The Ultimate Guide to Income Share Agreements

Income Share Agreements (ISAs) represent a modern approach to financing education costs, although the concept itself is not entirely novel. While ISAs are commonly associated with forward-thinking educational initiatives such as coding boot camps, their roots trace back further in history.

Fundamentally, an ISA operates on a straightforward premise: instead of covering tuition expenses upfront or resorting to traditional loans, students commit to reimbursing a portion of their future income. This arrangement enables students to pursue education without bearing the immediate financial burden, opting instead to repay the investment once they achieve higher earning potential.

How do Income Share Agreements (ISAs) function?

Minimal or no upfront costs

For students enrolled in coding boot camps or similar educational programs, ISAs often cover the majority, if not all, of tuition expenses. This means students can pursue education without immediate financial strain. Instead of paying tuition upfront, they can focus on enhancing their earning potential during their studies and defer repayment until later.

However, it’s essential to note that this arrangement may differ for traditional four-year college degrees. While there’s typically no initial payment required with an ISA, borrowing the entire educational cost through an ISA might not be feasible due to the higher expenses and less predictable income outcomes associated with these degrees.

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Conditional on securing employment

Repayment obligations under ISAs are contingent on graduates landing a job that aligns with their degree credentials. Repayment doesn’t commence until graduates start earning income, providing a safety net during the transition into the workforce. Some ISAs may have specific job search requirements for graduates, emphasizing active pursuit of employment.

Understanding the ISA cap

ISAs typically include a cap on the total repayment amount, ensuring graduates won’t be burdened with exorbitant repayment obligations. This cap, often set at 1.5 to 2.5 times the borrowed amount, means that even if graduates earn substantially higher salaries, their repayment remains capped. For instance, if a student borrows $100,000, their total repayment obligation might not exceed $250,000, regardless of their eventual earnings.

Availability of ISAs

While ISAs initially gained traction in specialized fields like coding, their availability is expanding to include traditional college education. However, they still predominantly cater to pre-professional and specialized disciplines such as computer science, nursing, engineering, and medical school. As the ISA landscape evolves, their accessibility across various educational domains is expected to increase.

Also see Guide to Securing Grants for College

Benefits of Income Share Agreements (ISAs)

Payment tied to income

One of the primary advantages of Income Share Agreements is that repayment is linked to graduates’ earnings. Unlike traditional student loans that necessitate repayment regardless of employment status or income level, ISAs offer flexibility. Graduates only begin repayment once they secure a job and earn a specified income threshold. This ensures that repayment aligns with graduates’ financial capacity and provides a safety net during periods of unemployment or lower earnings.

Institutional accountability

ISAs incentivize educational institutions to prioritize students’ post-graduation success. Since schools have a vested interest in recouping their investment, they are motivated to deliver high-quality education and facilitate career placement opportunities for graduates. This can lead to enhanced support services, networking opportunities, and career development resources provided by the educational institution or ISA-granting organization.

Drawbacks of Income Share Agreements (ISAs)

Limited availability

A significant drawback of ISAs is their limited availability, particularly for certain schools and majors. ISAs are often tailored to specific fields or educational programs with predictable earning potentials, such as nursing or computer science. Consequently, students pursuing majors in humanities, arts, or social sciences may find fewer ISA options available to them.

Less regulatory oversight

Compared to federal student loans, ISAs are subject to less regulatory scrutiny and legal protections. This lack of oversight means that the terms and conditions of ISAs can vary widely between providers. Students must carefully review the terms of their ISA agreements and seek clarification from the provider to ensure they understand their obligations.

Potential for higher overall costs

While ISAs offer flexibility in repayment, they may result in graduates paying more over time compared to traditional student loans. Since ISA repayments are based on a percentage of income rather than a fixed amount, graduates with higher salaries may end up paying more to the ISA provider. Additionally, ISAs typically have repayment caps, but exceeding these caps could result in graduates paying significantly more than the original borrowed amount.

Choosing between ISAs and traditional loans

Students considering ISAs should weigh the pros and cons against traditional student loans to determine the most suitable financing option for their individual circumstances. Factors such as expected future earnings, program duration, and repayment terms should be carefully evaluated to make an informed decision. Ultimately, while ISAs offer unique benefits, they may not always be the optimal choice for every student.


Income Share Agreements (ISAs) present a promising alternative to traditional student loans, offering flexibility and accountability for both students and educational institutions. By linking repayment to graduates’ income levels, ISAs alleviate financial burdens and provide a safety net during uncertain economic times. However, the limited availability of ISAs and potential for higher overall costs underscore the importance of careful consideration and comparison with traditional loan options. Students should thoroughly research and assess their financial needs and future earning potential to determine the most suitable financing solution. While ISAs offer valuable benefits, they may not be the ideal choice for every student, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making in navigating college financing.