Preventing Student Loan Defaults With Automatic Income-Based Repayment and Payroll Withholding


Contact: Erin Timmons
Managing Editor
(202) 785-6959

 Higher Ed Consortium Report Compares Progressively More ‘Automated’ Income-Based Repayment and Payroll Withholding Policy Alternatives


December 17, 2014 - A new policy paper released today by a consortium of higher education research and advocacy organizations argues that automatically enrolling indebted students in Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and automating repayment through employer payroll withholding, could help to simplify the student loan system for students and radically reduce the number entering default.

Motivated by increasing default rates — one in five student loans will enter into default at some point during repayment — lawmakers on both sides of Congress attempted to help borrowers by introducing, and then reforming, Income-Based Repayment. The program ties borrowers’ repayments to their income, rather than loan balance. It therefore acts as a type of risk-mitigating insurance: when borrowers earn less, they pay less; when they are unemployed, they pay nothing.

However, struggling borrowers are still defaulting, and in response many policymakers have argued for some or all borrowers to be automatically enrolled into Income-Based Repayment.

The report, which was authored by New America, Young Invincibles, and The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, compares four distinct, and progressively more ‘automated’ policy alternatives: (1) the status quo; (2) a system of automatic enrollment; (3) a system with automatic enrollment in which the federal government retrieves income information from IRS or Social Security Administration records but still requires borrowers to pay manually, and (4) a system of automatic enrollment in which borrowers’ employers calculate the amount they owe and then automatically withhold that amount from the employee’s paycheck. 

The authors show that only automatic IBR coupled with employer withholding would adequately simplify the student loan repayment system through automation and simultaneously mitigate risk by tying repayment to present income. The report also argues that automatically enrolling borrowers into IBR is extremely difficult to implement, and any haphazard approach could make the repayment system worse.

The co-authors of the report are available to discuss their research and recommendations.

Contact Information: 

  • Jason Delisle, Director: New America Federal Education Budget Project. (202) 596-3379 or 
  • Alexander Holt, Policy Analyst: New America Education Policy Program. (860) 573-7608 or 
  • Ross van der Linde, Communications Manager: New America Education Policy Program. (202) 596-3602 or 
  • Sarah Lovenheim, Communications Director: Young Invincibles. (202)-734-6529 or (for requests to speak with student borrowers)
  • Erin Timmons, Managing Editor: National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. (202)-785-6959 or (for requests to speak with financial aid experts)

About NASFAA  

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the U.S. Based in Washington, DC, NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit