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How to get your parents off your student loans

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Baby boomers now owe the most student debt, according to new data from the financial services company Fidelity. Their average outstanding loan balance: $75,000.

The research says that’s due in part to federal parent PLUS loans. According to the most recent data from the Department of Education, more than 3.5 million parents nationwide have these loans, which can be borrowed on behalf of their children.

If a parent took out a loan for your education — or helped you get a loan by cosigning — there’s a way to return the favor: let them off the hook for it.

You can do this by refinancing the loans in your name or applying for cosigner release, depending on which type of loan your parent has. Here’s how both options work.

Refinance in your name

If your parent has federal loans, the only way to transfer parent PLUS loans is to refinance with a private lender. This will replace your parent’s loan with a new private loan in your name.

Jon McMaken, 27, of Dayton, Ohio, says he felt “a moral responsibility” to take over the roughly $130,000 his father owed in PLUS loans. “It’s my loan, really,” he says.

Also see: President-elect Joe Biden has signaled he’s open to canceling student-loan debt — the question is when and how much

McMaken had been repaying those loans on a federal graduated payment plan. He decided to refinance because it would not only put the loans in his name but also reduce their interest rate.

“It was a lower payment for less time,” he says.

Refinancing can save you money. But there are drawbacks to refinancing PLUS loans, like losing access to benefits such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. Private student loans don’t offer these.

But eligibility for those options depends on the borrower — and for PLUS loans, that’s the parent. Since his father wouldn’t qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and made too much money for income-based payments to be affordable, McMaken said he didn’t mind forfeiting those benefits.

He did consider whether he wanted to give up the potential for the loan to be discharged if his dad died. But McMaken says his father is in his 50s and healthy.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon,” he says.

Release your cosigner

If your parent cosigned a private student loan, you can refinance it to remove their name.

But if you can’t qualify to refinance — or if the new loan will be more expensive — most private lenders will also release your cosigner without changing your loan’s terms.

The requirements for cosigner release vary by lender. You’ll typically need to meet the original underwriting criteria of the loan, which means you’ll likely need to demonstrate steady income and pass a credit check.

Don’t miss: I have nearly $600,000 in student debt after getting four college degrees. Can I still buy a home?

Lenders also usually require you to make a set number of payments before applying.

For example, Sallie Mae has one of the shortest windows, requiring just 12 payments. A spokesperson for the lender said Sallie Mae does not disclose how many borrowers release their cosigner or how long it takes.

Some borrowers may get tripped up because payments must also be consecutive, on-time and in full. That happened to Angela Lett, 45, from Boston, when she wanted to release her cosigner.

“The big (challenge) for me was life interfered,” she says. “I had two periods of unemployment.”

Lett had to make reduced payments on some of her loans during that time, and temporarily suspended others through forbearance. This restarted the payment count she needed to qualify.

Eventually, she released her father from the debt — five years after first looking into this option.

Lett says borrowers interested in cosigner release should pay attention to the lender’s requirements and their own timeline.

“Make sure that you’re reviewing that information regularly,” she says.

Refinance, then release

Lett says she didn’t look into refinancing because her interest rate was already low. But refinancing can be a better option for private loan borrowers.

“Cosigner release was a helpful product feature back when student loan refinancing didn’t exist,” said Scarlett Li, general manager of private student loans at Earnest, in an email. Earnest is one of the few private lenders that doesn’t offer cosigner release.

Li says those programs lack the additional benefits of refinancing, such as changing your loan’s terms and saving you money.

For example, refinancing $130,000 from 7% to 5% would reduce your monthly payments by $131 and save you $15,667 in interest, assuming a 10-year repayment plan.

You’ll typically need a credit score in at least the high 600s and a debt-to-income ratio below 50% to refinance. If you don’t meet those criteria, your cosigner may be able to help you qualify again. In that instance, make sure to understand the details of the lender’s cosigner release program if that remains your eventual goal. You could also eventually refinance again on your own. But with refinance rates near historic lows, you may not qualify for a better deal in the future.

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I have a First World problem: I earn $500K, and have $1 million in assets. Should I buy a $30K bracelet during a global pandemic?

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I have a mundane First World problem that may or may not warrant your attention. But I read your column, and thought you could help me. It’s something that has been troubling me for some time. Should I buy a $30,000 piece of jewelry?

