Q&A: Facing retirement with parent student loans? Transfer them to the kids

Dear Liz: I’m 60. Should I take a $50,000 distribution from my 401(k) to pay down my $146,000 parent Plus college loan and then try to refinance the balance with a private lender at a lower interest rate? I have $364,000 in my 401(k). I’m paying 8% interest on the parent Plus loan and planning to retire at age 66 years and 10 months, my full retirement age for Social Security.

Answer: Are you sure you can afford to retire?

You would still have a massive amount of education debt even after paying it down, plus a smaller nest egg. Unless you have a substantial amount of savings outside your 401(k) or another source of income besides Social Security, you could run a substantial risk of running short of money even if you can persuade a private lender to refinance your debt.

That may not be the best option, in any case. Federal loans have more consumer protections, including deferral and forbearance options and income-contingent repayment plans that could lower your payments.

Refinancing with a private lender might make the most sense if you can transfer this debt to the child or children who benefited from the education. Several private lenders offer this option if the kids have good credit and decent incomes.

In any case, you’d be smart to consult a fee-only financial planner who can review the specifics of your finances and offer advice.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What really happens when you try to win money to pay down student loans. Also in the news: How to sidestep the potential pitfalls of travel credit cards, new Barclays feature gives you more spending control, and how to pay the exact amount of taxes you owe in advance.

What Really Happens When You Try to Win Money to Pay Down Student Loans
Behind the scenes.

How to Sidestep the Potential Pitfalls of Travel Credit Cards
Free travel can be costly.

New Barclays Feature Takes Card Locking One Step Further
More ways to control your spending.

How to Pay the Exact Amount of Taxes You Owe in Advance
Using the IRS Withholding Calculator.




Q&A: Student loan forgiveness fail

Dear Liz: You recently answered a question from someone who had defaulted on federal student loans. You mentioned ways to get out of default and qualify for income-driven repayment plans that could reduce her monthly payments. Couldn’t she also qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Answer: There are programs that are supposed to allow federal student loan balances to be forgiven after 10 years of payments for people in public service jobs and after 20 or 25 years for other borrowers. It’s questionable how much anyone should count on getting this relief, however.

Last year was the first time borrowers qualified for forgiveness under the 10-year public service program, which was enacted under President George W. Bush in 2007. The Department of Education has denied the vast majority of applicants their expected relief. Nearly 40,000 people had applied by Dec. 31 and fewer than 300 people have been approved, according to the Washington Post.

Critics say the U.S. Department of Education has set much more rigid standards for approval than anything Congress envisioned when creating the program. Many applicants also relied on erroneous advice given by the private companies that service federal student loans.

It’s possible that lawsuits, or Congress, will force the Education Department to forgive more of the debt. But if this is what can happen to people who have given a decade of their lives to public service, one has to wonder how much relief other borrowers can expect to get.

Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.Distributed by No More Red Inc.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news


Today’s top story: How being late on your taxes could ground your vacation plans. Also in the news: 5 ways to maximize ‘shoulder season’ travel, what it’s like to win money to pay down student loans, and why you shouldn’t use your debit card on anything you can’t afford to lose.

Late on Your Taxes? Your Vacation Plans May Get Grounded
Your passport could be in jeopardy.

5 Ways to Maximize ‘Shoulder Season’ Travel
Off-peak travel offers bargains.

What it’s really like to win money to pay down student loans
Pressing your luck.

Don’t Pay Debit on Anything You Can’t Afford to Lose
Learning from WOW Airlines.




Tuesday’s need-to-know money news


Today’s top story: The one form that could be the root of all your tax woes. Also in the news: Income-driven student loan repayments, 4 credit score horror stories that could happen to anyone, and understanding the difference between a hobby and a side hustle.

This One Form Could Be the Root of All Your Tax Woes
The innocent looking W-4.

Income-Driven Repayment: Is It Right for You?
What to do when you can’t afford your student loan payments.

4 credit score horror stories that could happen to anyone
Tiny mistakes that could trash your credit.

Before You Do Your Taxes, Understand the Difference Between a Hobby and a Side Hustle
When your hobby becomes a job.





Monday’s need-to-know money news


Today’s top story: What students can learn from the days before college loans. Also in the news: How one couple paid off over $120,000 in debt in three years, which 1.5% cash-back credit card you should choose, and how millennials racking up credit card points could backfire.

What Students Can Learn From the Days Before College Loans
Community college as a money-saver.

