Author Topic: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?  (Read 7772 times)

TrulyStashin

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I'm considering leaving my private sector law firm job ($103k salary) for a public service attorney position that pays less (not sure how much less yet).   When I crunch the numbers comparing the two jobs should I include the public service benefit of having my student loan debt forgiven 10 years from now?

The scenario:

Private Sector Job -- Standard repayment is $1905 a month (yes, you read that correctly. Gag me).  Payoff date -- almost 10 years away.

Public Sector Job -- I can do Income Based Repayment, capping the monthly cost at 10% of my income.  Let's say, $900/ mo for sake of argument and assuming public sector job pays $90k annually.  After 10 years, my remaining debt (about $154k) will be forgiven (no, it's not considered taxable income in the year it is forgiven).

Would you consider the $1000 difference in loan payment to be a form of income, making the actual value of the public sector job more like $102k?

If I invest all or part of the $1000k monthly difference, when multiplied by MMM's 173 that gives me an approximate value of $173,000 in ten years.  Plus the value of the forgiven debt of $154,000.  Would you consider then that the public sector job has an additional value of $327,000?

Or am I nuts to think of it this way?

Rural

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2013, 11:44:44 AM »
It makes sense to me. Be sure the new job is eligible - it must be a nonprofit or government agency. You can estimate payments on IBR on the Direct Loans website. I'd run the numbers again when you know the salary, of course.

You might also get raises, which would raise your payments, but speaking as a public service employee, let me just say there's no guarantee of that! Another thing: payments are calculated based on AGI, so if you max out a 401k or 403b, and/or a 457 or HSA if you have access to those, that will reduce your payments.

Fletch

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2013, 11:47:15 AM »
That depends, are you sure you will a) stay in the public sector for a full 10 years, and b) that loan forgiveness and IBR will continue for all of the next 10 years? Both of those are pretty big assumptions, and if either one falls through you only succeeded in racking up more interest on your rather large loans.

I would count the $1000 difference and the forgiven amount as additional value, but multiply it by a conservative probability that it will last all 10 years. So if I thought it was 50% likely I would stay in public sector and invest difference, and 50% likely that IBR/loan forgiveness are still around in 10 years, the additional value ballpark would be closer to $160K.

Then look at individual failure scenarios:
If IBR goes away 5 years from now, I'm paying x% of a smaller paycheck on loans that have grown, but if I stick it out for 5 more years it gets forgiven anyway.
If loan forgiveness goes away, I've saved up enough money through the difference from IBR I can just pay off the balance as if I had been making full payments this whole time.
If you leave the public sector and no longer qualify for either....? etc.

hoodedfalcon

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2013, 11:47:33 AM »
You may want to crunch the numbers a little more closely to evaluate this.

My understanding is that IBR is 15% of discretionary (AGI-150% of the poverty guidelines) and PAYE is 10% of discretionary? Each program has different eligibility requirements, so make sure you are looking at the correct program for your situation.

Personally, I wouldn't leave a 103K job to take a 90K job and count on PSLF to make up the difference or as an investment vehicle. Also, 90K public interest law jobs do not just grow on trees, though I don't know your particular area of expertise.

SuperStache

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2013, 11:48:11 AM »
A couple notes:
  • 10% of a 90k salary is 9k / year or $750 / month, not $900 / month.
  • The debt forgiveness imposes a negative externality on society.
  • The debt forgiveness only kicks in if you stay in the public sector for 10 years. Will you need/want to stay that long?

Doing the math:

We are assuming 10 years of private sector work will end in a payed off loan and assuming 10 years of public sector work will end in a forgiven loan. Since the remaining balance of the student loan is $0 in both cases, the value of the forgiven loan after 10 years doesn't affect the comparison. Ignore it. In this case you should simply compare adjusted salaries calculated as:

    Annual Adjusted Salary = Annual Gross Income - Annual Income Taxes - Annual Student Loan Payments

You should compare the Adjusted Salary for each option and also consider the non-monetary ramifications of debt forgiveness as mentioned in my notes above.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2013, 11:59:11 AM »
Yes, agreed that I'd have to commit to public service work in some capacity for the 10 year haul or else the plan doesn't work.  I taught high school for 12 years so I know what this feels/ looks like.  There is a wide range of options within public service, however, that makes this workable.

