In 1985, Congressman William Ford of Michigan cautioned that due to the debt student loans created, “we are producing a class of indentured servants who must work to free themselves of the bondage of educational debts. How will the next generation afford a home or car if their disposable income is committed to paying off student loans?” Today, American student loan debt is at an all-time high of 1.4 trillion with millennials shouldering a large part of that burden.
About 70% of millennials in the workforce have some student loan debt. This debt often delays their decision to get married, have kids, buy a house, or save for retirement.
The housing market has felt the effects of the student loan debt burden as the percentage of homeowners ages 35 and under has dropped from 44 percent during the housing market boom to 34 percent today. The National Association of Realtors and the American Student Assistance (ASA) conducted a joint study of borrowers who are current in their repayments and in theory, should be more financially secure.
They found that the rate of young renter households aged 20-39 with high student loan debt has gone from 5 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2013. Student loan debt is considered high when borrowers allot more than 14 percent of their monthly income toward loan payments. 69 percent of millennials said they do not feel financially secure enough to buy a home and 80 percent said they cannot afford a down payment.
In the past 10 years student loan debt has tripled, in part because tuition costs continue to rise to staggering amounts. In 1982, the price for a year of tuition at a four-year college was $10,385, as opposed to the $24,872 price tag in 2012.
“If you look at the long-term trend, [college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation,” said Ray Franke, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “That’s brought immense pressure from the media and general public, asking whether college is still worth it.”
Most experts agree the high price of a college education is still worth it, as graduates earn higher wages and are more likely to own a home. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that Americans who earn a college degree are better equipped to withstand an economic crisis and have lower unemployment rates.
Borrowers who do not end up graduating have an even harder time purchasing a home as they face decreased earnings and a higher risk for missing payments. According to a study from Fannie Mae, 40 percent of borrowers aged 25-44 never received their bachelor’s degree. This study found that someone who begins college, takes on student loan debt, and never completes their degree is 32 percent less likely to purchase a home than a high school graduate with no debt.
Borrowers who default on their student loans also have a much harder time purchasing a home in the future as the delinquency stays on their credit report for seven years. 11.1 percent of student loans are 90 days delinquent or more.
Student loans were created as way to increase social mobility and invest in the future by allowing everyone the means to receive a higher education. But many millennials struggle to manage the burden of paying back their debt while actively participating in the economy.
And the problem is not going to go away according to John Zurick, president and CEO of American Student Assistance. “When people can’t get jobs and don’t have the resources to pursue the dreams of a sustainable life in America, then they get to this situation where the divide between the haves and have-nots gets wider. It ripples all across our culture and economy.”