Qualifying for a Mortgage with Income Based Repayment (IBR) Student Loans
NOTE: This article has been updated. You can find the most current guidelines to qualify for a mortgage with student loans here.
Video: How to Qualify for a Mortgage with Student Loans
Getting a Mortgage with IBR Student Loans
Qualifying for a mortgage when you have income-based repayment (IBR) student loans can put you on quite a roller coaster. The underwriting guidelines have changed several times over the years, and have left many lenders unable to keep up.
How Do IBR Student Loans Affect My Ability To Get A Mortgage To Buy A Home?
Your IBR Student Loan repayments are considered as part of the debt you owe which is one of the elements underwriters use to determine whether to approve your mortgage application or not.
The loan payments you owe are part of your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) which adds up all your debt payments due each month and divides them by your monthly earnings. If that ratio is too high, your loan will usually be denied.
The challenge with IBR loans in the process of calculating your debt-to-income ratio is that:
- Required IBR loan payments change each year based on your income and family size
- Each type of loan (VA/FHA/USDA) has its own policies about how to determine what amount you should be repaid on your IBR-based student loan each month. They’re struggling with the issue of how much should you be expected to pay each month (i.e. how much that payment should be included in your debt-to-income ratio) across the life of your 30-year mortgage when your IBR payments could be different every year, and in fact, they could literally be zero some years if your income is low enough.
Here are the latest decisions made by the loan agencies as to how they will calculate IBR loans as part of the loan qualification process.
After the most recent update, here are the loan programs that will allow you to use income-based payments:
- Fannie Mae Conventional Mortgage – Allows IBR payment. Fannie Mae student loan guidelines state that you must document repayment status with the credit report or loan statement. IBR payment can be $0.00
- Freddie Mac Conventional Mortgage – Allows IBR payment. Freddie Mac guidelines state that you must document repayment status with the credit report or loan statement. IBR payment must exceed $1.00
- FHA Mortgage – Allows IBR Payment. FHA student loan guidelines state that you must document repayment status with the credit report. IBR payment must exceed $1.00 – Updated 8/2021
- VA Mortgage – Allows IBR Payment. VA student loan guidelines state that you must document repayment status with the credit report or loan statement. Payment must be fully amortized or calculate the balance by 5%, divided by 12.
- USDA Mortgage – No IBR payment. USDA student loan guidelines state that payment must be fully amortized or use 1% of the balance as a qualifying payment.
Loan officers that have been unable to keep up with these guidelines will most often quote the 1% of the balance calculation when qualifying a home buyer.
As you can see by scrolling through the hundreds of questions and answers below, there is a lot of misinformation out there about this topic.
Article Originally Published March 16th, 2016 with updates (indicated below)
We’ve been following this issue since the beginning.
As more Millennials are looking to buy their first home, many are faced with the challenge of student loan debt and how lenders calculate payments when determining debt to income ratios.
Unlike other types of debt that include monthly payments of principal and interest, student loans often have reduced or deferred payments that do not include principal repayment.
Specifically, Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plans limit your federal student loan payments to a percentage of your income. These plans can go a long way towards making payments manageable for young professionals just entering the workforce at entry level salaries. For those with very low income, payments can be as little as $0.
This is where things get interesting for mortgage lenders seeking to make sound underwriting decisions. Should they calculate debt to income ratios using the payment set under the IBR plan?
Or, since the payments must eventually rise if the loan is ever to be paid off, should they use some type of proxy for a fully amortizing payment?
The answer depends on the type of mortgage you are applying for. Since the vast majority of borrowers with IBR student loan debt aren’t looking at Jumbo loans, we’re going to focus on the different ways Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, and USDA answer this question.
If you love details, you can read the entire guideline in italics. If you like to get right to the point, skip to the BOTTOM LINE in bold.
IBR Using a Conventional Fannie Mae Loan
UPDATED April 25th, 2017 – Fannie Mae has recently updated its guidelines to allow borrowers to use the payment that appears on your credit report. That can be an IBR, PAYE, or REPAYE payment that does not pay off your loan at the end of the term.
If no payment is reported on the Credit Report, the lender must use one of the options below to determine the repayment amount:
- 1% of the outstanding balance;
- the actual payment that will fully amortize the loan(s) as documented in the credit report, by the student loan lender, or in documentation supplied by the borrower:
- a calculated payment that will fully amortize the loan(s) based on the documented loan repayment terms: or
- if the repayment terms are unknown, a calculated payment that will fully amortize the loan(s) based on the current prevailing student loan interest rate and the allowable repayment period shown in the table below.
The current prevailing student loan interest rate’ can be found on a variety of websites. For example. see U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid in E-1-03. List of Contacts.
