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Amid US student loan tussles, more seek 'forgiveness'

But that debate is aimed directly at middle class voters more likely to cast a ballot this fall. The repayment programs are a wider effort to help cash-strapped students.

Congress created the Income-Based Repayment Plan in 2007 to take some of the sting out of mounting student bills. The Bush administration program, which finally began in 2009, limits struggling students' payments to 15 percent of their income and absolves debt after 25 years.

Students who become teachers, police officers and other public servants could see their loans forgiven after 10 years.

In 2010, Obama signed into law a new plan to expand the forgiveness program starting in 2014. Qualifying students with federal loans could see their payments capped at 10 percent of their income, down from 15 percent, and forgiven after 15 years.

Last year, the administration tried to speed up that effort through Education Department regulations. The “Pay as You Earn” proposal could widen the forgiveness programs by the end of 2012 — if U.S. education officials can pass the rule by Nov. 1.

About 1.6 million borrowers could benefit over 10 years when that happens, according to department policy experts.

'Much needed relief'

There's little doubt about the strain student debt creates on borrowers.

“As the amount of debt and interest rates increase, a greater percentage of family income must be devoted to repaying student loans instead of other priorities,” said FinAid.org's Kantrowitz, whose unofficial Student Loan Debt Clock on Tuesday became the latest barometer to hit the US$1 trillion mark.

He says borrowers delay getting married, having kids and reaching other milestones. T hey also take longer to buy big ticket items like cars or houses and delay saving for their own children's college expense, continuing the cycle of student debt, he adds.

Even Obama recently noted that he and First Lady Michelle Obama just finished paying off their student loans eight years ago.

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