"By 2020, we are going to hit those caps" set in the legislation, Kantrowitz said.

But some aid directors say they are focused more on what is fair to students given what is known today, not what might happen.

"Nobody has an accurate crystal ball," said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president for financial aid at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The compromise reached in Congress is "fair and equitable," she said.

Students and parents will be protected against high interest in the future by the rate caps, Bauder added. And if rates skyrocket to 17 percent as they did in the early 1980s, that 8.25 percent cap will seem like a great deal, she said.

Though much of the attention in recent weeks has been on interest rates, Kantrowitz said students would be better off looking for ways to minimize their college debt.

As a rule of thumb, students should not borrow more than their first year's annual salary after graduation, Kantrowitz said.

Families need to save for college long before a student heads to campus and take advantage of tuition tax credits, he said. They can also pay tuition on an interest-free installment plan over the course of the school year to reduce borrowing.

His advice to students is to search for scholarships and learn to be frugal.

"Live like a student while you are in school so you don't have to live like a student after you graduate," he said.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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