The following table specifies the repayment period to be used when calculating a fully amortizing payment.
Calculating a Student Loan Repayment
|Total outstanding balance of all student loans||Repayment Period|
|$1— $7,499||10 years|
|$7,500 — $9,999||12 years|
|$10,000 — $19,999||15 years|
|$20,000 —$39,999||20 years|
|$40,000 — $59,999||25 years|
|$60,000 +||30 years|
Note: The lender is responsible for determining that the payment on the credit report or other documents provided by the student loan lender or borrower are fully amortizing payments.
Example: Calculating an Amortizing
Payment Balance: $17,500
Repayment period: 15 years
Interest rate: 4.29%
Monthly Amortizing Payment: $132.00
BOTTOM LINE: Use the actual amortizing payment. If you are unable to document the actual amortizing payment, use the calculated payment using the method above as it will nearly ALWAYS be less than 1% of the balance. If ALL ELSE FAILS, use 1% of the outstanding balance.
IBR Using a Conventional Freddie Mac Loan
Here is the section from Freddie Mac’s underwriting requirements for student loans that applies to IBR loans:
When a monthly payment on an installment debt is not reported on the credit report or is listed as deferred, the Seller must obtain documentation verifying the monthly payment amount included in the monthly debt payment-to-income ratio.
If no monthly payment is reported on a student loan that is deferred or is in forbearance, and there is no documentation in the Mortgage file indicating the proposed monthly payment amount (e.g., the loan verification letter), 1% of the outstanding balance will be considered to be the monthly amount for qualifying purposes.
Examples of documentation of the required payment amount include:
- A direct verification obtained from the creditor
- A copy of the installment loan agreement obtained from the Borrower, or
- If payments are currently deferred, the payment amount that will be required once the deferment or forbearance period has ended, as stated in a copy of a financial institution’s student loan certification or the installment loan agreement
While the Freddie Mac seller guide has not changed since the publishing of this article, we have spoken directly to Freddie Mac and received confirmation that they will in fact use the IBR payment when calculating debt to income ratios.
BOTTOM LINE: Use the documented IBR payment as long as it is greater than zero. For any loans with no payment, including IBR loans, the lender must fall back to the forbearance guidelines and use 1% of the outstanding balance unless you are able to provide documentation verifying the proposed monthly payments will be less than 1%.
IBR Using a Government FHA Loan – Updated June, 2021
Here is the section from FHA’s underwriting requirements for student loans that applies to IBR loans:
FHA 4000.1 Section II. A. 4. B. (H)
(4) Calculation of Monthly Obligation For outstanding Student Loans, regardless of payment status, the Mortgagee must use:
- the payment amount reported on the credit report or the actual documented payment, when the payment amount is above zero; or
- 0.5 percent of the outstanding loan balance, when the monthly payment reported on the Borrower’s credit report is zero.
BOTTOM LINE: As of June 2021, FHA is following Freddie Mac’s IBR student loan payment calculation guidelines.
IBR Using a Government VA Loan
Here is the section from the VA’s underwriting requirements for student loans that applies to IBR loans:
Student Loans (5/1/2017)
- Deferred Student Loans: If student loan repayments are scheduled to begin within 12 months of the date of VA loan closing, lenders should consider the anticipated monthly obligation in the loan analysis. If the borrower is able to provide evidence that the debt may be deferred for a period outside that timeframe, the debt need not be considered in the analysis.
- Student loans in Repayment:
If a student loan is in repayment or scheduled to begin within 12 months from the date of a VA loan closing, you must consider the anticipated monthly obligation in the loan analysis.
The anticipated monthly obligation should use the greater of:
Calculated payment at a rate of 5% of the outstanding balance divided by 12 months (example: $25,000 student loan balance x 5% = $1,250 divided by 12 months = $104.17); or the payment reported on credit report
Standard Repayment Plan: The required monthly payment is to be used for qualification purposes.
If a monthly payment is not reflected on the credit report or there is a need for the payment amount required for qualification purposes, documentation, as evidenced by a letter from the creditor or repayment schedule, is required to verify monthly payment.
BOTTOM LINE: Use the above formula to calculate any payments that are not in repayment.
IBR Using a Government USDA Loan
If the borrower has a student loan with income-based repayment, you must use 1% of the balance. Below you will find the guideline directly from the USDA underwriting manual:
USDA Guaranteed Loan – Updated September 2019
- Non-amortized Payment – Use payment on credit report 0r .50%, whichever is greater.
