Department of Education decides that loan holders aren’t really consumers and that students don’t need protection

Last month Betsy DeVos’ (Trump’s) Department of Education ended their cooperation with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, because, you know, the CFPB was “overreaching” in trying to actually protect student loan borrowers.

Shocking that the same DOE that wanted to consolidate the entire servicing industrial complex into one giant government contract with a shortlist that included a company currently being sued by the CFPB for defrauding students would now be cutting ties with the agency charged with dealing with exactly this kind of detritus.

The Single Student Loan Servicer That Wasn’t

InsideHigherEd on the rapidly abandoned plan to consolidate all student loan servicing into a single monolithic “too-big-too-fail” mega contract:

DeVos has taken heat since May from members of Congress and representatives from the loan-servicing sector over the plan to pick a single servicer that would hire subcontractors to collect loan payments. Department officials at the time argued that the plan would make oversight of servicers by the government more efficient.

But the proposal found critics among both Republicans like Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who argued that the system would remove choice and competition, and Democrats like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who warned against creating a federal contractor “too big to fail.”

Blunt and Warren were part of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation ahead of the department’s announcement Tuesday to block the single-servicer plan. Their bill would instead require the participation of multiple loan servicers.

Instead, 2019 will still see the consolidation of the different servicer websites to a single portal that interacts with the borrowers (which was the original Obama-era plan already in motion). Everything else will remain separate. How that will happen basically remains a mystery, but the site itself will be developed and managed by the Office of Federal Student Aid.

Hopefully, they don’t take any tips from Navient, because their website is singularly terrible.

Switching from REPAYE to PAYE after residency

From a reader:

Incoming PGY1. Your posts are tremendously helpful! My question is, why aren’t all residents (or at least the majority) doing REPAYE and then switching to PAYE at the end of their training? I feel like I am missing a key pitfall or something. Is it a pain in the ass to switch? Are new residents scared they will not be able to switch? Or is this just information not everyone has? I understand some people are not eligible, have a large spousal income, have private loans, etc etc…But just wondering why this isn’t a more ‘popular’ way to go about it?

Both REPAYE and PAYE calculate payments based on 10% of your discretionary income. But because PAYE monthly payments are capped at the amount that would be due for the standard 10-year repayment, PAYE payments can be lower than REPAYE payments for high earners. PAYE also allows for the married-filing-separately loophole that REPAYE closes.

The first thing we do as human beings when considering any big important action is to look around and see what everyone else is doing. (One imagines that, overall, this is a helpful survival mechanism.)

The downside to this approach is when the crowd is wrong. Or, when the crowd is right, but you’re different in some critical way.

So, the first/main reason people aren’t all switching from REPAYE to PAYE? They haven’t had a chance to yet.

Reason 1: Too Fresh

The switch probably will be popular over the next few years, but REPAYE is still pretty much brand new and a lot of current residents who should be aren’t on it. It was released at the end of 2015 (which is mid-cycle for almost everyone’s annual recertification), so really only students graduating in 2016 (i.e. new PGY2s) even had the option to pick it when they first selected a repayment plan.

Reason 2: Too Mislead

Another reason is that even for the more industrious residents who considered switching when it came time for their annual recertification, it seems that a lot of servicers have been misleading borrowers about the ability to switch out. For example: Yes, you can switch back from REPAYE to IBR or PAYE or even Navient is still lying to borrowers despite lawsuit.

Reason 3:  Too Ignorant or Lazy

Most borrowers choose and set-it and forget-it strategy to student loans, which means that they don’t critically re-evaluate their decisions or maximize their strategies. I’d like to think most people fall into the reason #1 camp, but the reason #3 group is one of the reasons why I wrote a book about it. A lot of folks are just lost.

