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New Grad Student Loan Questions and Answers: Income-Driven Repayment (PAYE, REPAYE, IBR)

Here are some questions about Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) that we tackled live during the 2019 New Veterinary Graduate Student Loan Repayment Webinar.

“Do we have to select a repayment plan every year or will we stay in the first one by default?”

If you do not select any repayment plan you will be placed in the standard 10-year repayment plan by default after your grace period expires. Your monthly payment will be calculated based on your starting repayment principal, interest rate, and the amount needed to pay each loan to zero in 120 months (10 years).
You can choose from a number of repayment options for your federal student loans. That includes income-driven repayment options (IBR, PAYE, REPAYE) or extended/graduated, in addition to the standard 10-year. If you consolidate your loans, you even have the option of extending your payment out to 30 years in many cases.
If you opt-in to another plan, you will stay in the one you choose year after year. However, if you choose an income-driven repayment plan, you will be required to provide documentation of your income and family size at least each year to continue having your payment based on your income.
If you fail to provide the required documentation or your loan servicer fails to process it on-time, then you will still remain in the income-driven repayment plan you originally selected, although your payment will align more closely with a standard 10-year monthly payment amount.

“Is it possible to get kicked off of the PAYE repayment plan in the future?”

No. Once you enter an income-driven plan, you are continually in that plan. However, in order to continue having your payment based on your income, you have to provide (and your loan servicer has to process) your income and family size documentation on-time at least annually.
If you fail to provide the required documentation to have your payment based on your income or your loans servicer fails to process/accept it on-time, or you no longer satisfy the partial financial hardship requirement (PAYE and IBR), then your payment will be the amount you would have paid under a standard 10-year repayment plan on your eligible loans at the time you started using PAYE.
You are still technically using PAYE under that scenario, but you are paying a standard 10-year repayment plan amount. If you should pay your balance to zero prior to reaching the maximum repayment period, then you will not trigger forgiveness. But if you make the standard 10-year monthly payment and still have a balance remaining after reaching the maximum number of PAYE payments, that balance will be forgiven and treated as taxable income.

“If you start off in PAYE and then your income or your combined income with spouse generates a payment that is higher than the standard 10-year plan, what happens to all the payments you have made in PAYE and the unpaid interest?”

Great question — you have perfectly defined no longer demonstrating a partial financial hardship (as described in the previous question). First, when that happens, congratulations! That means your taxable income(s) are high enough that 10% of your discretionary income meets or exceeds a standard 10-year monthly payment. That’s how student loan repayment should work.
Second, you are still enrolled in PAYE under this scenario and the payments you have made and continue to make will count towards forgiveness.
Any unpaid interest balance you have would be added to your principal balance. However, under PAYE, only an unpaid interest amount equal to 10% of your eligible repayment balance can be capitalized. Said differently, there is a cap on the amount of unpaid interest that can be added to your principal using PAYE.
For example, if your starting repayment balance was $200,000 when you entered PAYE and you have $25,000 of unpaid interest when you no longer demonstrate a partial financial hardship, a maximum of $20,000 of your unpaid interest will be capitalized. In this example, your principal would increase to $220,000, you would still have $5,000 of unpaid interest, and no further unpaid interest will be added to your principal for the duration of payment under PAYE.

“Is it cheaper to use PAYE and file taxes separately, since REPAYE requires your spouse income in your calculated monthly payment amount?”

It depends. Generally speaking, PAYE is preferred because it is the most flexible repayment option. Under PAYE, you can separate your income from your spouse (if you file your taxes separately), your maximum repayment period is 20 years (the shortest for those with graduate school loans), and there is a cap on the monthly payment as well as the amount of interest that can be added to your principal. All of those benefits usually make PAYE the better (often “cheaper”) choice.
However, REPAYE can be extremely useful for those folks at the low end as well as those at the higher end of the student debt-to-income spectrum.

“Do any of the IDR plans have the ability to factor your spouse’s income into payment the calculation regardless of tax filing status?”

Yes. Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) requires you to provide your spouse’s income to calculate your monthly student loan payment even if you file your taxes separately from your spouse. All of the other income-driven plans allow you to separate your income from your spouse for the student loan payment if you file your taxes separately from your spouse.
There are exceptions to the REPAYE spouse income requirement if you are separated from your spouse or otherwise unable to access their income documentation.  Here is a table from the VIN Foundation WikiDebt resource to help you compare various features among income-driven repayment plans.
The VIN Foundation Loan Repayment Simulator takes into account the various features of each program as well as your spouse income, any federal student debt, and your tax filing status. Run various simulations to see how your spouse’s income and your tax filing status might affect your loan repayment costs.

“PAYE vs REPAYE — which one is better? I owe $215K in student debt. With PAYE you only pay for 20 years but REPAYE is for 25 years.”

