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Will Obama's student loan plan really help?

The president's new plan to ease student loan debt is getting mixed reviews from bloggers and students.

By Giselle Smith Oct 27, 2011 7:22PM

When I graduated from college back in the dark ages, my student loan payments were $51.26 a month. I think I remember the number exactly because it was an important line item on my post-college budget. After graduating, I moved back in with my parents until I found a full-time job six months later.


Today's graduates with student loans are in a different position -- facing payments of about $330 on an average debt of $27,204. In fact, U.S. student loan debt now exceeds the country's credit card debt.


On Wednesday President Obama announced a plan to ease the student loan burden for millions of borrowers with programs to lower monthly payments and consolidate loans, in addition to accelerating changes scheduled to take effect in 2014 through a law passed by Congress last year.


The new plan's major components:

  • The income-based repayment program ("pay as you earn") will cap payments at 10% of borrowers' discretionary income. (The current program caps payments at 15%, and last year's law would have set the cap at 10% in 2014.) This could impact as many as 1.6 million Americans.
  • Unpaid debt will be forgiven after 20 years of payments (compared with the current 25) -- another change originally planned for 2014.
  • The plan's loan consolidation program will allow borrowers who have at least one federal student loan and one federally guaranteed private loan to consolidate the loans and reduce their interest rate by as much as half a percentage point, potentially helping 5.8 million borrowers. Post continues after video.

Shortcomings of the plan

Those most likely to be affected are borrowers in low-paying jobs with large debt. But, wrote a blogger at NonTradLaw:

Most of us aren't deciding whether to ... buy food or pay student loans. But there are huge numbers of graduates who are burdened significantly enough that they are unable to live normal lives; they can't afford to start families, they can't afford to move to more expensive cities to take a better jobs, they can't buy houses (or even move out of their parents' houses), they have no health care and aren't saving a penny for retirement, they can't buy anything that helps the rest of the economy recover, etc.

Other observations:

  • It's not enough. "The monthly impact of the president's new effort for most Americans paying off college debt will be between $4 and $8," The Atlantic says
  • The new income-based repayment plan will only benefit new borrowers, Mark Kantrowitz noted on The New York Times' The Choice blog:
Recent college graduates, for example, will not benefit. Instead, the new income-based repayment plan will be available to new borrowers since 2008 who have at least one loan that originated in 2012 or later. Borrowers with loans from 2007 and earlier will not be eligible. Likewise, borrowers who don't have at least one loan from 2012 or later, like students who graduated in 2011 or earlier, also won't be eligible. Borrowers who are already in repayment will not be eligible.
  • The plan will have no effect on millions of graduates who have private student loans.
  • Borrowers already in default on student loans will not benefit.
  • Unlike other types of debt, student loans cannot be forgiven in bankruptcy, and the new plan doesn't change that.

Loan debt reflects rising costs

One reason my loan debt was so low was that college simply cost less. Tuition for a full class load in my first year at the University of Washington was $229 per quarter. A new report says in-state college tuition at four-year public schools averages $8,244 a year, up 8.3% from 2010.


This chart in The Atlantic shows student loans have grown by 511% since 1999, while disposable income has increased by only 73%.


Tuition is increasing across the board, but public university students are feeling it most. As The New York Times reported:

This is the fifth consecutive year in which the public universities that serve most students raised their tuition at a faster rate than the far more expensive private universities. And over the last three decades, the report found, the average tuition at four-year state universities almost quadrupled.
No one seems to know for sure how much Americans really owe on student loans, Reuters says. The popular factoid is that student loan debt is set to top $1 trillion -- but that may be more sensational than accurate. Still, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York will release numbers in the coming weeks that "will show that student loan debt exceeds credit card debt," Reuters says.
Student newspapers around the country are reporting fairly positive reactions to the plan. "With the passage of this bill and with the hopes of having this implemented by 2012, I think we're going to see a drastic impact on the overall effect of student loans on the graduates of Penn State and across the country," student Peter Khoury told The Daily Collegian.
Some students noted that the cost of an education, not how to pay back loans, is of greater concern to them. "What the government needs to address is the quickly rising cost of higher education," opined Benson Amollo of the student-run Iowa State Daily.
What do you think? Are people unfairly burdened by the high cost of getting a college degree? Do they deserve more help?

