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Student loan payback: full mind, empty pockets

ALBANY, N.Y. Nationally, student loan debt recently surpassed credit card debt, according to Mark Kantrowitz, director of FinAid.org, a financial advice website. Americans are now saddled with $830 billion in private and federal student loans, compared to $827 billion in credit card debt, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Kantrowitz said that while increasing student loan debt is not quite another real estate bubble, he said it’s a slowly growing crisis that could have a lasting effect.

He said many college graduates will still be paying off student loans when their own children go to college and large debt burdens will force many to push back life plans, like having children and buying a house. It might mean that their children will also have to pay more for college because their parents are unable to help.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that more people are defaulting on their student loans. Seven percent of borrowers defaulted in fiscal year 2008, up from 6.7 percent the year prior.

In New York, the Higher Education Services Corp., which services and collects federally backed college loans in the state, has almost $2 billion worth of defaulted debt on its hands.

DREAM Act the target of last‑minute lobbying

WASHINGTON ­— Supporters and opponents of a proposal to create a citizenship path for illegal immigrants who excel in school or serve in the military are rallying support on Capitol Hill in anticipation of a Tuesday vote on the hot-button political issue.

The DREAM Act — formally known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — would create a path to citizenship for people brought to the United States illegally as children if they meet certain requirements.

It had stalled as broader immigration reform stalled. Last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., revived the proposal when he announced he would attach the DREAM Act to a must-pass bill authorizing Pentagon activities for the coming year.

The move, along with the inclusion of a measure allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, caused outrage among many conservatives. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused Reid of turning “legislation on our national defense into a political football” and has promised to prevent the defense authorization bill from reaching the Senate floor.

Reid and other DREAM Act supporters face a tough battle to get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. With the vote expected to be so close, interest groups are not sitting this out.

Web tool to check heart risk is doubted

A new study finds that a widely used version of the ubiquitous heart attack risk calculator is flawed, misclassifying 15 percent of patients who would use it — almost 6 million Americans, of whom almost 4 million are inappropriately shifted into higher-risk groups that are more likely to be treated with medication.

And while the tool is easy to use, the authors say, the original calculator on which it is based is equally user-friendly for anyone with a computer — and significantly more reliable.

“People were told that for clinical purposes either one of the formulas could be used, that they were interchangeable,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Michael Steinman, an associate professor at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.