Reason 4: They Actually Don’t Need To

A final big reason is that many borrowers won’t benefit from switching to PAYE: it depends on what happens after training. Switching only makes sense if you’re trying to minimize payments for PSLF. Otherwise, having smaller payments just means paying more over the life of the loan. Additionally, the accrued interest will capitalize, which is not relevant for PSLF but is for everyone else. For PSLF purposes:

And even for those PSLF-bound:
– A lot of people don’t need to. It isn’t that easy to break past the pay cap for a lot of docs. Thus, if you’re single, have a non-working spouse, or have a spouse with a similar debt to income ratio, PAYE isn’t going to make a big difference unless you are in a high paying specialty. There are definitely attendings who will continue to earn a REPAYE interest subsidy throughout their 10 years of qualifying payments, even with spousal income (particularly heavy borrowers).
– Similarly, depending on their spouse, many won’t gain enough in lower payments by filing separately to offset the tax penalty of switching to PAYE in order to file taxes separately worth it.

The real take home

As you approach the end of training, it’s time to sit down and make your real repayment plan. You may have been in REPAYE because it was the no-brainer choice while in training, but now—with a new job and a salary increase on the horizone—you’ll have the information you need to figure out if you should stay the course, switch to PAYE or IBR, or prepare to refinance privately.

My new book: Medical Student Loans

My second book, Medical Student Loans: A Comprehensive Guide, is now out. It’s a novella-length treatment of student loans specifically for physicians and written to cover the topic for all levels: premeds, medical students, residents, and attendings. It’s especially helpful for graduating MS4s and by its nature also covers important basic financial literacy in a hopefully non-threatening way.

In other words, I hope you like it.

Despite years of writing about student loans on this site, it was a ton of work to put this together and finally get it out to the world. To celebrate, I’ve made it completely free to download from Amazon until the end of Sunday, June 25.

MSL will also be part of the Kindle Unlimited program for the next three months. You can get a 30-day free trial if you need another way to read it for free.

Consider it your first few hours of CME.

Navient is still lying to borrowers despite lawsuit

Unsurprisingly, Navient is still lying to borrowers despite the ongoing lawsuit (for misleading borrowers) from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

I was talking to a fellow resident last week. She has almost a half million dollars in student loans from medical school and has been repaying in IBR. She recently got married, and her husband, also a resident, thankfully doesn’t have any student loans himself. Unfortunately, this also means that next time she recertifies her income, her payments are going to basically double thanks to the addition of his additional income. Once he becomes an attending, they would go up even further.

Given the possibility (and desirability) of public service loan forgiveness for her given her long training and very high loan burden, which would result in more money forgiven than she borrowed in the first place (due to negative amortization during residency), her goal should thus be to minimize payments in advance of this goal. I recommended she switched to Pay As You Earn (PAYE) to reduce her payments now and file her taxes separately from her husband next year (they weren’t married for tax purposes this year).

And here comes the lie: she called Navient for guidance, and the customer service representative told her she was ineligible for PAYE because she held a loan from 2009.

Anyone who knows anything about federal repayment programs or has the capacity to do a simple Google search would know that the limitations for PAYE eligibility have nothing to do with the year 2009. They are the following:

To qualify for the PAYE Plan you must also be a new borrower as of Oct. 1, 2007, and must have received a disbursement of a Direct Loan on or after Oct. 1, 2011. You’re a new borrower if you had no outstanding balance on a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan when you received a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan on or after Oct. 1, 2007.

So, nothing before 2007 and at least something after 2011. In other words, 2009 was a great vintage for PAYE. Full bodied and expensive with more than a hint of scut.

From the Consumerist:

The lawsuit alleges that for years Navient engaged in a series of illegal and deceptive practices, including providing borrowers with incorrect information, processing payments erroneously, and failing to address customers’ complaints.

Sounds familiar.

As always, it’s difficult to know if the servicer customer service reps are willfully ignorant or malicious, but they are routinely wrong (and seemingly proactively so).

My advice to anyone ever calling a servicer with a question is to already know the answer before you ask it. Find some official government verbiage to back up your interpretation. You should be looking for confirmation, not advice, and if the answer you receive isn’t the answer you’re expecting, find out exactly why. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know, then get them to give you to somebody else.