Student Loan Repayment Guide

student loan repayment
Make sure to get all your ducks in a row

Welcome to the Doc Benjamins Student Loan Repayment Guide.

You’ve done your homework, explored your student loan refinancing options, understand which student loans you have and how much you are paying currently, but you still aren’t sure if you are on the best student loan repayment plan for your budget. You dive into all of the options for student loan repayment, but now you find yourself feeling like you’ve got more choices than a Chinese Buffet.

Don’t stress, this will be easier than deciding between the General Tso’s or the Sweet and Sour.

Explore our easy to follow Doc Benjamins Student Loan Repayment Guide below and we will help you figure out which options can meet your student loan repayment needs.  Doc Benjamins explores Student Loan Forgiveness as well, but this student loan repayment guide is for those borrowers looking at the student loan repayment options, when student loan forgiveness is not an option for you.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two groups of student loan repayment plans to look out for.

The first group contains the traditional student loan repayment plans.  These plans are what you will originally be offered when your student loan repayment period starts.  They have nothing to do with how much you earn or how much you borrowed and can be used to repay just about any kind of student loan.

The second group of student loan repayment plans are options for borrowers to structure their student loan repayment based on their income. These plans each have specific benefits and limitations.  In most cases, these student loan repayment plans reduce your monthly payments, but may extend the life of your student loan. These plans are only available to certain federal student loans.  While the highlights of the student loan repayment plans are below to help you compare – as with any dotted line you planning on signing your name to – we encourage you to read the fine print before making it final!

Traditional Student Loan Repayment Plans

Before the federal government instituted repayment plans, traditional student loan repayment plans were the only options for student loan repayment and in many, although not all, cases they still can offer an effective strategy to pay down your student loans. Under these student loan repayment plans, you will be responsible for paying off your student loan debt yourself, but you can control how quickly you pay it and how much you pay at a time.

Let’s take a look at the student loan repayment options.

Standard Student Loan Repayment

Standard Student Loan Repayment is just what is sounds like. Take no action and this is likely where you will land. All student loans are eligible for this type of student loan repayment and the maximum term is 10 years. Payments are fixed and because you make a higher monthly student loan payment compared to other student loan repayment plans, not only do you pay your student loans quickly, but also you pay less over the long term. Take that, interest and compound interest!


  • Doctor’s Order: Choose the standard student loan repayment plan if you can afford it and you don’t plan on working in the public sector for 10 consecutive years. While you’re at it, consider making extra student loan payments to reduce the principal balance.   You’ll be out of those student loans faster than, well, a Doc Benjamins.

Graduated Student Loan Repayment

With the Graduated Student Loan Repayment, you start making low student loan payments in Year 1 and those student loan payments increase every two years. Hopefully, your income will grow over time and you will be able to increase the amount of your student loan repayment. Your student loan repayment term will remain the same 10 years, but due to the smaller student loan payments upfront and corresponding interest accrual, you will pay more student loan interest over the life of your student loan than you would on the standard student loan repayment plan.


  • Doctor’s Order: The graduate student loan repayment plan is a good option if you have low income now, but expect your income to grow steadily over time. The downside is when you make smaller payments, more interest accrues because you are not paying off principal as quickly as you are under the standard student loan repayment plan.
  • Doctor’s Order: If you are determined to pay off your student loans in 10 years or less, but can’t afford the standard student loan repayment plan just yet, the graduated student loan repayment plan might help you get to the finish line on time. Just remember – you’ll be making up for those small earlier student loan payments at the end of the road with higher student loan interest.

Extended Student Loan Repayment

The Extended Student Loan Repayment gives you a little breathing room and does exactly what it suggests – extends the length of your student loan repayment.

How do you know if this student loan repayment plan is right for you? Well, if you’re staring down the barrel of a monthly student loan payment on a 10-year plan and thinking…what was I thinking?!  You were planning on making a student loan repayment every month on time, but when you start dividing what you borrowed by 10 years, and then 12 months and adding interest and compounding interest, the math does not compute.

By repaying your student loan for a longer period of years, you have the ability to make smaller monthly student loan payments.  The major drawback to this approach is of course the interest that accrues and compounds and accrues and compound and…. yeah, that.


  • Doctor’s Order: While neither the fastest nor the cheapest student loan repayment plan, this student loan repayment plan can be a serious lifeline when the monthly expenses are piling up and your take home pay just isn’t. Never someone to fall behind on your responsibilities – you might choose the extended student loan repayment plan when you need the extra dollars in your everyday life and don’t mind making student loan payments for a longer period.

Payments Based On What You Earn

Payments Based On What You Earn, otherwise known as Income Driven Plans, are only available for certain federal student loans (not private student loans), and they use different formulas to calibrate your student loan payments based on your income. The federal student loans generally must be consolidated under the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) or must be paid through the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL). You have to apply for these programs through the U.S. Department of Education.

If you qualify, these student loan repayment plans almost always result in lower monthly student loan payments and student loan forgiveness as to any remaining balance at the end of the student loan repayment tern.  You will pay income tax on the remaining amount to be forgiven (only in the year it is forgiven).


