Massive student loan debt cripples more than just grads’ finances, it also forces some to delay marriage, and postpone big-ticket purchases that can have a ripple effect on the economy, a new study reveals.
Combined with a weak labor market, student loan debt is making it hard for grads to make ends meet, and money that would typically be set aside for savings is now being gobbled up by everyday expenses.
According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, of the 37 million borrowers who had outstanding student loan balances as of third quarter 2011, 14% or about 5.4 million borrowers had at least one past due student loan account. Together, these past due balances amount to $85 billion, or about 10% of the total outstanding student loan balance.
The financial implications of student loan debt are long lasting. A recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys shows more immense student loan debt is forcing people to delay making major purchases or start families.
“Many students are moving home, more people are doubling up when they might prefer to live alone, and it’s taking people longer to actually save money for a down payment for their home,” says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. “Post-college graduate students have a lot less discretionary income in addition to being able to save.”
Lack of Education
Although some schools are working hard to convey what the loan repayment process is like, the majority of students entering college are not financially educated enough to take on the responsibility, says Jim Briggs, co-founder of ReducingCollegeCosts.com.
“There’s nobody really counseling and advocating—we’re asking 18 through 21 year olds, young adults who’ve had mostly no formal training in finance, to make intelligent borrowing decisions,” he says. “I don’t think we give them the tools to do that.”
Types of Loans
Research by the nonprofit group Project on Student Debt shows that more than half of student borrowers fail to max out government loans before taking out riskier private loans, which tend to carry higher interest rates and stricter repayment terms.
Kris Alban, vice president at iGrad, explains that some students are in such a hurry to get the necessary funding for college that they often take the first option they see, or don’t even take the time to fill out the forms necessary to receive the federal loans.
“Private lenders do an excellent job at marketing their products to students [and] some private loans may have lower initial rates than federal loans, but the danger is that they are likely variable and can go much higher.”
Along the same lines, many students fail to take full advantage of scholarships and grants, according to de Baca.
“In a few years, the reality of that bill is going to hit you and many of these students are going to be saying, ‘why didn’t I look at every option available to me?’”
Adjusting to a Post-College Lifestyle
Adjusting to post-college life is difficult as grads are hit with the responsibilities of rent, full-time jobs, insurance and then, six months later--student loan installments that have to be paid.
“People don’t really understand what that repayment schedule is going to be like, they don’t understand the impact of the interest payments on top of the principal, and really how long that process is going it take,” says de Baca. “It’s hard to expect that an 18 year old is going to understand a lot of what their choices are.”
Advice for Grads
Graduates should work to reduce the amount of interest and principal on their loans by paying off debt off as quickly and aggressively as possible.
“If you decide you want to pay twice as much as you need to every month, that can be a very smart idea as long as you can afford the rest of your life,” says de Baca. “It might be painful now to forgo some of those purchases, vacations, or going out with your friends, but having that off of your balance sheet sooner rather than later will make you feel better and it will also quickly free you up to think about some of those other purchases.”
For future borrowers, Briggs advises that families research and plan student aid before even applying to schools.
“There’s nothing worse than getting into a school, spending a year or maybe two years there and then concluding I can’t afford this and I need to leave,” he says. “That’s an expensive process because in most cases, a lot of the credit hours that you’ve accumulated aren’t transferable.”
To figure out the financial implications before borrowing, students can visit click the American Student Assistance website to calculate how much they will need to make to pay off their loans