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Obama to offer student loan relief

By Kimberly Hefling
AP Education Writer / October 25, 2011

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WASHINGTON—Millions of student loan borrowers will be eligible to lower their payments and consolidate their loans under a plan President Barack Obama intends to announce Wednesday, the White House said.

Obama will use his executive authority to provide student loan relief in two ways.

First, he will accelerate a measure passed by Congress that reduces the maximum repayment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income annually to 10 percent. The White House wants it to go into effect in 2012, instead of 2014. In addition, the White House says the remaining debt would be forgiven after 20 years, instead of 25. About 1.6 million borrowers could be affected.

Second, he will allow borrowers who have loans from both the Family Education Loan Program and a direct loan from the government to consolidate them into one loan. The consolidated loan would be up to a half percentage point less. This could affect 5.8 million more borrowers.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call that the changes could save some borrowers hundreds of dollars a month.

"These are real savings that will help these graduates get started in their careers and help them make ends meet," Duncan said.

Obama is expected to unveil his plan at a stop in Denver. The White House said the changes will carry no additional costs to taxpayers.

Last year, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed a law that reduced the cap and moved all student loans to direct lending by eliminating banks as the middlemen. Before that, borrowers could get loans directly from the government or from government-backed loans in the Family Education Loan Program that were issued by private lenders but basically insured by the government. The law was passed along with health care overhaul with the anticipation that it could save about $60 billion over a decade.

Today, there are 23 million borrowers with $490 billion in loans under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Last year, the Education Department made $102.2 billion in direct loans to 11.5 million recipients.

Outside of mortgages, student loans are the No. 1 source of household debt, the White House said.

Also on Tuesday, the Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a project to simplify the financial aid award letters that colleges mail out to students each spring. A common complaint is that colleges obscure the inclusion of student loans in financial aid packages to make their school appear more affordable, and the agencies hope families will more easily be able to compare the costs of colleges.

Separately, James Runcie, the Education Department's federal student aid chief operating officer, told a congressional panel on Tuesday that the personal financial details of as many 5,000 college students were temporarily available for other students using the site to view on the Education Department's direct loan website earlier this month. Runcie said site was shut down while the matter was resolved, and the affected students have been notified and offered credit monitoring.

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Kimberly Hefling can be followed at http://twitter.com/khefling