More on MSN Money:

Oct 28, 2011 9:12AM
I saw an interesting analysis. There's a lot of folks who paid their mortgages/loans "as agreed". For some, it was a struggle. Some people took 2-3 jobs, the wife worked, to put food on the table, raise the kids, and make it work. Where was their help?  Who gave them some breaks? It's an outright insult to those of us who honored our commitments, did what we said we'd do; then, have the government turn around and give breaks to those who throw in the towel and can't make it work. I read that the protesters want 100% student loan forgiveness. BS!! You took the loan----you pay the bucks!!!! You want the government to give you a $100,000 dollar education? Where's mine? Where's everybody else's?  Don't you remotely think that if we could have done it----we would have. It's time to ante up and pay the dues. 
Oct 27, 2011 8:29PM
Gee, maybe I could get some help buying groceries. Why on earth would anybody expect someone else to pay their bills they voluntarily ran up? Good gig if you can get it. Maybe this entitled group can take on real responsibility and pay their own way. I've always paid mine.
Oct 28, 2011 9:35AM
Benson Amollo's opinion in the Iowa State Daily hits the nail on the head.  People are legitimately upset due to the fact that they invested time, energy and considerable amounts of money to achieve an education and due to the flagging economy they are not jumping into well paying jobs.  However, the price of the education sky rocketing is not the fault of the lenders, but the institutions.  The anger should be directed at them.  What's the price of some of those private institutions dotting the East Coast?  Bailing out a loan one signed their name on the dotted line for only fuels the entitlement mentality.
Oct 28, 2011 9:35AM
The " Liar in Chief" will continue to pander to the young and poor!!!  See how many votes he can buy with our tax money. How low will this scumb*g go to get re-elected???
Oct 28, 2011 9:52AM
Hopefully all the people that have already graduated will vote against this moron. MORE ENTITLEMENT SPENDING IS JUST WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS!!!!!
Oct 28, 2011 11:01AM
funny how our solution to all our economic problems are to either let people off the hook or print more money, isn't it?  We've stopped rewarding good choices/hard work, and letting people face the consequences of their bad choices/laziness. 

I'm not saying that's always the case...just in most cases

Oct 28, 2011 2:42PM
I'm getting tired of people seaming to only take the extreme positions. Bottom line: You should have to pay back a loan that you signed for in good faith, be it a car loan, student loan, mortgage and so on. That said, student loans should be bound to the same consumer protection statutes as all other debt and yes that includes bankruptcy protections; especially for private (i.e. not federally secured) student loans.

Unlike federal loans (even the unsubsidized ones) the interest rate is not regulated at all (mine are at 11.99% and many are higher) and as of 2005 they are treated the same as federal ones with regard to bankruptcy and collection powers of the lender. However these loans are for substantially higher amounts and do not have the benefits accorded to federal loans, such as easy forbearance, consolidation and income based repayment just to name a few. They are treated as any other unsecured debt except with regard to bankruptcy; this is wrong and gives lenders no reason to work with a borrower as they (the borrower) have no recourse.

Regardless of what "facts" people through around, there is not nor has there ever been a high incidence of bankruptcy fraud regarding student loans (or anything else for that matter) and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act gives lenders too much power and borrowers way to little. I do not advocate bankruptcy and people should pay back what they borrowed (I pay mine), that said there is a reason that we have and need bankruptcy protections. Student loans owed to a bank need to be treated as any other non-secured debt; student loans owed to the government should be treated as any other government debt. Anything else simply isn't just.
Oct 28, 2011 12:10PM

Please read the article before rushing to make such bitter comments, comparing yourself to others, you sound like uneducated people yourself. Nowhere in the article talks about paying somebody's bill. The cost of education is way too high even in the public universities (remember education is a “non-profit” entity) and that the plan, in simple words, suggests consolidating the student loans, lowering their interest rates, and implementing some type of income-base program.

