States support DOE’s overhaul of IDR plans
On February 13, a coalition of state attorneys general led by California and Massachusetts submitted a letter in support of the Department of Education’s (DOE) proposed changes to income-driven repayment plans (IDR) for federal student loan borrowers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last month the DOE announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) designed to reduce the cost of federal student loan payments. According to the NPRM, the DOE is proposing to amend the regulations governing income-contingent repayment plans by amending the Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE) repayment plan, and is looking to restructure and rename the repayment plan regulations under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, including combining the Income-Contingent Repayment and the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plans under the umbrella term of IDR plans. The NPRM would ensure that a borrower’s balance would not grow due to accumulation of unpaid interest if the borrower otherwise makes the monthly payments, and would also establish that for individuals who borrow $12,000 or less, loan forgiveness can occur after making the equivalent of 10 years of payments. That period increases by one year for each additional $1,000 that is borrowed.
In their letter, the states expressed support for the DOE’s NPRM, but urged the department to take further steps to support struggling borrowers. The states urged the DOE to expand the scope and reach of the proposed reforms by, among other things, creating a simple path for borrowers in default to enroll in IBR or REPAYE, counting all past forbearance and repayment periods and certain deferment periods towards borrowers’ loan forgiveness, making Parent PLUS loans eligible for REPAYE, and expanding the reach of its reforms to “provide more retroactive relief” to borrowers impacted by widespread servicing errors that prevented them from enrolling in IDR. According to the letter, the DOE should also raise the discretionary income threshold to make debt more manageable for borrowers with the greatest need, eliminate the reverse amortization of IDR loan balances, shorten the period in which borrowers must make payments to receive forgiveness under REPAYE, provide viable repayment options, and automatically enroll delinquent borrowers in IDR plans before they face negative credit reporting and default, among other measures.