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25 startling facts about the state of student debt in America

  • 25 startling facts about the state of student debt in America

    Student debt in America is a major source of stress for millions of borrowers and countless prospective students. The mounting student debt crisis—about $1.56 trillion dollars in total—is causing graduates to delay major life events like purchasing a home or starting a family, and significantly affecting loan co-signers like parents and grandparents. As the issue worsens, support is increasing for proposals that would overhaul significant elements of the education system and how people pay for college.

    Meanwhile, the price of college has more than doubled in 30 years. Some blame systematic disinvestment from state governments, which drives up prices for public colleges. Others blame the luxury amenities universities are increasingly offering to students. In any case, the rapidly rising rate of student loan debt has profound implications for the future of the American worker.

    Millennials struggle to deal with their mounting debt levels even after the country's recovery from the Great Recession a decade ago. It’s especially tough for those who dropped out of college without a degree, who face significantly higher default rates than students who got their degrees. Some argue that the student debt crisis isn’t as bad as it seems: Plenty of debt is owed by doctors and lawyers, for example, who are likely to get high-paying jobs and pay loans back. Still, the generational identity of millennials and Generation Z is being shaped by stress related to student loan repayment.

    To take a closer look at the student debt crisis, we’ve collected 25 facts about it from polls, financial data, and reputable reporting. These facts will help you understand how quickly debt is rising, why it impacts African American and Hispanic debtors harder than anyone else, and how interested the public is in solutions like cancelling student debt or making public colleges free.

    You may also like: 50 best private colleges ranked from least to most expensive

  • $1.56 trillion in debt

    As mentioned earlier, the total amount of student debt in America is $1.56 trillion dollars, a truly mind-blowing sum. If that money was freed up, America’s college grads could spend it on 5.3 million typical American homes, an iPhone for the entire populations of China and the U.K., or 21,000 Pink Star diamonds.

  • 45 million Americans in debt

    Of the approximately 250 million American adults, 45 million, or 18%, carry student debt. This burden is especially tough for younger Americans, who face mounting debt without a major increase in salary over time.

  • $67.8 billion is owed by those 62 and older

    Many spend decades paying off their student loans, and some Americans continue to pay them off well into retirement. At this point, the value of their payments surely exceeds their original investments, even at the best interest rates offered by loan companies.

  • 2012: Student loan debt exceeds credit card debt

    2012 was the first year in which the total amount of student loan debt in America superseded credit card debt, and the distance between the two has generally expanded over time. In the first quarter of 2012, the total amount of student debt was $904 billion.

  • The price of college is double what it was 30 years ago

    College is getting more expensive, and no one’s completely sure why. In 1988–1989, the cost of attending a four-year public college was $9,480 (adjusted for inflation in 2018 dollars), while in 2018–2019, this cost is $21,370.

  • Student loans account for 48.6% of all government financial assets

    For a short time in 2017, student loans accounted for more than half of all government financial assets, including checkable deposits and currency, mortgages, reserve assets, taxes receivable, etc. Now that number’s back below half, but student loans are still the largest single asset class by a huge amount.

  • 8.9% of student loans have been delinquent for 90 days

    For many, the investment of a college degree never pays off. The payments are too burdensome, the job market isn’t strong enough, and the debt keeps piling up: 9.2% of all student loans are in early delinquency (30+ days), while 8.9% are in late delinquency (90+ days).

  • Students at for-profit colleges have the highest rates of default

    Most colleges are public, funded by the state, or private nonprofits, funded by endowments, donations, and tuition dollars. There are also private, for-profit colleges, however, like the University of Phoenix and thousands of others across the country. Students at these for-profit colleges face the highest default rates on their loans by far, around 40% compared to about 20% for public four-year schools; only two-year community colleges come close at about 36%.

  • Declaring bankruptcy doesn't erase student loans

    Except in rare cases, it’s impossible to discharge student loans by declaring bankruptcy. That is not the case with similar kinds of debt, like credit card and mortgage debt.

  • 74% of Gen Z students worry about tuition and living expenses

    The cost of tuition is the second-most-stressful thing about college, according to a recent survey by TD Ameritrade. Getting good grades takes the cake, since 80% of students report stress over their report cards.

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