That sounds like you were on a graduated repayment plan - not the old IBR, or the new PAYE/REPAYE. My gross income is over $65k/yr and my monthly payment is $27/mo under PAYE. If you've already refinanced them though, then it doesn't really matter anymore
Citizen's is a good company - I just refinanced my 2nd private student loan with them, because I could finally get an interest rate lower than the rate on that loan. I found too when I talked to them they use the same credit report for 90 days and since my existing loan with them is at a 1.2% higher rate than what they're giving me now, I can also refinance that loan to the new rate with no additional credit hit - and lower that payment by $55/mo. They just saved me $75/mo in payments, so I'm happy with them
They're also a little more lenient with their lending - my federal loans on IBR keep me from qualifying with SoFi and DRB which do give better rates than Citizens. SoFi and DRB fully amortize loans on IBR to determine what the full payment would be for calculating DTI - Citizens Bank uses your current and actual Fed Loan payment when calculating DTI. They also counted my rental income on my duplex the same way a bank would for a mortgage, where SoFi and DRB wouldn't consider it.
I've already decided when my IBR payment goes over $250 I will start looking for refinance privately - but for now, keeping my AGI low on my taxes, to keep that payment low is good incentive to contribute more to my retirement funds - that is the only reason I'm able to get my AGI low enough to get that low of a payment at my income. But I figure if I'm going to pay out the money either way - student loans or my retirement, might as well plan for retirement. At the end of the 20 years I will have paid in interest 3x more than what I actually borrowed, plus they'll collect taxes on the forgiven amount, so they're still going to make a butt load of money off me.
Contributions to your 401k or any retirement account, don't lower your income for DTI calculations - DTI is figured based on your gross income.
I have a 12 yr old daughter, so I get it - like I said the money I put in retirement accounts would be gone one way or another - if not to retirement then to SL payments. I'm just choosing to pay one and not the other. Plus, if there is a major emergency I can withdrawal the money in my HSA (for a penalty) and take out a 401k loan, so it also gives added security that way. If it was going to student loans, it would just be gone. This way I still have access to most of it needed.
I agree with it being like a scheme too - higher education changed when the government made it so anyone could get a student loan. That's when all the for-profit schools started popping up. I did my undergrad right - 1st 2 years worth of classes at community college for cheap, and last 2 years worth at university. Since the state I was in capped out full time tuition and it didn't matter how many classes you took, I took as many as I could, and finished early, and finished cheap. I did graduate school wrong though - that where I screwed myself and racked up the debt.