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New law to help in paying back college loans

  • Story Highlights
  • New law will cap student loans, based on one's adjusted gross income
  • Graduates are saddled with high student loans while facing a rough job market
  • Statistics for May indicate 15.5 percent of people age 20 to 24 are unemployed
By Sally Holland
CNN Senior Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As a graduate from Syracuse University with a master's degree in international relations, Jana Morgan was hoping to help victims of human rights violations caused by resource wars.

The tight job market, though, has made her put those dreams aside for now while she pays her bills -- by waiting tables at The Barrack's Inn in Sackets Harbor, New York.

Morgan is realistic about her future income options. "If you are going into public service, you aren't going there to make money, you are going there to help people," she said in a recent interview.

Her less-than-anticipated income means that it is difficult for her to make her student loan payments for the nearly $80,000 in debt she accumulated getting through college. Morgan is looking at a new law that goes into effect July 1 that would help her cap her student loans at 15 percent of her adjusted gross income.

Then, if she completes 10 years of public service, her loans would be dropped completely. Based on her current income, her $800 payments would go away for the time being, according to calculations she did on the Department of Education's Web site.

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act that created the new Income-Based Repayment program was signed into law in 2007 to help make student loan payments more manageable.

However, the Department of Education warns that making smaller loan payments may actually increase the amount that borrowers will need to pay back in the long run because interest will accrue for a longer period of time. On the other hand, if the borrowers meet certain criteria, their remaining student loan debt can be dropped after 25 years.

Morgan is not the only one struggling in the weak economy. According to Rep. George Miller, the Democratic chairman of the House committee that worked on the bill, "The U.S. college affordability crisis is only worsening and to top it off, this year's graduating class is about to enter the toughest job market for college graduates in 25 years."

Unemployment numbers for May indicate that 15.5 percent of people age 20 to 24 are unemployed in the U.S. compared to the overall unemployment rate of 9.4 percent.

The Income-Based Repayment program is designed specifically for those students who have high loan amounts and low income. To continue to qualify for the repayment plan, every year borrowers will have to provide information on their income and family size. When income increases, the payments will revert back to the standard amounts.

As for Morgan, if she had know what kind of debt she would be carrying after she earned her degrees, she might have done some things differently.

"As an 18-year-old, I might have applied to more schools that would consider funding me fully, and I probably should have been considering my economic situation at that time," she said.

However, Morgan said she would not have changed her mind about going to college.

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