  • Doctor’s Order: Remember that if you qualify for income driven plans, you have to recertify your eligibility every single year.

Income Contingent Repayment

Income Contingent repayment, or ICR is, like all of IDR plans, directed at reducing the burden of repaying high student loan debt on borrowers with lower income.  It specifically considers those borrowers working in public service. In order to qualify for ICR, you must have consolidated your student loans through the FDLP student loan consolidation.  Parent PLUS Loans are not eligible for the ICR program, but Direct Parent PLUS Loans, which are part of a student loan consolidation, are eligible.

The maximum student loan repayment period under this plan is 25 years.  Like all IDR plans, at the end of the student loan repayment period, any remaining debt is forgiven. The student loan interest rate is fixed, but you are not locked into ICR for life and you may switch plans if you choose. Unpaid student loan interest can only be capitalized at 10 percent of the original loan amount. Your student loan payment will change every year depending on your income and family size.  Depending on those numbers, if your salary increases, you could be repaying your student loan at a rate even higher than the 10-year standard student loan repayment plan.


  • Doctor’s Order: If you are considering an extended student loan repayment, consider the ICR student loan repayment plan instead. You could be looking at the same 25 years of student loan repayment, but if your income is low, you might be eligible to make even smaller monthly payments.

Income Based Repayment

Income Based Repayment, or IBR, requires you to have a partial financial hardship to qualify.  IBR generally has a broader reach than ICR and is available under both FFEL and FDLP. Neither Parent PLUS loans nor Direct Parent PLUS loans are eligible.

Under IBR, monthly student loan payments will generally be 10 percent of your discretionary income if you’re a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014, but these payments will never be higher than the 10-year standard repayment plan.  If you’re not a new borrower by that date, you are looking at a monthly student loan payment capped around 15% of your discretionary income.

That said, your student loan payment will never be set at a rate higher than the 10-year standard repayment plan. Depending on when you borrowed, your student loan repayment plan will either be 20 or 25 years. As with all of the IDR plans – at the end of the student loan repayment period, the remaining balance is forgiven.

Don’t forget – you have to recertify every year.  If your income goes up, so will your student loan payments, but under IBR, payments will never exceed the 10-year standard student loan repayment rate.


  • Doctor’s Order: If you started borrowing after July 1, 2014 this plan could be the most generous option for you – low student loan payments AND low interest AND one of the shorter student loan repayment periods for an IDR plan (20 years).

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

Pay As You Earn, or the PAYE plan, was created in 2012 in order to relieve student loan debt and was specifically directed at students graduating that year. As a result, PAYE has very specific requirements and is only available to a narrow group of borrowers.  However, if you graduated in 2012 (or if you took out loans after Oct 1, 2007 and received a disbursement after October 1, 2011), this student loan repayment plan could be for you. Like IBR, you must prove that a 10-year standard repayment plan will not be affordable for you. Generally, payments are capped at 10 percent of your discretionary income, but like IBR, even if your income goes up, payments will never be higher than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount.


  • Doctor’s Order: If you do not qualify for PAYE or IBR, but you still are seeking a reduction in monthly payments, REPAYE could work for you.

One More Thing…

I heard about this Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program – isn’t that a student loan repayment plan?

No, not exactly, but certain borrowers can be eligible for student loan forgiveness after making 120 qualifying payments if they enroll in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Payments made under any of the four IDR plans will count as a qualifying payment to put you on the road to student loan forgiveness.

Who are the “certain borrowers” you ask?  Borrowers that qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and ultimate student loan forgiveness will work full time for either 1) a government organization; 2) a tax exempt 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization; or 3) certain other not-for-profit organizations who provide qualifying services.


  • Doctor’s Order: Check out this plan out if you are a 2012 graduate and your income puts you at risk for defaulting on your loans.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

Revised Pay As You Earn, or the REPAYE plan, was announced as a revision to the PAYE program. Unlike PAYE, which is targeted at 2012 grads, REPAY is available to anyone with federal direct loans. Also unlike PAYE, you do not have to prove that the 10-year standard repayment program is unaffordable for you, so borrowers at any income level can apply.

If you are paying on student loans for undergraduate studies, your student loan payments will end after 20 years, and if you are paying on loans for graduate or professional study, your student loan payments will end after 25. Generally, student loan payments will be capped at 10 percent of your discretionary income. REPAYE also provides an interest subsidy payment to borrowers in cases where payments under the REPAYE plan cannot keep up with accrued interest on the student loans.

One word of caution – like the ICR plan – if your income ever spikes, you could find yourself making very high payments.  You must recertify every year and student loan payments will always be based on income (and will never be capped, even at the 10-year standard rate)


  • Doctor’s Order: If you work for one of the above-described employers, and plan to for the next 10 years, you might be able to pay a much lower amount on your student loans and have the balance forgiven at the end of 10 years. It’s important to remember though, if you stop working for a qualifying employer, you are removed from the student loan forgiveness program and you will owe the full loan balance (and that balance has probably grown because you have only been making very small payments for however long you were in Public Service Loan Forgiveness or the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program).