So should those graduating from high school, sit around and wait for things to get better or, unless absolutely sure they are going to get a job after four years in college to then go get an education?  Many of you want to preach about responsibility when the only responsibility they have at the time, is to go to college, study hard, and get a degree. Society has taught us that education is important that it opens the door to many opportunities, that through education you can make a decent living and be a good contributor to this society.

 I pay my way in life too, it has not been easy.  I graduated from college in 1999, I was working full-time while studying part-time and had to take student loans to pay for college that I will be done paying in 2016. But I am also aware that times were different then, and thank goodness I have always have a job and been able to pay my loans but firstly, THANKS to my EDUCATION.

Education should be affordable, student loans should have a lower interest rate, and given more time to start payments, 12 months or as soon as you get a job whichever happens first. I don’t agree with total forgiveness of a student loan as the protesters are demanding it is an extreme demand but would get something done, forgiveness is not going to happen so calm down, stop been so bitter, and attacking those pursuing an education.

Oct 28, 2011 4:00PM
Amen to Mesquite451 - I agree and also believe that something should be done about the rising costs of texbooks on top of the rising costs of tuition and other expenses. I earn $46K a year and pay my class fees at an average of $850 per 3 credit hours. The school is great, but the costs are rising for what? Real estate? No. Labs? No. Its nothing more than monopolizing on the poor economy by the universities. Take an economics lesson from to screw the students 101.
Oct 28, 2011 10:03AM

Federal education loan charges us 6.1% intrerest, this is outrageous and much like theft,while banks are paying 1% on savings.

Oct 28, 2011 3:08PM
I don't mind paying back my loan, despite the fact that apart from my mortgage it is my biggest debt and will take me just as long to pay off.  However, I do think the tuition I had to pay was ridiculously inflated.  It makes more sense to do something about rising tuition (not to mention the outrageous cost of textbooks) than it does to piddle around with interest rates and payback plans that aren't really going to help.
Oct 31, 2011 11:17AM

Keep in mind that Obama said his plan "WILL CARRY NO ADDITIONAL COST TO THE TAXPAYER". His plan calls for (1) Reducing the maximum repayment to 10% of discretionary income annually and (2) any remaining debt would be forgiven after 20 years. The definition for discretionary income: The amount of income that is left for spending, investing or saving after taxes and personal necessities (such as food, shelter,clothing, insurance and transportation have been paid.  Let's start with a $40,000 student loan and a $40,000 annual salary and $10,000 annual discretionary income. The interest on the loan @ 6% is $2,400 per year and the borrower only has to pay 10% of their discretionary income ($1,000) so after year one their loan is now $41,400. Keep in mind that at the end of 20 years the remaining loan will be forgiven. Since this plan will be no cost to the taxpayer I can only assume the Tooth Fairy will pay the remaining loan.

May 16, 2012 8:14AM

Well I think that tuition is outrageous, even at the community college level. I think that the Government should not GUARENTEE student loans anymore. Privitize this such as an insurance policy. That is an unrealistic burden to place on those who don't utilize the student loans in the first place. See people aren't forced to attend college, and in turn aren't forced to take out student loans. They do this freely, and banks should either give the loan or not. Insurance companies should be the insurers, not the Government. Tax incentives can be given to companies for extending grants as well as those whom give to the colleges of their choice. Wouldn't it be a great society if no one had to worry or be burdened with paying for an education? But we don't live in such a society.


     So when you consolidate loans, why are they still considered "Federal" loans? The Government doesn't consolidate the loans, banks do.

Troy Lawson

Oct 28, 2011 11:00AM

I KNOW nightrite is kidding. 

I thought there had to be mathematical calculation of loans on the ability to repay.  Stupid me.

Oct 31, 2011 11:36AM
Food stamps, college stamps, housing stamps, banking stamps, gasoline stamps.....hmmm, what else can the gov't give us???
Oct 28, 2011 10:50AM
I want president Obama to help me pay down my credit card debt, that way I can buy more stuff and help the economy.  It's not fair that the banks charge so much interest.  They're ripping me off!!  Vote Obama in 2012 so he can help the little people like me struggling to stay even.
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