I disagree that the debt forgiveness imposes a negative externality on society.  That would be true if society got no benefit from the cost.  However, by attracting and keeping talent in a job that pays below-market rates, society is getting a benefit that is aligned with the cost.   

Thanks, all, for your feedback.   Any more thoughts out there?


TrulyStashin

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2013, 12:11:30 PM »
I just checked on IBR and it is actually a formula:

"The annual IBR repayment amount is 15 percent of the difference between your AGI and 150 percent of the Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guideline for your family size and state. This amount is then divided by 12 to get the monthly IBR repayment amount."

The chart included here  http://studentaid.ed.gov/sites/default/files/income-based-repayment.pdf shows monthly payments that are less than 15% of income.  So my 10% is off by a bit, but not by much.

Even if Congress were to remove Public Service Loan Forgiveness in the future, it is a part of the contract for the loans that I took out from '08 - '11 so I will not be affected by future Congressional action.

The only risk is whether I would opt, sometime prior to the 10 year mark, to leave public service and that's under my control (or at least it is to the degree that anything is under our control).


ChiStache

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2013, 12:25:04 PM »
Would need more information to comment intelligently on this.

What's your total loan balance? At what interest rates? What are your prospects at your current job? Is it secure? Do you hate it? What makes you say there are lots of public interest jobs out there? (That has not been my experience as a lawyer.)


SuperStache

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2013, 01:18:27 PM »
You bring up a good point about loan forgiveness being a form of compensation for public sector employees who otherwise receive lower pay. It could perhaps be argued that it loan forgiveness should have the effect of depressing the wages of public sector employees without loans or with minimal loans for the benefit of public sector employees with large student loans. In any case, it is a somewhat thorny social issue with nebulous economic impact. And I certainly wouldn't fault anyone who takes advantage of the program for their benefit.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2013, 01:38:04 PM »
Would need more information to comment intelligently on this.

What's your total loan balance? At what interest rates? What are your prospects at your current job? Is it secure? Do you hate it? What makes you say there are lots of public interest jobs out there? (That has not been my experience as a lawyer.)

I have a total of 9 Federal Direct Loans at either 6.9 or 7.8% interest.  (highway robbery for non-dischargeable loans, imho).  Total balance is $154,000 =/-

I am currently at a BigLaw firm stuck in a contract position that is unlikely to shift to associate (though I was promised that when hired "as soon as the economy improved and my billable hours justified it").  Because of internal politics and the group that I'm in, I'm likely secure for another year or so.  Beyond that...??  Also, because of internal politics and the group I'm in, my billable hours will never rise to the associate level.   Essentially, I'm doing associate-quality work for much less pay and every avenue I've explored to expand my book of business has been thwarted (BigFirm politics absolutely suck) so I'm doing a variety of one-off and odds-and-ends type projects that will never amount to an area of expertise that the Firm will value.   I don't want three years of this on my resume.   I could try and shift to another firm with better prospects but this has left a bad taste in my mouth for firms, in general.

The range of jobs considered "public service" is broad -- federal, state, local government jobs; 501c3 charitable foundations/ organizations; even private sector companies (not 501c3) that confer public benefit.   I have a strong resume and credentials so I'm pretty bullish on my ability to get/ remain employed in this sector.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2013, 02:09:12 PM »
1) A $90k/year public service job? I only know of a handful of these jobs, and they're not teaching jobs. Does this theoretical job actually exist?
2) No, I wouldn't consider the $1,000/month difference income. I see the PSLF benefit as the amount forgiven after 10 years, reverse-amortized (if that is a word) over 10 years. So, if you would have $100k forgiven at the end of the 10 years, then you would roughly benefit to the tune of $10k/year. 
3) Does your law school have a loan repayment assistance program? You could plug that into your formula. Your annual benefits from THAT is income.

