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Income-Driven Repayment for Student Loans: Should You Apply?

Matthew Levy Updated: June 28, 2023 • 8 min read
seeking student loan relief

Income-Driven Repayment Plans (IDRs) are designed to ease the burden of federal student loan repayments by adjusting your monthly payments according to your income and family size. The principle behind these programs is straightforward: the less money you earn, the less you pay each month. 

What sets IDRs apart is their potential for loan forgiveness. If you make consistent payments under these plans for 20 or 25 years, the remaining loan balance is forgiven. The specific time frame depends on the IDR plan you're enrolled in and when you took out your loans.

how does IDR loan forgiveness work

Why consider an Income-Driven Repayment Plan now?

The COVID-era federal student loan repayment pauses are officially ending as soon as June 30, 2023, and the Biden administration has implemented changes that make IDRs more borrower-friendly. One such change is a one-off payment adjustment, which could bring millions of borrowers closer to loan forgiveness. Today, enrolling in an IDR plan might be more beneficial than ever.

Furthermore, these changes to IDRs are not contingent on the Supreme Court's decision on the President's proposed student loan forgiveness of up to $20,000. This means that regardless of the outcome of that decision, the benefits of the new IDR changes stand. So, if you're struggling with student loan payments or simply looking for a more manageable repayment plan, now could be the right time to explore IDRs.

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What are the Different Types of Income-Driven Repayment Plans?

Income-driven repayment plans come in various types, each with unique terms and eligibility requirements. Understanding the distinctions is important to find a plan that fits your circumstances.

  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE): PAYE caps your monthly payments at 10% of your discretionary income, but never more than what you'd pay under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. You're eligible for PAYE if you can demonstrate financial hardship, and any remaining balance is forgiven after 20 years of qualifying payments.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE): REPAYE also caps your monthly payments at 10% of your discretionary income, regardless of how high your income might eventually climb. It's available to all direct loan borrowers, with remaining balances forgiven after 20 years for undergraduate loans and 25 years for graduate loans.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR): With IBR, your monthly payments are capped at 10% or 15% of your discretionary income, depending on when you took out your loans. You must demonstrate financial hardship to qualify for IBR; any remaining balance is forgiven after 20 or 25 years of payments.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): ICR caps your payments at the lesser of 20% of your discretionary income or what you'd pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over 12 years. There are no specific income requirements for ICR, making it available to any borrower with eligible loans. Any remaining balance is forgiven after 25 years of qualifying payments.

Each of these plans offers a path to manage student loan debt more effectively, but they require careful consideration. Consult with your student loan servicer to better understand these options and to make an informed decision.

What’s New to Income-Driven Repayment?

In recent news, the Biden administration has begun implementing the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Account Adjustment, a significant initiative designed to accelerate student loan forgiveness for a large amount of borrowers​​. 

The IDR Account Adjustment aims to credit borrowers with time that might not have traditionally counted towards their 20- or 25-year IDR student loan forgiveness term. This includes periods of repayment and some periods of non-payment, such as deferment and forbearance. Notably, borrowers do not have to be currently enrolled in an IDR plan to reap the benefits of this new initiative​​.


Under the new rules:

  • Parent PLUS loans, including unconsolidated ones, can receive credit towards loan forgiveness under the IDR Account Adjustment. This signifies a major shift, as Parent PLUS loans were previously ineligible for many federal student loan relief programs​​.
  • The updated guidance allows periods of default from March 2020 to be credited towards loan forgiveness, so long as the borrower exits default before the end of the "Fresh Start" period. This expanded eligibility could result in over three years of additional IDR and PSLF credit toward student loan forgiveness for some borrowers​​.
  • Borrowers who consolidate their federal student loans will receive the maximum amount of loan forgiveness credit based on the individual loans being consolidated, which can significantly accelerate their path toward student loan forgiveness​​.
  • The IDR credit can also be counted towards loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

The Education Department will implement the IDR Account Adjustment automatically for borrowers with government-held federal student loans. For borrowers with commercially-held FFEL loans and other non-Direct loans, loan consolidation before December 31, 2023, is necessary to qualify for relief. The Biden administration is expected to start discharging federal student loans under the adjustment later this year for borrowers eligible for immediate student loan forgiveness. All other borrowers will see the benefits of the adjustment sometime in 2024​.

Overall, the new adjustments to the IDR program signal a significant shift towards more flexible and accessible student loan forgiveness.

loan consolidation for income-driven repayment

Pros and Cons of Income-Driven Repayment Programs

Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) programs can be a lifeline for those struggling with hefty student loan debt. However, like any financial strategy, they have advantages and disadvantages. Here's a look at the pros and cons of IDRs:


  1. Affordable monthly payments: IDR plans calculate payments based on your discretionary income, family size, and state of residence. Discretionary income refers to money your household has left over after essential expenses like mortgage payments, taxes and basic necessities. 
  2. Loan forgiveness: Any remaining loan balance is forgiven after 20 or 25 years of qualifying payments, depending on the specific IDR plan. 
  3. Subsidized interest: Under some IDR plans (PAYE, IBR, and REPAYE), if your monthly payment doesn't cover the interest that accrues, the government may pay the remaining interest on your subsidized loans for a certain period.
  4. Flexible repayment terms: IDR plans allow for flexibility as your income changes. If your income decreases, your payments can be adjusted accordingly.


