• Finance

How to set up an income-based repayment plan for your student loans

Despite the positives of freelancing—being your own boss, creating your own work schedule, setting your own rates—it’s no secret there are quite a few cons. Taxes are harder to navigate, workflow can be treacherous and getting things like a loan can be downright impossible.

But here’s something you might not know: it looks like student loans can be added to the formidable “cons” list.

I happen to be a millennial with student loans. (Shocking, I know). I’m not alone: around 40% of “millennial households” are in the same boat.

Since October 2014 I’ve been trying to set up an income-based repayment plan. As a freelancer, my income changes often, but income-based plans offer some perks—namely that alluring carrot “loan balance forgiveness” at the end of the payment schedule, including the potential for economic hardship deferment.

It hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be.

Each month I’ve submitted copious amounts of paperwork: paychecks, last year’s taxes, notes from clients listing my rates and what I am paid. I’ve sent access to my IRS information, informative letters and my husband’s paychecks. And each month, without fail, I’ve received the same thing: an electronic letter telling me they will require at least 30 days to process. 30 days later a new message: your request for income-based repayment has been denied. REASON: REQUIRES INFORMATION.

After three rejections I called them in a panic, and this time, miraculously, I was connected to someone helpful. Once we reviewed my information I finally asked what the deal was with the multiple rejections. “Why have I been denied 3 times? Why couldn’t someone just look at this paperwork like you just did?”

He sighed. “The income-based repayment system,” he told me, “is not really set up for people like you, with alternative income sources.”

“Freelancers?” I asked incredulously. “But so many people my age have student loans and work like I do.” He agreed.

“We have trouble connecting dots in the paper work and a lot of people give up.”

So how can you set up an income-based payment plan that works for your freelance life?

Here are four tips:

1. CALL.

Annoying, I know, but completely necessary. As my loan counselor explained, freelance incomes are not something the loan holders are currently equipped to handle. The changing, untaxed income, multiple sources and other variants also equal more work than a more traditional 9-5 applicant. Loan application processors are likely to throw in the towel or leave the complicated application for the next loan processor. This is likely the reason I ended up with three rejection notices, I was told.

By calling I could have saved myself hours and money spent on mailing and faxing items that weren’t even useful in determining my payment plan. Calling also ended up helping me get some tips on taxes and how to create a better monthly payment option.

2. Always follow up with your student loan provider if your contract or financial situation changes in any way (rates, jobs, etc.).

I know, not easy when you’re a freelancer, since jobs ebb and flow all the time and make up a major aspect of freelance life. And, it’s not as if you don’t have enough to do already—but income based repayment plans always consider your income, so even if it changes slightly make sure you call. Income changes might make you eligible for different programs or plans and you could be missing out. Student loan applications are also taken on a rolling basis, unlike insurance enrollment, so you can probably get it reviewed and have changes applied at anytime.

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3. Consider looking into consolidation.

If getting an income based plan isn’t an easy option for freelancers, consolidation is even MORE difficult. Like housing loans, consolidation requires oodles of paperwork and favors a steady job with reliable paychecks. So why bother with consolidation? Because if you CAN get a consolidation you’re likely to save thousands of dollars in the long run. It’s worth the hassle.

Freelancers Union recommends Credible.

4. Take a look at our last checklist on managing your student loans.

Student loans are lousy, but they’re also a reality that many, many people face—you’re not alone, and the more you know about them the more power you have in keeping them at bay.

Freelancers, how do you keep student loans at bay?