- Amortized Payment – Ok with all lenders
- Deferred or forbearance use .50% of the loan balance
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
VA and USDA loans are both limited. Unless you are a veteran or buying in a “rural” area as defined by the USDA, these loans aren’t an option. If they are, the good news is both have straightforward, borrower-friendly treatment of IBR plans.
For most people, the question will come down to which programs you qualify for and then which offers the most favorable income-based repayment calculation. If you need to use FHA due to lower credit scores or higher debt to income ratios, things just got a lot tougher.
After offering guidance earlier this year allowing the use of IBR payments, the current guidelines require documentation of the actual amortizing payment or 1% of the outstanding balance will be used. In either case, the payment used for qualifying will be higher than the current IBR payment.
If your loan balance is relatively large, this treatment will likely erase much, if not all, of the benefit of FHA’s higher debt to income ratios.
If you are able to qualify using Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac programs, you have a good bit more flexibility. In most cases, a borrower that can be approved through Fannie Mae’s automated underwriting system (AUS) will also be approved through Freddie Mac’s AUS.
This is great news if you have an IBR payment that is greater than zero. Freddie will use the IBR payment reported on the credit report so you should be home free.
If you are working with a lender that ONLY offers loans underwritten to Fannie Mae guidelines OR you have an IBR payment of $0, Fannie has an option that will not be as bad as using 1% of the balance.
Let’s look at an actual scenario for a borrower I’m working with right now.
She’s looking to buy a home for $350,000. Her income is just over $72,000 per year. She just went through the annual review on her IBR plan and for the next 12 months she pays $146 a month on roughly $117,000 of student loan debt. If you’ve been paying attention up to this point, you see where this is going.
Since she has good credit and her debt to income ratios are under 45% using the IBR payment, we’re in luck. We can use Freddie Mac guidelines and pull the $146/month from the credit report and she’s good to go.
WHAT IF, her IBR payment had been set at zero? In that case, we could look at going FHA. Under current guidelines we simply use 1% of the $117,000 loan balance as the monthly payment. The bad news is this pushes us over the maximum FHA debt to income ratio of 56.9%. That doesn’t work so let’s move on to Fannie Mae.
Assuming her lender would not give us documentation of a fully amortizing payment AND her loan documentation doesn’t provide enough information for us to calculate the amortizing payment, we have to use the calculated method using the ‘current prevailing student loan interest rate’.
Using the chart above we see that we use a 30 year term and the current prevailing interest rate is 4.29%. That leaves us with a monthly payment of $578. Even though the calculated payment is much higher than the actual IBR payment, we can keep the debt to income ratio just under the maximum 45% and approve the loan.
The bottom line is, “it’s complicated.” But there are options and if you’re working with an experienced loan officer who understands the intricacies of student loan qualifying guidelines, there should be an option for you. As always, we’re here to help. If you have any questions, or specific scenarios reach out directly or in the comments section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are IBR Student Loans (Income-Based Repayment Student Loans)?
Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Student Loans reevaluate how much you owe in monthly student loan payments based on your income and family size. These amounts are reviewed annually, and a new required monthly payment amount is set for the next year. This is different from normal student loans that have a set payment amount each month, regardless of your actual ability to pay that loan.
How Do I Qualify For Income-Based Repayment On My Student Loans?
If you are a federal student loan borrower struggling to make ends meet, an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan may be the right solution for you. You can either apply online, use a Student Loan Counseling Service, or contact your loan service provider to discuss whether you may qualify and what option would be best for you. Whether you meet the IBR qualifications or not will depend on a number of factors:
- The type of loan you have
- Whether you have ever defaulted on your loan (defaulted loans are not eligible)
- Your income level
- The size of your family
- The average income in your geographic area
- Whether you borrowed before 2014 or not (loans prior to 2014 have a higher required repayment)
- Whether you are a student or parent borrower (parent PLUS Loan borrowers are not eligible)
Will An Income-Based Repayment Plan Affect My Ability To Qualify For A Mortgage?
Probably yes, depending on your specific situation. Though they won’t prevent your qualification for a mortgage, they will affect your ability to qualify. If you are considering whether you should participate in an IBR program or not, you may want to consider your potential and plans to purchase a home in the future.
What Do FHA Student Loan Guidelines Say About IBR Student Loans?
FHA mortgage guidelines currently do not allow for IBR payments. FHA student loan guidelines state that payment must be fully amortized or use 1% of the balance as a qualifying payment.
Do Student Loans Count In Debt-To-Income Ratio When Applying For A Mortgage?
Yes, they do. The challenge is that different types of loans (FHA, VA, USDA, etc.) account for them differently if they are IBR Student Loans. You can read the specific requirements above or Contact Us for more information if you are considering buying a home soon.
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