(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - President Obama Monday outlined a plan expanding student loan repayment relief to an estimated 5 million Americans, allowing them to cap their repayments at 10 percent of their take-home pay for loans taken out prior to October 2007.
The "pay as you earn" program has been available to people who originated loans during or after October 2007, or who added additional debt to loans as late as October 2011 and after. The executive order the president signed Monday expands that to cover everyone with still-pending federal student loan debt.
"It helps millions of young people and recent college graduates get more flexibility with repaying their student loans," Adam Reinke, a program director with UAspire.org in Boston, said in an interview Monday afternoon. Reinke’s organization helps students prepare for and pay for college and college loan debt.
Reinke was thrilled with Obama’s move not just as a matter of policy – but because it could help him directly with debt he is still carrying from Marquette University.
"My wife and I are expecting our first child this summer, which we are obviously every excited about, but we know it's very expensive," Reinke said. "As a graduate of 2002, I’m actually allowed to go into this option of income-based repayment to allow myself a little more flexibility … Still keeping my loans current, still making payments. I'm not getting a handout or anything along those lines, but just a little bit more flexibility to dial back my student loan payments for things like child care, diapers, probably a lot of other things I'm not thinking about right now."
The Obama executive order takes effect in December 2015. Something important to stress: People taking advantage of it won’t save money. In fact, over time, they will owe more money, because they are effectively extending out how long they are taking to pay back their student debt and incurring more interest. But for people with their back against the wall financially, it can be a way to avoid defaulting on a loan and causing years of damage to their credit scores as they try to get home mortgages or car loans or other credit.
Republicans in Congress called the Obama move a gimmick that doesn’t address either the soaring cost of college education or the tepid economic recovery that’s led college graduates to find few good jobs with good pay to work down student loan debt. "This was not a thought-out policy solution, but another in a series of political events designed to distract from the difficulties facing college grads in the Obama economy," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Currently, Americans collectively hold close to $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, four times as much as they did in 2003, and the 60 percent of the class of 2014 graduated with debt, on average $33,000, according to Edvision.
Reinke said he thinks the Obama policy change will be directly helpful to a significant number of people, and also "it shines an important light on college affordability as a national issue from across the country."
With videographer Mike Bellwin. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.