With the national student loan debt coming in at over 1.4 trillion, the average student graduates from college with over $28,000 in student loan debt. A recent survey showed that while some students use their loans to pay for living expenses, students also use them to pay for things like vacations, clothes, and fast food. And the data also shows that this trend is growing — current students were twice as likely as 2016 graduates to spend money allotted for loans on non-educational expenses.
This study did show that many college students have made good financial decisions — 80% said the overall costs were a deciding factor in what school they attended. Half of the respondents said they didn’t take out any loans to pay for school and 23 percent were using loans to cover half the total cost of college.
But this survey did show that many students are mismanaging their finances and spending borrowed money on things that don’t benefit their education. Namely, 13 percent used their money to eat out, 15 percent used their student loan money on clothes, and 2.5 percent used borrowed money to buy drugs or alcohol.
Once student loans are distributed and tuition is paid for, many colleges issue a refund check for the remaining amount. This money is meant to be used for educational expenses like books, but students are not monitored in how they spend these leftover funds. This means students can end up spending thousands of dollars on non-school related purchases.
While students are aware the money will have to be paid back, many don’t understand how quickly this debt adds up or how burdensome student loan payments can be. Many students can have a “spend now, worry later” mindset. And many may be overestimating their future career prospects and the amount of disposable income they will have to pay these loans back.
Studies have shown that many students are overly optimistic of their job prospects after graduation. Another study surveyed 1,005 college students that graduated in 2016 and found that 82 percent of respondents believed they would make at least $25,000 a year after graduation. Yet 40 percent of students that graduated in 2014 and 2015 earned less than that. Only 65 percent of graduates end up finding jobs that relate to their major.
Regardless of future jobs, spending borrowed money on unnecessary purchases is always a bad idea. Rather than counting on student loan refunds to pay for vacations, students can focus on living within their means and looking for part-time jobs to cover those extra expenses. Only spending money you actually have is the best way to create good financial habits and prepare for the future.