When people talk to me about my student loan law practice, most will assume that my clients are all struggling 20-somethings with overwhelming loads of student loan debt. People are always surprised when I tell them that I actually have many clients who are parents struggling with the debts that they incurred to pay for their child’s education. It is natural and understandable that parents want to pay for their kids’ educations. But many do not realize the dangers of parent debt until it’s too late.
The most common type of parent loan is a Parent PLUS loan. A Parent PLUS loan is a federal loan taken on entirely by the parent; the student has no legal responsibility, only the parent. Over $10 billion in Parent PLUS loans are disbursed every year. And they are some of the worst student loans out there. Here’s why:
- Parent PLUS loans have very high interest rates, the highest among any type of federal student loan. Right now, interest rates for Parent PLUS loans are 7.21%. However, it is common for loans disbursed in prior years to have interest rates in excess of 8%, and under current law, they may rise as high as 10.5% in the coming years. That’s $1,050 in interest per year for every $10,000 disbursement.
- Parent PLUS loans incur origination fees, which can be over 4% of the disbursed loan balance. Combined with the high interest rate, this makes PLUS loans exceptionally expensive.
- Parent PLUS loans are not eligible for income-driven repayment, such as Income-Based Repayment (IBR) or Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE). This is particularly problematic for parents who take out large Parent PLUS loans and intend to retire in the relatively near future. That may no longer be possible with huge monthly loan bills. (Parent PLUS loans can be repaid under Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), an older and less-favorable income-driven option, under certain circumstances, but this can still be tough for many parents).
- Parent PLUS loans are federal student loans, which means they are subject to the draconian collection powers of the federal government if the loan goes into default. This includes wage garnishment, tax refund interception, and, if the parent is disabled or retired, the offset of Social Security benefits. There is no statute of limitations on the collection of this type of debt, meaning it will follow the parent to the grave.
So if you are a parent and you want to help pay for your child’s college education, it’s advisable to do this through a long-term savings plan. Relying on Parent PLUS loans may be a decision you live to regret.