Want to save money on your student loans? These lenders represent our top student loan refinancing picks for 2017, and may be able to help you save thousands of dollars on your student loans by offering lower interest rates and lower monthly payments. That’s real money back in your pocket.

Learn your new student loan interest rate in a matter of minutes.

Student Loan Refinancing – Best of the Best

LenderRates (APR)Loan Terms (Years)Get Your RateLearn More
2.75% - 7.35%5 – 152 minutesSTART SAVING
2.21% - 8.97%5, 10, 15, 202 minutesSTART SAVING
3.89% - 7.45%5, 7, 10, 15, 202 minutesSTART SAVING

Student Loan Refinancing Details – Best of the Best

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*Doc Benjamins is not a lender and does not make loans. We are a free, independent and unbiased website that helps empower borrowers so they can make more informed financial decisions. The rates, terms and other student loan information provided on this website do not legally bind Doc Benjamins or the lenders referenced herein. The rates, terms and other student loan information are estimates and may change periodically and/or differ from your final rate and terms, which may be based on your individual credit profile and other factors as determined solely by the lender. If you would like to apply for a loan, please visit the website(s) of each lender and carefully review their rates, terms and conditions for further information. Average savings is for all customers generally, and not necessarily for this product specifically.

Student Loan Refinance Comparison

SoFi members save $22,359 on average when refinancing their student loans.

Only takes 2 minutes

SoFi Overview

  • Fixed Rates: 3.50% – 6.74%
  • Variable Rates: 2.36% – 6.28%
  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5-20 years
  • Co-Signer Option
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • Includes career services, entrepreneur program, and free events
  • You must be employed or have a job offer within 90 days
  • You graduated from a Title IV accredited university or graduate program
  • Undergraduate and graduate loans
  • Federal loans and private loans

DRB members save $20,200 on average when refinancing their student loans.

Only takes 2 minutes

DRB Overview

  • Fixed Rates: 4.20% – 7.20%
  • Variable Rates: 3.64% – 6.29%
  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5-20 years
  • Co-Signer Option
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • Medical residents and fellows pay only $100/month during residency, fellowship, and 6 months after
  • You graduated from a Title IV accredited university or graduate program
  • Undergraduate and graduate loans
  • Federal loans and private loans

LendKey members save $15,270 on average when refinancing their student loans.

Only takes 2 minutes

LendKey Overview

  • Fixed Rates: As low as 3.28%
  • Variable Rates: As low as 2.21%
  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5-20 years
  • Co-Signer Option
  • No origination fees
  • No prepayment penalties
  • You must be employed or have a job offer within 90 days
  • Over 2,200 schools and degree programs are eligible
  • Unemployment protection for up to 18 months
  • Repay 10% of your loan by the time you enter the repayment period and your interest rate will drop 1% APR
  • Undergraduate and graduate loans
  • Federal loans and private loans

CollegeAve members can choose an interest only payment plan for the first two years when refinancing their student loans.

Only takes 2 minutes

CollegeAve Overview

  • Fixed Rates: 5.74% – 11.85%
  • Variable Rates: 2.96% – 9.35%
  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5, 10, 12, 15
  • Co-Signer Option
  • No origination fees
  • No prepayment penalties
  • Choose your own loan terms (number of years for repayment)
  • Undergraduate and graduate loans
  • Federal loans and private loans

Purefy members save $19,000 on average when refinancing their
student loans.

Only takes 2 minutes

Purefy Overview

  • Fixed Rates: 3.95% – 6.75%
  • Variable Rates: 3.00% – 4.95%
  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5-12 years
  • Co-Signer Option
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • You must have two years of work experience
  • Married couples can combine and refinance their loans into a single loan
  • You must have $42,000 in annual income ($25,000 with a co-signer)
  • Credit score of at least 670 with a co-signer (or 700 without a co-signer)
  • Debt-to-income ratio of less than 42% ratio
  • Undergraduate and graduate loans
  • Federal loans and private loans

Student Loan Refinancing – Best of the Best

LenderRates (APR)Loan Terms (Years)Get Your RateLearn More
2.75% - 7.35%5 – 152 minutesSTART SAVING
2.21% - 8.97%5, 10, 15, 202 minutesSTART SAVING
3.89% - 7.45%5, 7, 10, 15, 202 minutesSTART SAVING

Doc Benjamins is not a lender and does not make loans. We are a free, independent and unbiased website that helps empower borrowers so they can make more informed financial decisions. The rates, terms and other student loan information provided on this website do not legally bind Doc Benjamins or the lenders referenced herein. The rates, terms and other student loan information are estimates and may change periodically and/or differ from your final rate and terms, which may be based on your individual credit profile and other factors as determined solely by the lender. If you would like to apply for a loan, please visit the website(s) of each lender and carefully review their rates, terms and conditions for further information.