How I Ditched Debt: Kicking Frugality Into High Gear
How one couple paid off over $120,000 in three years.

Which 1.5% Cash-Back Credit Card Should You Choose?
Finding the perfect fit.

Millennials are racking up credit card points—here’s how that could backfire
When chasing points puts you in debt.






Q&A: When student loan payments overwhelm, here’s a pathway out

Dear Liz: I went to college in 2004. I did it the American way with student loans. Well, my son had a bad seizure that put him on life support for three weeks. I had to quit college to take care of him. So now I’m in hock with no degree. He is on disability but that doesn’t cover much.

The federal government is now taking my tax refund. I used to get money back that helped him and me. So now what? I still don’t make enough and never will to pay back the loans.

Answer: Because these are federal student loans, you have some options to get out of default and get a payment plan you can afford. Otherwise, the government will continue taking your refunds until the debt is paid back. (The feds can even take a chunk of people’s Social Security checks, which are protected from other creditors.)

Since you can’t pay the debt in full, the fastest way out of default would be to make three full, on-time monthly payments and then consolidate the loans into a new Direct Consolidation Loan. (It’s important to know these terms, because the private companies that service federal loans don’t always give complete or accurate information.)

Once you have a Direct Consolidation Loan, you can qualify for an income-driven repayment plan. Your payments would be 10% of your discretionary income, defined as the difference between your total income and 150% of the poverty guideline for your family size and state of residence. Your payments can be reduced to zero if your income is low enough.

Another option is to “rehabilitate” your loan, which would require you to make nine monthly loan payments within 10 consecutive months. You can’t be more than 20 days late on any payment. Your new monthly payment will be 15% of your discretionary income as defined above. You also may request a lower amount.

You can find more information about getting out of federal student loan default at the Education Department’s student aid website StudentAid.ed.gov.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 freebies with your student loans. Also in the news: How to stem ‘subscription creep’, how baby steps can get your credit life rolling, and everything Apple isn’t telling you about its new credit card.

5 Freebies With Your Student Loans
Loyalty discounts and academic assistance.

How to Stem ‘Subscription Creep’
Stop paying for that movie subscription you never use.

Baby Steps Can Get Your Credit Life Rolling
One tiny step at a time.

Here’s Everything Apple Isn’t Telling You About Its New Credit Card
Reading the fine print.



Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to reclaim tax breaks you may have missed in recent years. Also in the news: Why college students take on loans they can’t repay, 6 surefire ways to delay your tax refund, and 7 red flags that could trigger an IRS audit.

Reclaim Tax Breaks You May Have Missed in Recent Years
IRS Form 1040X.

Why College Students Take on Loans They Can’t Repay
How to avoid these financial traps.

6 Surefire Ways to Delay Your Tax Refund
Don’t give the IRS any reason to slow your refund.

7 red flags that could trigger an IRS audit of your taxes
How to avoid the angst of an audit.

Q&A: Why co-signing a loan, especially a student loan, can be a costly move

Dear Liz: I co-signed a student loan to help a 31-year-old woman complete her schooling to become a nurse. I know this was something I should not have done, but I just could not refuse her. I did not realize that because no payments had to be made until after the student’s graduation, the loan amount would double. I am looking into a life insurance policy on the student to protect my interest.

Is there any advice you can provide me other than paying off the loan? I know the student can complete a form to take me off this loan, but she will not qualify on her own.

Answer: She may not be able to take you off the loan now, but hopefully she can within a few years of graduation. Most private lenders will allow a co-signer to be removed from a student loan after a certain number of on-time monthly payments, typically 12 to 48. If she has good credit and a decent income, she also may be able to refinance this loan with another lender to get you off the note.

In the meantime, you’ll want to protect your credit, because a single missed payment can damage your credit scores. Contact the lender to find out what notice, if any, you’ll get if she falls behind on payments. Discuss with her the importance of making payments on time, every time, and ask her to contact you immediately if there’s any chance that won’t happen.

Just as many people don’t realize that they’re putting their good credit in the other person’s hands when they co-sign a loan, many also don’t realize what can happen if they take a lender up on its offer to defer payments until graduation.

The loan amount swelled because of something known as capitalization. Because payments aren’t being made, the unpaid interest is being added to the loan amount and dramatically increasing what the two of you owe.

If the loan were a subsidized federal loan, the government would pay the interest while the student was in school. With unsubsidized federal loans and private student loans like the one you signed, it’s smart to start making payments immediately to avoid capitalization and having to pay interest on interest.