Time to change the timing of HELP debt indexation?

HELP debt indexation media attention has highlighted arcane aspects of student loan administration. One of these is that HELP debtors in repayment mode are indexed on debt they have already repaid.

To simplify – the processes outlined in division 140 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 are convoluted – I will give the example of a graduate with no new HELP debt.

How HELP debt is indexed

HELP indexation occurs on 1 June each year, so it will next happen on 1 June 2023 at the controversially high rate of 7.1 per cent (see this earlier post on possible alternative ways of setting the indexation rate).

To calculate the amount to be indexed on 1 June 2023 the ATO:

i) takes the person’s HELP debt for the ‘immediately preceding financial year’, ie 1 July 2021-30 June 2022;

ii) subtracts any voluntary repayments made between 1 June in the immediately preceding financial year, ie 1 June 2022 and ending immediately before the next 1 June, ie 31 May 2023;

iii) subtracts any compulsory repayment amounts ‘assessed during that period’, ie between 1 June 2022 and 31 May 2023.

The trap is that HELP compulsory repayments for 2022-2023 will not be ‘assessed’ between 1 June 2022 and 31 May 2023, because the 2022-23 tax year does not finish until 30 June 2023. Instead, compulsory repayments for the 2021-22 tax year will be deducted.

The issue here is that by 1 June 2023 HELP debtors in the PAYG system will, in cash terms, already have paid about 90 per cent of what they will eventually owe for the 2022-23 tax year. Effectively, HELP debtors will be indexed on debt they have already repaid.

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