Remember, if you’re having difficulty making payments due to low or no income, you may be eligible for a low or $0 payment by enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan
Question: I am 65 and in $220,000 of student loan debt. I have diabetes and high blood pressure. I am currently working part time. Is there any way to relieve or erase the debt?
Answer: First of all, know that there are many borrowers out there with your level of student debt — about 6% of borrowers have more than $100,000 in debt, according to Brookings— and there are ways to cope with repayment. You may be aware that if you have federal student loans, you still have until the start of May before you need to tackle repayment, thanks to the government’s student loan repayment moratorium. If you have private student loans however, you would need to work out any forbearance with your lender. It’s also possible that if your loans are private, a refinance might save you money (see the lowest rates you might qualify for here); but think twice before refinancing federal loans as that will strip you of perks like forgiveness.
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“Perhaps one of the best ways to manage student debt, at least if it’s federal, is through an income-driven repayment plan. There are four different plans currently operating, and each of them will cap your monthly repayment at a set percentage of your disposable income to make sure it’s affordable,” says Michael Kitchen, senior managing editor at Student Loan Hero. While you would still need to keep paying as long as you have income, it could at least make repayment easier to manage.
Anna Helhoski, student loan expert at NerdWallet says working part-time, regardless of your medical status or age, may disqualify a borrower from receiving what’s called a “Total and Permanent Disability Discharge.” “Borrowers who are eligible for this form of loan cancellation are unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment. Those who have a disability as recognized by the Social Security Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs will have their debt canceled automatically,” says Helhoski.
In the United States, student loans are not canceled when the borrower reaches age 65, which may explain why a third of borrowers age 65 and older are in default and half of borrowers age 75 and older find themselves in the same boat, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. With disability discharge, Mark Kantrowitz, student loan expert and author of How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid, says, “Diabetes and high blood pressure usually don’t qualify for a total and permanent disability discharge unless they are severe enough to affect the borrower’s ability to work.”
If your loans are federal and you’ve been working full-time in a qualifying public service job, you should check whether your loans may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. “There’s a Limited PSLF Waiver available through October 31, 2022 that allows payments in any repayment plan, late payments and partial payments to count toward forgiveness, provided you file a PSLF form through the PSLF Help Tool by the deadline,” says Kantrowitz.
Alternatively, Lisa Weil, certified financial planner at Clarity Northwest Wealth Management, says, “I might suggest if they own their home outright or have a low remaining balance on a mortgage, to explore the option of using a reverse mortgage to pay down these balances or explore refinancing this debt at a lower rate to reduce their monthly financial burden.”
Remember, if you’re having difficulty making payments due to low or no income, you may be eligible for a low or $0 payment by enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. To see if you qualify, contact your federal student loan servicer or visit studentaid.gov for more information.