The eventual success of the Pay As You Earn program is difficult to predict, and would be limited for many already saddled with debt. Only current students would be eligible for the new income-based repayment caps. And the current income-based repayment program has attracted only a small segment of borrowers. Barnes says that just 450,000 of the nation's 36 million borrowers are taking advantage of the program. According to the administration, one key reason for this gap is that many borrowers simply are not aware that income-based repayment is available.
"I think having the president remind folks that it's something that is available to them, to students in need, is a major step. And we're going to continue to press the point around the country. Our hope is to do this at a grass-roots level," says Justin Hamilton, press secretary for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
While advocacy might entice more people to use income-based repayment, other hurdles prevent them from negotiating newrepayment plans on their loans. "There's a whole range of problems: slow processing, misinformation, [loan servicers] steering people away from [income-based repayment] to other options," says Deanne Loonin, director of the National Consumer Law Center's Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project. She says that borrowers in default face the biggest difficulties in changing their repayment terms. "We are encouraged that [the White House is] focusing on the information piece, but that's not enough," she says.