I have a $500,000 stable annual income, no debt, my kids have their private college tuition and retirement fully funded, and I have an additional $1 million in investable assets in various bank and brokerage accounts. My husband and I are in our late 40s, early 50s.

We have always lived a financially disciplined lifestyle. We avoid impulse buys, while spending liberally on things we truly enjoy and care about, including annual multi-week vacations for the family, organic food, home upgrades for our hobbies, and supporting our favorite charities.


‘The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon.’

I personally adore quality designer jewelry, and get a little thrill every time I look at them on my wrist and finger. I have never spent $30,000 on one piece of jewelry, and I feel some guilt spending that much money on something primarily for myself, not the family.

This particular piece, a bracelet, has been on my radar since 2019, and I found myself coming back to it time and again. I spent hours following online discussion threads, researching its resale value (in case my daughter doesn’t want it) and insurance against loss, etc.

The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon; in fact, it boasts the highest resale value in the last couple of years, according to top luxury resale and consignment sites.

However, I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger: spending almost 3% of our investable assets on a piece of jewelry just feels very excessive to me. I tell myself to reconsider in a few years when we get to a higher net worth to make the purchase easier to justify and stomach.

My husband said I should buy it sooner, and enjoy it for a few more years. I realize the jewelry aspect makes this a highly personal-preference question. I guess a more generic question could be, does a $30,000 discretionary spend sound reasonable in our financial situation?

A Bracelet Lover

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Bracelet Lover,

Before the world and its mother comes down on you like a ton of bricks for asking this question during a pandemic — and before said world and its mother comes down on me for answering your question — I will say that I find your letter curious. Not “$30,000 bracelet” curious. But curious, nonetheless.

The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything: It could be a Tesla Model 3 or a used GT-R. It could be a Fabergé egg, aluminum siding, or even a $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

It’s extravagant in the way a motor vehicle or kitchen reno is extravagant. Did you know the average cost of a light vehicle in the United States is over $40,000? You can’t drive a $30,000 bracelet, but you can wear one and drive a $10,000 car to get you from A to B. Who’s more mundane now?


‘The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything.’

I get it. There is a thrill in buying something so outrageously out of your price range. How will that make you feel? What kind of connection will you have to this object? Will other people notice it? Will you tell them how much it cost? Would owning it confirm any privately-held ambitions you have for yourself?

You are not just buying a $30,000 bracelet. You are, perhaps, buying your way out of an old way of seeing yourself. That may or may not last. Or maybe you truly believe that it will bring you joy as a family heirloom, and you can resell it at the same or a higher value, if a prospective buyer or the real world come knocking.

Will wearing such an item give you more confidence to sail past the snootiest members of your tennis club or the maître d’ at the most popular Michelin restaurant in town? Please know that I’m not speaking about you here. I’m talking about anyone who splashes out, during a pandemic or not.

About the pandemic. Researching this purchase may lift your spirits, and actually help you escape the mundane. It may or may not be a coincidence that you choose now to do something so bold and new. It’s a $30,000 sop to coronavirus. A million-dollar spit in the ocean during a truly difficult year.


For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much.

For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much. The diamond industry, for better or for worse, is based on that conceit. You need a rock on your finger to show the world that it’s true love.

For others, it’s about showing the world that you can’t mess with them and, like Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, will show the world there are no little people, only big handbags — like this woman who sued a country club in New Jersey after a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

Would I spend $30,000 on a piece of jewelry if I were in your position? Probably not. Should you? That’s not for me to say. That’s for you to find out. The great Suze Orman would probably give you a “yay” or “nay” on the matter, but I’m not Suze Orman. That’s not my gig, nor is it my style.

I’ll tell you what is my style: A pair of chocolate brown Donna Karan trousers that I bought for a friend’s wedding in New York 20 years ago. I had traveled here from Dublin. A friend took me to Saks Fifth Avenue. I was fresh out of college, and thought, “How expensive could they be?”


You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000?

I rolled up to the cash desk after they were adjusted three ways from Sunday, and the clerk told me they were $450. I handed over my fresh-out-college credit card and watched in horror as the cashier rung up the equivalent of one month’s rent. I was Jason, and those threads were my golden fleece.