ChiStache

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2013, 02:24:20 PM »
If you can find a public sector job that pays 90K a year, I'll be very excited to hear about it. I graduated from a top 10 law school, am completing a federal clerkship, and am having a hard time finding public interest jobs that pay half that. But, it may be a function of my particular geographic market - I wouldn't doubt that things are better elsewhere.

Either way, I think it's great that you're exploring your options. When you end up scoring a public interest offer, please post the details here, and I'm sure folks will be very willing to weighing on whether you should take it. ;)

TrulyStashin

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2013, 07:01:13 PM »
My goal in posting is to establish a principle -- how to calculate the value of private sector v. public sector job opportunities under PSLF.

I was hoping to see a consensus emerge as to how the PSLF benefit should be calculated into This Job v. That Job considerations.  Then I can run the numbers myself without concern that I'm being inaccurate.

Thanks everyone.

RobinAZ

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2013, 07:32:46 PM »
This is a great question.  I have $194k in law school loans.  I am currently in an unstable $100k/year job.  I have been laid off in the past, and all the progress I made (pre-MMM) before I got laid off was lost with forbearance during the layoff and capitalization of interest.  My current firm has some significant instability, but for now I am riding it out for the income.  We are paying down debt at $1500/mo and hope to get rid of all the debt (except mortgage and student loans ASAP).

I am in IBR now for $885/mo.  23 years to go.  Seems like a life sentence when you are 42 years old.

I have considered trading this uncertain income for a public service / nonprofit job in the $50k range, just for the certainty of the cancellation of debt without tax hit after the ten years.  Of course, PSLF isn't truly certain and the jobs are few and far between in my city, but it is not tied to budgets, etc. the way other programs are.

I have also considered 1) opening my own solo firm again, also with an estimated yearly income of about $50k but with all the write offs that drive the AGI (and IBR payment down) and 2) forming my own 501(c)(3) and devoting the required 30 hours/week to it for PSLF.  I am trying to research how much I have to be paid from the non-profit to qualify.  I understand from my initial research that there are exceptions to the minimum-wage requirement for attorneys but I need a lot more info to flesh this out.  And, in addition to being in house counsel, I'd be the Executive Director and all around EveryWoman.  At least, if PSLF disappears, I'll have done some good.

We have also considered giving up the 1.25-income household even though it is a huge priority for us with our son's special needs.  But if my husband went back to full time work, then under any of these scenarios, our situation improves.  But my son suffers.  That is a certainty, we just aren't sure how much.

LOL, I used to teach in Japan.  We have discussed moving there, where at least $90k+ is exempt from US taxes but... I can't find a real answer on whether THAT adjustment to your AGI is reflected in a lower IBR payment.  If so, after getting established, I'd be banking that $885/mo and paying down the loan quickly.  I have a Master's in education and could eventually get a decent-paying university job plus side work to bring in a lot of cash under the table.

Anyway-- all this to say, I feel your pain.

CorpRaider

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2013, 07:06:49 AM »
I would consider it as additional deferred compensation.  You should probably consider the move so you can get some marketable experience, if for no other reason.  I need to look at the IBR rules again, I thought they only worked for you if you made like $50K.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #15 on: June 27, 2013, 07:14:18 AM »
I would consider it as additional deferred compensation.  You should probably consider the move so you can get some marketable experience, if for no other reason.  I need to look at the IBR rules again, I thought they only worked for you if you made like $50K.

I agree that working in public service, or a small law firm, will get you much more marketable experience than you're getting now. In smaller firms, they need someone to go to court, call a client, write a motion ASAP and sometimes the only person with time is the person with the least experience. It's a great way to get that experience!

CorpRaider, the maximum salary is relative to your federal debt and your family size. For example, based on my family's level of debt, we can qualify until we hit $160k/year.

