Another plan to ease the student-loan burden

Student loans

US President Barack Obama speaks before signing a memorandum on reducing the burden of student loans on June 9, 2014 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

President Obama made an announcement Monday about a popular subject. Or unpopular really: student loans. Under the new plan, if you took out a student loan before 2007, you may be able to cap your loan payments at 10 percent of your discretionary income. That'll add millions more students to a pay-as-you go plan that was passed in 2012.

“This might impact, oh, maybe five million borrowers, but there are 40 million people who have federal student loans,” says Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Then, he says, there’s the trillion dollars in outstanding student debt, in which  the latest plan will barely make a dent.

Borrowers may see things differently. 

“It could provide for some people, perhaps $50 or $100 a month of relief, which is, for a low income person, is material," he says.

The plan expands an earlier one and will now include students who took out loans as far back as 2007.  It  will also allow borrowers to apply for forgiveness after 20 years of payments.

But it doesn't apply to private loans, says Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education. 

The mount of money that people can borrow for an undergrad education from the federal government has not changed all that much in recent years, and the increase that we’ve seen in borrowing is in part attributable to the large number of private lenders,” he said.

Even so,  Hartle says he's in favor of the new plan. But Vedder says there's a more fundamental problem. The new plan, he says, is "dealing with symptoms, not the disease -- rising tuition fees. 

"What the president is proposing," says Vedders, "might be some help to past borrows,  but it’s going to do nothing to deal with the problem in the future."

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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