  1. Longer repayment term: IDR plans extend the loan repayment term from the standard 10 years to 20 or 25 years. This means you'll be in debt longer, which could impact your ability to take on other financial commitments.
  2. Increased interest over time: While monthly payments are lower, the lengthened repayment term means you'll likely pay more in interest over the life of the loan.
  3. Tax implications: The amount of your loan that is forgiven after the repayment period could be considered taxable income by the IRS, potentially leading to a hefty tax bill.
  4. Annual recertification: Borrowers enrolled in IDR plans need to recertify their income and family size annually. If your income increases, so will your monthly payments.

While IDR programs can be beneficial for some, it's essential to consider these factors and potentially consult with a financial advisor before choosing a plan that's right for you.

When Should You Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment Program? 

Enrolling in an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) program can be a strategic move under certain circumstances. Here are some key situations where it might be beneficial:

  • High student loan debt compared to your income: If your student loan payments are substantial compared to your income, an IDR plan can make your monthly payments more manageable. By adjusting the payment amount based on your income and family size, IDR plans help ensure your student loan debt doesn't overwhelm your budget.
  • Eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): If you work in a qualifying public service job and plan to apply for the PSLF program, enrolling in an IDR plan is a must. PSLF requires that you make 120 qualifying payments on an IDR plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.
  • Anticipation of future income increases: If you expect your income to increase significantly over time, an IDR plan might offer short-term relief. Your payments will start lower and gradually increase with your income.
  • Facing financial hardship: If you're experiencing financial hardship, such as job loss or unexpected expenses, an IDR plan can reduce your payments, providing temporary relief.

do Parent PLUS loans count towards loan forgiveness

Income-Driven Repayment Plan Requirements

Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans for student loans set monthly student loan payments based on income and family size. The requirements for enrollment include:

  1. Income requirements: To qualify for an IDR plan, your payment amount must be less than what you would pay under the Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period. Your income is compared to the federal poverty guideline for your family size and state of residence. If your income is at or below the federal poverty guideline, you may not have to repay your loans at all. You can use the Department of Education's loan calculator get a sense of the best repayment plan based on your income.
  2. Loan type: Only federal student loans are eligible for IDR plans. These include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans made to students, Direct Consolidation Loans that did not repay any PLUS loans made to parents, Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans, FFEL PLUS Loans made to students, FFEL Consolidation Loans that did not repay any PLUS loans made to parents, and Federal Perkins Loans if they have been consolidated.
  3. Recertification: Each year, borrowers must recertify their income and family size to maintain eligibility and correct payment amount. 

It's important to note that while IDR plans can lower monthly payments, they may increase the total amount paid over time due to interest accrual.

federal student loans repayment plans

How to Apply for Income-Driven Repayment

Applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan involves several key steps:

  1. Discuss options with your loan servicer and compare: Before applying, discuss your options with your loan servicer. They can provide information about different IDR plans and help you understand which might be the best fit for your situation.
  2. Gather necessary documents: You'll need to provide information about your income and family size. . You may be required to provide documents such as tax returns, W-2 forms, pay stubs, or other proof of income.
  3. Fill out an application: Applications can be completed online at the Federal Student Aid website or by paper application, which can be obtained from your loan servicer. 
  4. Wait for your application to be processed: Once you've submitted your application, your loan servicer will review it and notify you of the outcome. During this time, continue making payments on your loans as usual to avoid delinquency or default. If approved for an IDR plan, your loan servicer will provide you with a new monthly payment amount and the date the first payment is due.

Alternatives to Income-Driven Repayment

If income-driven repayment isn't right for you, there are several alternatives that can help manage your student loans:

  • Standard repayment plan: This plan involves fixed monthly payments over a 10-year period.
  • Graduated repayment plan: Initial payments are lower in this plan and increase over time, typically every two years.
  • Extended repayment plan: This plan allows for lower monthly payments over an extended period of time, up to 25 years.
  • Refinancing your student loans: Refinancing involves obtaining a new loan from a private lender to pay off your existing loans. This can potentially result in a lower interest rate or monthly payment, but it's important to note that refinanced loans are not eligible for federal protections, benefits, or repayment options.

IDR account adjustment requirements


Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans can provide significant relief for borrowers struggling with federal student loan debt. The Biden administration's IDR Account Adjustment, a new initiative, is designed to accelerate income-driven repayment forgiveness for many borrowers. Choosing the best income-driven repayment strategy can be complex, so it's essential to consider all options, understand their implications, and seek advice if needed.



How do I know if I qualify for income-driven repayment?

To qualify for income-driven repayment (IDR), you must have federal student loans and demonstrate financial hardship. Financial hardship is generally defined as having a loan payment under an IDR plan that would be lower than under the standard 10-year repayment plan.

Can I qualify for income-driven repayment if some of my student loans are in default?

If your student loans are in default, you won't initially be eligible for an IDR plan. However, once you take steps to get out of default, such as loan rehabilitation or consolidation, you can then apply for an IDR plan.

Are Parent PLUS loans eligible for income-driven repayment?

Parent PLUS loans are only eligible for one type of income-driven repayment plan: the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan. However, the loan must first be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan.

How do I know if I qualify for the one-time payment adjustment?

The Education Department will automatically implement the IDR Account Adjustment for borrowers with government-held federal student loans. If you're eligible, you'll receive credit for time that wouldn't normally count towards your loan forgiveness term.

Written by Matthew Levy

Matthew is a freelance financial copywriter with 14+ years in financial services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics with business and finance options and is a CFA Charterholder. He is from Vancouver, Canada, but writes from all over the world.