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #16 on: June 27, 2013, 07:19:24 AM »
I can only speak to the federal government jobs, but this is how the repayment works there: 1) you only get the loan repayment if the division your in has the funds to pay it. with sequestration, it may not happen. 2) the amount given is based on merit and seniority. 3) some divisions place a lifetime cap on the amount you can get--like $60k. Make sure to read all the details.

All that said, if it makes you happier to move jobs, it's worth it. There are other benefits to a govt job like pension, health care, PTO, etc, that can also make it a smart financial decision. I have lots of friends who work at law firms and every single one of them hates it. My opinion is that life is too short for that--unless you're looking at being FI in 3 years or something because you're making a ton.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #17 on: June 27, 2013, 07:33:44 AM »
I can only speak to the federal government jobs, but this is how the repayment works there: 1) you only get the loan repayment if the division your in has the funds to pay it. with sequestration, it may not happen. 2) the amount given is based on merit and seniority. 3) some divisions place a lifetime cap on the amount you can get--like $60k. Make sure to read all the details.


Just to be clear though -- that's loan repayment assistance, not the PSLF. In that scenario, I would count the LRAP as annual income.

simonsez

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #18 on: June 27, 2013, 08:09:07 AM »
My goal in posting is to establish a principle -- how to calculate the value of private sector v. public sector job opportunities under PSLF.
I think not only do you need to calculate the financial outcomes associated with private v. public over a 10-year period but also the probabilities about the assumptions involved.  Like you very well may know that public sector with PSLF is a better option but that is only true if all goes to plan.  Using a very crude example, if where you are working now is x (x being your financial situation in 10 years time) and the hypothetical public sector job is twice the value, or 2x but the probability of 2x is less than half as likely, it isn't worth it assuming risk-neutral/averse preferences.  I'm not saying public or private is riskier than the other, just saying, defining a successful outcome over another outcome isn't worth much if you ignore the probabilities involved.  Not saying you are doing that now but just a reminder.  If you really want to get nuts, you could do some hard-core proportional hazard modeling but I digress as Occam's razor comes into play.

As for the negative externality bit, yeah sure, I won't disagree fully about the theory behind public service and associated relief programs but:
-if there were a prospective public service attorney with your EXACT skill set with say, 30k in debt because for whatever reason he or she didn't borrow as much, the "public" would prefer that option because the public won't have to pay for that person's forgiveness due to the ratio of debt to income.
-I don't think PSLF was designed for attorneys or workers with incomes above whatever median or average you want to use but do whatever works for you if it is allowed.
-the program may be rewarding people who borrow as much as possible and penalizing those who made more rational* financial choices on the individual level during college.  i.e. What incentive does a person have to borrow less during college when IBR (and thus, PSLF) becomes more salient as your debt level is higher relative to your public service income?

*-if you actually planned on PSLF going into college or post-undergrad and decided to borrow an amount so you would have a favorable IBR repayment compared to alternatives, I guess that is rational on some level even though it has a sour taste associated with it.

On a semi-aside, couldn't you assume that in the next 10 years if you stayed private, it is highly likely you will be employed for at least 5 full year equivalents?  If so, and adding ~50k in interest for a total of 200k, couldn't you pay back 40k/year (optimizing the repayment schedule and extra payments of course) fairly easily in years/periods you make over 100k?  I'd imagine the odds are that you could be student debt free in a quicker amount of time than 10 years which has not only great psychic benefits to you (less amount of real time with debt lingering over your head is a good thing, plus some people really get off on accomplishing things but the same could be said for "accomplishing" PSLF as well), but you also just saved the public a lot of money.

Further thread drift: does PSLF have an adverse affect on your FICO score?  What do the discharged loans look like on your credit report?  Can the big 3 tell the difference between PSLF and a magical windfall that seems to happen after 10 years of student loan payments?  Does this make you look like more of a risk as a borrower?  It could be non-consequential but I have no idea.

