It seems that student loan debt just keeps climbing year after year. And the more it grows the longer it takes for our students and parents of students to climb out from under it. A study by Pew Research Center found that the number of students taking out student loans for college has grown over 20% in a 10 year period. Student loan debt has reached record levels. While starting out your working career in the hole is bad enough, it does cause a ripple effect into other areas that last all the way through to retirement.
In a report done by Plan Sponsor Council of America Research, they found that millennial employees say that student debt keeps them from saving for retirement. This is very much to the disadvantage of the millennial employees because the most important factor that they have on their side is time. Starting at the beginning of their working career, saving for retirement, puts them well ahead of the curve when it comes to saving in general. Time is the most valuable asset when it comes to long term saving.
Student loan debt also affects what kind of housing situation graduates can afford as well as funding emergency savings accounts. With a reported nearly two-thirds of employers in the US say that 50% or greater of their work force have a four year degree or higher, then it looks like we are starting on to a gruesome cycle. You get a four-year degree to get your chosen job, you end up paying large debt bills, you don’t save for retirement and emergencies, causing you to have to go into more debt later on or rely on friends and family in retirement to make ends meet. Since most Americans still carry their student loan debt until their children reach college age, they end up either having to take out more debt or let their children carry the debt and the cycle starts all over again.
So how do you stop this cycle from happening to you and your family? While there is a push to make college more affordable for everyone, I wouldn’t put too much hope in this happening, i.e. the Affordable Care Act didn’t make healthcare cheaper, it just required everyone to have it. I am sorry to say there is no magic bullet to help. It takes hard work and discipline, which are never popular.
You need to save and work at paying for school as you go. The idea that college should be all fun and games is an old one that doesn’t really translate into today’s environment. Students make the longest lasting financial decisions in the first 5 to 10 years out on their own, i.e. college debt, credit cards, marriage, housing, children, etc. College is expensive, financial aid and student loans were created to help you go to college, but they were also made for the loaners to make money. Never-ending payments and interest expense cuts into our livelihoods and can cause more problems later down the road with divorce and other side effects.
Be smart about your student loans. Only take out what you need to, pay for the rest as you go. There are major repercussions in piling up major debt to pay for your education. Even if you have to spread school out another year or so to graduate debt free it will pay off in the long run.
Take a realistically look at the career you are shooting for. How much does it pay? Use the low end of the scale because that is where most people start out. What are the employment opportunities in that field? Will it take additional education or certifications in order for you to land a job? Is that career in demand or falling away? It may be your dream job, but if it only starts out paying $25,000 then don’t take on $50,000 in debt to get the degree required.
Also, look at scholarships and work programs that help pay for college while you are in school. A lot of financial help is out there if you are willing to put in the time and effort to apply for it. Ask your guidance counselors for help or your financial aid departments for a list of available scholarships or funding programs.