Discretionary Income and Student Loans

June 19, 2020

By Joseph Reinke, CFA, Founder of FitBUX

When it comes to personal finance, discretionary income is the amount of money we have left over after we pay for our expenses.  However, discretionary income for student loans means something different.

When it comes to student loan forgiveness plans (a.k.a. income driven repayment plans), the Federal government uses a calculation to make sure your monthly payment is affordable.  They have termed the result of this calculation “discretionary income.”  This article details the calculation.  This calculation is extremely important for IBR and PAYE plans.

Note: If you have not read our Student Loan Forgiveness Guide, I highly recommend reading that first before proceeding.

Discretionary Income and Student Loans Table of Contents:

  1. Two Easy Ways To Calculate Discretionary Income For Student Loans
  2. Calculating Discretionary Income For Student Loans By Yourself
  3. What If I was A Student Last Year

Two Easy Ways To Calculate Discretionary Income For Student Loans

If you are just trying to get a ballpark estimation of what your monthly payment will be on a student loan forgiveness plan, then you can estimate it from your gross income.  Gross income is simply how much you make each year before any deductions.

We’ve helped thousands of new grads manage and eliminate over $700 million in student loans.  Based off of the data we’ve collected from those using our IDR Tax Savings Solution, we typically see the required monthly payment be 6% – 8% of gross income.  For example, if you make $100,000 per year, then your student loan payments will be between $6,000 and $8000 for the year. This equates to monthly payments between $500 and $666.

The second easy way you can calculate discretionary income for student loans is to use our IDR Tool.  This will give you a more exact number and is based specifically on your situation.

For more information on this tool be sure to check out our article that details our student loan forgiveness tool.  You can also check out the tool in action in this YouTube video.  The tool is accessible through your free FitBUX membership.


P.S. I’m obviously biased but we built our student loan forgiveness tool to be better than all others…I think it’s awesome and hope you will too!

FitBUX's Income Driven Repayment Tax Savings Solution

Calculating Discretionary Income For Student Loans By Yourself

If you want to dive deeper into the calculation yourself, then I describe the three steps below.  I highly recommend reading this section if you want to get familiar with the math. It’s beneficial because you can learn how to “optimize” the numbers to put yourself in a better situation. The math also allows you to have a further understanding of the risks of using student loan forgiveness plans.

Step 1: Federal poverty line for your family size

The government has developed a formula for determining a “Poverty Line.” The poverty line is the same in all states except Alaska and Hawaii.

Here is a link to the family poverty line (also called FPL for short). I’ve also included the chart below that I’ll use for our example.

2019 poverty line for discretionary income

For our example, let’s assume you are married with one child.  Your “poverty line” would be $20,780.  Take a note of your number and write it down.  We will be using it in Step 2 and Step 3.

Step 2: Multiply Your FPL by 150%

Just like taxes, you can deduct your FPL from your Adjusted Gross Income. I.e. you can reduce your discretionary income for student loan purposes.  The result is a lower required monthly payment for your student loans.

Using our earlier example of a family of three, we’d take $20,780 *1.5 = $31,170.

Step 3: Calculate Discretionary Income & Your Monthly Payment

The next step is to take your tax return from the previous year, let’s say you made $80,000. You would take $80,000 – $31,170 = $48,830.  This result ($48,830) is the figure used by the government, i.e. it is your discretionary income for student loan purposes.

Now take 10% of that (if you are on Old IBR then it’s 15%), divide by 12 and that is your monthly payment. For example, $48,830 *.10 = $4,883/12 = $406.92 per month.

What If I Was A Student Last Year

If you were a student last year and did not file taxes, then your required payment for the 1st year could be $0.

If you choose to use your pay stub to verify your income instead of tax returns, then the required monthly payment will be based on the pay stub you submitted.  The required payment is calculated in a similar manner as mentioned in the previous section.


If you made it through this article, congrats.  The math can be mind numbing which is why 88% of borrowers don’t know how these plans work. If you want to save time and a lot of money, sign-up for our IDR Tax Tracking Solution today. We’ll do all the heavy lifting for you so you can sleep better at night.

Pursuing loan forgiveness via PSLF may also help you increase your discretionary income if you’re/are planning on working for a non-profit. If you’d like to learn more about PSLF, make sure to consult our comprehensive PSLF Resource page.

In addition, our FREE student loan planners have helped thousands of Young Professionals manage and eliminate over $950 million in student loans. We help you develop your plan for free because planning your financial future should not cost you your financial future.

If you’d like to read more money articles, be sure to check out our blog home page.  Also, if you are on public service loan forgiveness then you will want to check out our PSLF guide.

IDR Tax Savings Solution

FitBUX student loan help, IBR, income driven repayment, PAYE, REPAYE, Student Loan Forgiveness

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