aidvantage that your two new Direct Consolidation Loans have been funded, fill out a closing paper consolidation utility.

  • On web page two, checklist each Direct Consolidation Loans to incorporate them within the consolidation. You won’t have any loans to exclude from this utility. You can select any servicer and ship the appliance to that servicer.
  • You can ship the appliance to the servicer of your selection, however in the event you’re pursuing PSLF, ship it to MOHELA.

Step 4: After receiving discover that your closing Direct Consolidation Loan is funded, go to, log in utilizing your FSA ID and password, and fill out an Income-Driven Repayment plan utility, selecting the SAVE plan.

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