I loved those dress pants. They moved like slow motion. I cared for them like priceless silk and, one day, I dropped them into a dry cleaners in Dublin. I noticed some lights were out that day, but I paid no heed. It was 2008. The dry cleaners went bankrupt, and padlocked its doors. I never saw those Donna Karan trousers again.

What has all that got to do with your $30,000 bracelet? Three things. 1. This piece of jewelry has something to teach you, and you don’t have to buy it to learn what that is. 2. This is a trouser- and judgment-free zone. 3. Our monetary dilemmas are rarely about what we think they’re about.

You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000? Something different, but equally novel that perhaps could also have an impact? You don’t even have to spend the money on you.

Buy or don’t buy it. Remember this: However it makes you feel, you can feel that way without it. Whatever properties, provenance or millesimal fineness this piece of jewelry holds, your own qualities as a human being outweigh it. Whatever obsession it sparks in you, you can out-spark it.

The Moneyist: Before I give my fiancée a $7,000 diamond engagement ring, I want her to promise to bequeath it to my daughter

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
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The Moneyist: ‘The thought of her keeping these ill-gotten funds just chaps my behind’: My granddaughter, 7, lives with me — yet her mother received her stimulus





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My son, 18, says I should hand over the $1,400 adult-dependent stimulus. He claims it belongs to him. Who’s right?

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Dear Quentin,

We’re having a debate in our house regarding the latest stimulus payment. I claim head of household and have two 18-year-old adult dependents that I claim on my taxes. I received a $1,400 stimulus for each of us. My 18-year-old son claims that I must give him this money stating that it is meant to be given to the adult dependent.

I say it’s not meant for him, as I claim him as a dependent on my taxes because I pay more than half of his household expenses (actually all of his expenses) and this money will be used to offset the expense of raising him. If you have any information you can share to shed some light on the debate at hand, I’d much appreciate it.

I keep searching the internet for some proof that I must give him this money but keep coming up empty-handed.

Fingers crossed

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear FC,

If the money was meant for your son’s use, it would have been sent to your son. The clue is in the wire transfer. He is a dependent and, as such, the money is meant to be used for his care. They are emergency funds to be used for food, clothing, utilities, and anything else that adds to the cost of running a household and, yes, stimulating the economy.

Let’s assume your son is correct in his belief that the money is for his use, and could (or should) be used for his own expenditures — from meals out with friends to new sneakers. In that case, he should be of independent means and pay for everything else: rent, food, transportation. I have a feeling that $1,400 would be used up pretty, pretty, pretty fast.

If you have a balance on your credit card for family purchases, what reason would your son have for you not using part of the total economic stimulus payment to pay that balance off? This is an opportunity to lay bare the economics of running a household, so your son can have a bird’s eye view on how to manage a budget, and the costs of each family member.


‘The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kids think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping.’


— The Moneyist

The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kinds think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping, but that it actually makes its way from the supermarket bags to the cupboards without any human intervention whatsoever. It takes time to earn the money, shop and to put those groceries away.

As an adult dependent over the age of 16, your son did not qualify for the first two stimulus checks. Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, however, parents may claim their adult children as dependents. The amount is based on your income (payments fall for individuals earning $75,000 a year and up and couples making $160,000 a year or more).

The $1,4000 is not based on your son’s circumstances and, as such, the money should be used at your discretion. If you can afford it, however, I suggest talking through your son’s priorities and working with him on how he could spend all or part of the $1,400. It may be that you can help your son feel empowered to spend it on his own upkeep.

But — and this is a big “but” — if he wants you to buy necessities while he uses the money for his own enjoyment, that’s called “pocket money” not an economic impact payment, and that’s something he is given as a child or needs to earn himself. If you decide upon a potential compromise, the final answer will be determined by your son’s own financial priorities.

The Moneyist: I’m a farmer in my late 30s, live a frugal lifestyle, and my son has a disability. Should I pay extra on my mortgage — or save for retirement?

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
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 group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.





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These money and investing tips can help you decide whether to ‘sell in May and go away’

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

Sell in May and go away? Not so fast. These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can help you position your portfolio as the U.S. stock market enters its typically weaker six-month stretch — although that certainly wasn’t the case in 2020. So while it makes sense to seek out market sectors that are stronger in the summer months, it doesn’t change the fact that time in the market, and not market-timing, has been the most reliable creator of wealth.



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