More than 44 million Americans are paying off student loans. That's about $1.5 trillion in total debt, or more than $600 billion more than the nation's total credit card debt. The average member of the class of 2016 has more than $37,000 in loan debt at the time of graduation, so it's easy to see how these numbers could weigh on them.

That's why it's not all that surprising that the majority of those with student loans would want money toward paying them down as a holiday gift. Even when offered some pretty unique alternatives, respondents to a new LendEDU survey picked having the equivalent dollar value applied to their loan over receiving the present.

A college graduation cap is filled with money, and a sign that says "student loans" is placed in front of it.

Having student loan debt can be stressful. Image source: Getty Images.

"While not the sexiest of gifts, one might be surprised to see how often consumers opted for the student loan payment this holiday season instead of the new iPhone or an Amazon Prime membership," wrote LendEDU's Mike Brown in a blog post about the survey of 1,000 people with student loan debt.

Is any gift better than a loan payment?

LendEDU offered 17 different scenarios to the respondents. In each case, they could opt for the gift or for having the cost of the item/service/experience applied to their student loan. Only one gift -- a $100 bill -- received more than 50% of the vote over taking the money as a loan payment.

The $100 bill was the clear winner at 64%, and the runners up were an LG 65-inch 4k Ultra Smart HD TV ($2,596) at 47% and a fully paid Amazon Prime membership for 2019 ($119). After that, only a few items were picked by more than 30% of respondents: a one-week vacation in Iceland worth $1,435 (39%), $1,000 worth of bitcoin (37%), a $50 Starbucks gift card (37%), and a 2019 Netflix membership valued at $167.88 (36%).

The rest of the items, which include some pretty interesting choices, were all favored by 30% or less compared to taking the equivalent value in a loan payment: 

  • 8% a Tinder Gold membership ($180)
  • 12% a JUUL e-cigarette starter pack ($49.99)
  • 17% one ticket to Hamilton on Broadway ($800)
  • 18% one ticket to a Drake concert ($90)
  • 22% an electric scooter ($599)
  • 23% the puppy of their dreams ($1,000)
  • 23% one field-level ticket to Super Bowl LIII ($6,405) 
  • 25% an ounce of marijuana ($300)
  • 29% the new iPhone XS Max ($1,099)
  • 30% an Xbox One with Red Dead Redemption 2 ($359.99)

"Ultimately, the results of this poll are promising​ to a degree because it shows that we may have a generation of young, responsible Americans that are dead-set on repaying their student loan debt," wrote Brown. "They are willing to sacrifice material worth for something that, while less stimulating, is more impactful on both their future and the health of their country's economy."

Give the gift of peace of mind

Student loan debt is an anchor that can stop college graduates from achieving their goals. In the short term, that can mean not being able to get a mortgage or another type of loan. In the longer term, having student debt can impact a person's ability to save for retirement.

It may not be fun to give a loved one money toward their debt when you hoped to see the look on their face when they see you got them an iPhone (or, apparently, an ounce of marijuana). If you choose to go the sensible route, however, you're probably actually giving them what they want, and that's more in line with the holiday spirit.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.