It depends on how you define better. Generally speaking, the longer you are in repayment, the more you are going to pay. That said, because PAYE and REPAYE are so different, there can be cases where REPAYE is “better” than PAYE depending on your circumstances.
Usually, PAYE is going to be “better” than REPAYE because PAYE gives you more flexibility. As you pointed out, PAYE is shorter, so you’re likely to pay less. But PAYE also allows you to separate your income from your spouse when your payment is calculated if you file your taxes separately. PAYE also limits the amount of unpaid interest that can be added to yoru principal balance, thus it can minimize the risk of your principal balance growing during repayment.
With a $215k student loan balance, if you earn an average income in veterinary medicine, then PAYE is going to be better than REPAYE.  You’ll pay less in total, you’ll be in repayment for a shorter period of time, and you’ll have the option to separate your income from your spouse when/if you get married.  You’ll see this numerically if you enter your student loan, income and family specifics into the VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator.
The cases where we see REPAYE coming out “better” than PAYE are at higher student debt balances (>$350k) and lower student debt totals, specifically when you expect your income to exceed your student debt balance within a few years of graduation. You’ll be able to see this play out numerically in the loan repayment simulator as well.
Have more questions? Post a comment below or email
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VIN Foundation | Supporting veterinarians to cultivate a healthy animal community | Our Team | Student Debt Consultant | Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA
Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

Dr. Tony Bartels graduated in 2012 from the Colorado State University combined MBA/DVM program and is an employee of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and a VIN Foundation Board member. He and his wife have more than $400,000 in veterinary-school debt that they manage using federal income-driven repayment plans. By necessity (and now obsession), his professional activities include researching and speaking on veterinary-student debt, providing guidance to colleagues on loan-repayment strategies and contributing to VIN Foundation initiatives.

6 thoughts on “New Grad Student Loan Questions and Answers: Income-Driven Repayment (PAYE, REPAYE, IBR)”

  1. Hello! Is there any way I could talk to someone personally about what I should do as far as trying to figure out how to pay off my loans but also be able to live?? I’m a new graduate and I make less than $70,000 a year but I’m paying almost $2500 every month on my loans and that’s for a 25 yr plan. My loans are from Great Lakes Borrowing Services and (a smaller amount) Sallie Mae. Any advice is helpful because I know nothing about anything to do with this and I truly need help!

    1. Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      Hi Tiffany,

      Thanks for posting! We can definitely help point you in the right direction regarding your student loans and repayment options. If you’re paying $2,500/mo for a standard 25-year plan, then I would encourage you to switch to an income-driven repayment plan — either PAYE, REPAYE, or IBR depending on which you qualify to use. You can determine your eligibility by downloading your NSLDS file (MyStudentData Download .txt file) available when you’re logged into NSLDS.ED.GOV. Then upload that file into the VIN Foundation My Student Loans tool. The income-driven repayment eligibility tab will show you which options you can use. With a $70,000/year income and a family size of one, your monthly payment will be about $430/mo. However, you’ll likely have a taxable forgiveness event too. You can see how much that will be by using the VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator. If you have any questions as you work your way through your options, feel free to reach out to

  2. Hi, I have tried emailing, but thought I’d try asking here as well. Can I still do the PAYE plan if I plan on moving out of the country within the next 5 years or so? How does this work? Thank you!

    1. Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      Hi Kelsy,

      Thanks for posting! Yes, you can still use an income-driven repayment plan if you live and work outside of the U.S. The repayment plans are based on your loan types and taxable income. And where you work and live will have an impact on your taxable income. So you’ll want to understand how your U.S. taxes are affected by where you’re planning to work and live outside of the U.S. We’ve covered many of these “cases” in the VIN Student Debt Folder. I would recommend posting there for a more detailed analysis for your situation.

  3. Hello!

    I joined the student debt chat a few weeks ago, and it was so helpful! Thank you for that. I have debt from my undergrad; graduated in 2005. This is my second career, and will have an extra high student loan burden upon graduation this fall. Is there anyone I can chat with about whether or not I should consolidate and how to go about it? Thanks!

    1. Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      Hi JK, thank you for posting a comment and for attending the recent SAVMA Climbing Mt. Debt webinar:

      Since you’re graduating this year, I would highly encourage you to join the 2024 editiong of the New Veterinarians Student Loan Repayment Playbook: — we’ll be talking more specifically about the strategies you should use to get started in repayment as new graduate, particularly during this confusing transition period in student loan repayment.

      I also see that you uploaded your student aid data file to the VIN Foundation My Student Loans tool — thank you! We didn’t touch on this during the SAVMA session because it was more for students than graduating veterinarians, but you are an excellent candidate for one of the other Mad Scientist experiments you can try: Consolidating any/all loans you can before April 30th, then adding your Direct Unsubsidized loans from vet school to that consolidation loan after you graduate. To talk more specifically about how you can do this, let’s move this discussion over to the special student debt message board area we have for veterinarians and veterinary students. What do you think – sound like a plan?

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