Good luck!

fiveoclockshadow

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2013, 08:26:04 AM »
Hmmm... First, sorry you are a lawyer in your position right now - too much new blood and not enough positions.  Probably a big factor in how trapped you are in your BigFirm hierarchy.

I see two things very missing from all the analysis presented so far:

- Difference in salary growth between private and public sector.  We are talking ten years here, at least in my technical field the differences between public and private would be dramatic over that time period.

- Assumption that you will not pay off the debt any faster.  This is somewhat related to the above point as more salary means faster pay off.  There are other factors too, say you get married to another income earner without debt and significant savings.

And a third point to consider, while there is probably risk in job security in the private sector there is also a risk in lack of mobility and portability in the public sector.  This should play a role in types of scenarios you consider.

Really, I don't see a particularly "hard" analysis you can apply as it is so scenario dependent.  Seems like the type of thing one would try to Monte Carlo.

And as a side note, thank you very much for this thread.  It makes me feel very good that I happened to be interested in engineering rather than law :)


Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #20 on: June 27, 2013, 08:37:25 AM »

And a third point to consider, while there is probably risk in job security in the private sector there is also a risk in lack of mobility and portability in the public sector.  This should play a role in types of scenarios you consider.


I think that this might be true with a government job, but in nonprofits I see people move around all the time -- mostly within the organization, as funding priorities change and the nonprofit doesn't want to recruit new talent. They will shift lawyers from one funding stream to another, and that lawyer gets to diversify their skills. They could be moved from SSI appeals to eviction defense to immigration -- all of which have some new skill sets, including substantive rules to learn. After 10 years at a legal aid, for example, I think that a lawyer would know just a lot about different poverty law areas as well as have courtroom, brief drafting, client advising, and paperwork-pushing (ugh!) experience.

I do know a lot of government jobs, however, where people are slow to move and the only possibility for them to move would require someone above them to quit or retire; and those salaries have standard step increases (or none at all), so you could predict your next 10 years of salary.

ChiStache

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #21 on: June 27, 2013, 08:57:00 AM »
I'm sorry, I didn't mean to run away with your thread. :)

To comment more directly on your original post: the only potential issue I see with the way you're calculating the value of private sector v. public sector job opportunities under PSLF, is that you are assuming *minimum* payments on your loans and a 10-year repayment schedule if you remain in private practice.  Depending on your budget, I think it might be more realistic to run the numbers assuming a shorter repayment period if you remain in private practice (like, 5 years or 7 years or whatever you think you can manage).

CorpRaider

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #22 on: June 27, 2013, 09:09:43 AM »
I would consider it as additional deferred compensation.  You should probably consider the move so you can get some marketable experience, if for no other reason.  I need to look at the IBR rules again, I thought they only worked for you if you made like $50K.

I agree that working in public service, or a small law firm, will get you much more marketable experience than you're getting now. In smaller firms, they need someone to go to court, call a client, write a motion ASAP and sometimes the only person with time is the person with the least experience. It's a great way to get that experience!

CorpRaider, the maximum salary is relative to your federal debt and your family size. For example, based on my family's level of debt, we can qualify until we hit $160k/year.

Yeah I when I run my AGI and family size through the Dept of ED calculator the income based repayment payment is higher than my standard extended; so I think I don't qualify to switch to the IBR plan.  I suppose we need to whip up some tax shelters/kids.  As far as mobility with gov't legal experience, it seems like it enhances your mobility from my observation.  I've seen lots of Securities, Tax, Environmental, Labor and Litigation partners backgrounds with Gov't experience.  I think most don't leave because they get used to the 40-50 hour work week and/or they are just too socially inept to transition back out.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #23 on: June 27, 2013, 09:22:17 AM »

