Final rules posted to the Federal Register on October 30 introduce a new income-driven repayment plan and make several other regulatory changes, including a new Participation Rate Index challenge and appeals process for cohort default rates. The rules finalize a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published on July 9, 2015, which was the result of negotiated rulemaking sessions held from February to May 2015.
The general effective date of these final rules is July 1, 2016, with two significant exceptions: First, the Department of Education (ED) will exercise its early implementation authority to launch the new Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) repayment plan in December 2015. And second, the new Participation Rate Index challenge and appeals process will not be implemented until ED’s new Data Challenge and Appeals Solution (DCAS) system is available in February 2017.
Establishment of REPAYE Repayment Plan
The final rules create a new income-driven repayment plan, REPAYE, to meet President Obama’s June 2014 memorandum to extend the current PAYE repayment option to an additional 5 million borrowers by December 2015. Other income-driven repayment plans, including the original Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, the current PAYE plan, and the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, will co-exist with the REPAYE plan.
The most significant change from the NPRM is the removal of interest capitalization when a borrower in REPAYE no longer has a partial financial hardship (PFH). Because the proposed rules had already removed PFH as an eligibility criterion for enrollment in REPAYE, this interest capitalization change in the final rules means that PFH is not a factor in any way in the REPAYE plan.
You may review the terms of the REPAYE repayment plan in NASFAA’s Summary of Income-Driven Repayment Plans.
In response to the many NPRM commenters (including NASFAA) who objected to the creation of yet another income-driven repayment plan, ED stated in the preamble discussion that the REPAYE plan is intended to introduce a model for Congress to consider when developing a single, streamlined income-driven repayment, which may be tackled in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
In the preamble, ED describes its two goals with the REPAYE plan:
Because REPAYE is available to all Direct Loan borrowers regardless of when they borrowed, the primary benefit of REPAYE is a broader pool of borrowers eligible to make payments based on 10 percent of their discretionary income. ED estimates that of the 6 million borrowers who are eligible for REPAYE from cohorts from 1994-2025, 2 million will enroll in REPAYE. ED expects that most new enrollees in REPAYE will be borrowers who are not eligible for “new” IBR (with payments at 10 percent of discretionary income) or PAYE. Because of provisions in the REPAYE plan that are not as financially advantageous to certain borrowers as those in the “new” IBR or PAYE, most borrowers who are currently enrolled in “new” IBR or PAYE are expected to stay with those plans.
The REPAYE plan is estimated to cost $15.4 billion over 10 years for borrower cohorts from 1994-2025.
Participation Rate Index Challenges and Appeals
The final rules expand the circumstances under which an institution may challenge or appeal the potential consequences of a draft or official cohort default rate (CDR) based on the institution’s Participation Rate Index (PRI). The rules propose permitting an institution to bring a timely PRI challenge or appeal in any year that the institution’s CDR is less than or equal to 40 percent, but greater than or equal to 30 percent, for any of the three most recently calculated fiscal years.
Application of Department of Defense Lump Sum Payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
ED will count lump sum payments made on a borrower’s behalf through the student loan repayment programs administered by the Department of Defense (DOD) as multiple qualifying payments, rather than only one payment, for purposes of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. This treatment is the same as existing regulations for lump sum payments made through the AmeriCorps and Peace Corps programs.
In response to public comment, including from NASFAA, ED stated that in the future it will explore counting lump sum payments from other agencies as multiple payments for purposes of the PSLF program.
Use of Department of Defense Database by FFEL Program Loan Holders
The rules reduce the burden on active duty servicemembers who may be entitled to an interest rate reduction under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), by:
Direct Loan servicers already use the DMDC database to document active duty service.
Transition of Borrowers from Rehabilitation to Servicing
To assist with the transition to loan repayment for a borrower who rehabilitates a defaulted loan, guaranty agencies must:
Technical Corrections to the FFEL Program Loan Rehabilitation Regulations
To conform with changes made to the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA) by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the final rules amend §682.405 to:
Publication Date: 11/4/2015