Federal programs that forgive student debt are generating outrage from borrowers who stand to get no relief after years of paying down debts.
Every borrower with a federal loan can apply to some version of the plans. But complicated rules and a lack of public awareness are leaving some borrowers much better off than others.
Kristin and Jim Reed struggled for two decades to make payments on the $38,000 he borrowed for college. The balance ballooned as they opted for reduced payments under an extended repayment plan and missed payments some years.
In January, the Texas couple, both in their early 60s, saw no alternative and used most of their retirement savings to pay off the balance—more than $117,000.
Now the Reeds are enraged to learn that millions of...