Yeah I when I run my AGI and family size through the Dept of ED calculator the income based repayment payment is higher than my standard extended; so I think I don't qualify to switch to the IBR plan.  I suppose we need to whip up some tax shelters/kids.  As far as mobility with gov't legal experience, it seems like it enhances your mobility from my observation.  I've seen lots of Securities, Tax, Environmental, Labor and Litigation partners backgrounds with Gov't experience.  I think most don't leave because they get used to the 40-50 hour work week and/or they are just too socially inept to transition back out.

or take on more debt, and you're golden! :P

CorpRaider

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #24 on: June 27, 2013, 09:39:55 AM »
Well, my wife is working on her masters, I need to throw in her numbers and maybe it will work.  hah

katieboo

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #25 on: June 27, 2013, 05:49:29 PM »
I don't know. If I applied a financial formula to my decision to quit my corporate job and go to law school, I never would have gone to law school in the first place. Financially it was not a good decision. But I'm glad I did it, sort of. I'm a public service attorney in 100K of debt, and I have a very exciting job, I work with a lot of fun people, and the "only" bad part is that it pays only 50K per year. I live in the midwest. And yes, I'm going to apply for PSLF. 

I'm assuming all of your $150K of loans qualify for the Federal Direct Loan Consolidation program?

And do you really have an offer that you think will be close to 90K? If so, it's worth considering.

If the public service jobs you are offered are for significantly less money, then if I were in your shoes, I'd consider trying to make the $100K job work a little bit longer. I don't know where you are located, and how far $100K would go, but that money would go a long way for me. I would slash and burn my living expenses as much as I could and pay off that loan ASAP, much more than the minimum payment, as much as I possibly could afford. Then I would leave and go into public service. Can you cut back on your living expenses?

I make 50K/year, and I'm in $100K of school debt, I pay close to $600/month on the loan under IBR payment plans, which are not much better than the standard repayment plan amounts for me. After consolidating everything into the Direct Loan program my interest rate is 7.25 for the entire amount.  I've applied for the much lower new pay as you earn payment plan, don't know if I'll get approved but I'm hoping. My rent, including utilities is $550/mo, which is unusually low because I share housing expenses. And I have no car payment. Working on cutting back on other expenses.

I don't do math or formulas, that's why I went to law school.  And you can plug in numbers to formulas all day long, but job satisfaction is a value that does not fit into any formula.  You do not seem happy in your current job and you seem to have a strong desire to leave, not unlike many highly paid lawyers who lament about their lack of job satisfaction. Many law school graduates fortunate enough to land a high paying job stay in that job just long enough to pay off their loans, and then they move on to something that is closer to what they really want to do. I think that's a good plan. Unless you can find a high paying public service job, I would recommend doing the same.





lisahi

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Re: Student Loan Pub Svc Debt Forgiven -- Consider in crunching numbers?
« Reply #26 on: June 28, 2013, 11:15:19 AM »
If you can find a public sector job that pays 90K a year, I'll be very excited to hear about it. I graduated from a top 10 law school, am completing a federal clerkship, and am having a hard time finding public interest jobs that pay half that. But, it may be a function of my particular geographic market - I wouldn't doubt that things are better elsewhere.

Either way, I think it's great that you're exploring your options. When you end up scoring a public interest offer, please post the details here, and I'm sure folks will be very willing to weighing on whether you should take it. ;)

Yeah, even as an attorney working for the Federal government, it'll take between 3-4 years to get to around $90K (essentially a GS-13/step 4 level position). (They start, however, around $57-$60K, so more than half that). Most attorney positions for the Federal government tap out at a GS-14, with the option to apply for senior positions at a GS-15 (some tap out at a GS-15 automatically). Meaning, towards the end of 10 years, you could be making upwards of $110-120K, thus significantly increasing your student loan payments under IBR. It's why I'm not doing it. My salary is likely to increase too much within the next 10 years for it to do much for me (not to mention, I would need to reconsolidate my loans at a far higher interest rate than I currently have in order to take advantage of IBR).

When people think of "public interest" jobs, however, they might not be thinking government work, but actual non-profit-type work. Those jobs would tend to pay less.