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5 Shocking Student Loan Stats

By Maurie Backman - Jul 28, 2018 at 8:36AM

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It's time to get schooled on student debt -- and avoid the trap so many others fall into.

If you're walking around saddled with student debt, you're in good company. It's estimated that 44 million Americans are on the hook for student loans, including recent graduates and seniors alike. To give you a sense of just how out of hand student debt has gotten, here are a few eye-opening stats you should know about.

1. Student debt is a $1.48 trillion problem

Americans don't tend to be shy about borrowing money, especially when it's being used to fund an education. All told, the U.S. public owes a whopping $1.48 trillion in student debt. That's roughly $620 billion more than what Americans owe on their credit cards.

Sign that says student loans


2. The average Class of 2017 graduate came away $39,400 in the hole

As college costs continue to climb, so too does the amount we borrow. The typical 2017 grad took out $39,400 in loans, up 6% from the previous year. This tells us that tuition costs are rapidly outpacing inflation and that the so-called college bubble has no intention of bursting in the near future.

3. Private student loan debt is now at $64.2 billion 

When students exhaust their federal loan options, they often have no choice but to turn to private lenders. And that's where some folks really get into trouble. Not only do private student loans typically come with higher interest rates than federal loans, but lenders are by no means obliged to cater to those who struggle to keep up with their payments.

With federal loans, you can apply for forgiveness or get on an income-based repayment plan that makes your debt less burdensome. With private lenders, you get little to no leeway.

4. Student debt has risen by 58% in the past decade 

We all know that costs, in general, have a tendency to go up over time -- we can thank inflation for that. But while average debt levels in the credit card and auto industries have gone down over the past decade, student loan balances have gone nowhere but up.

Part of the problem has to do with the rate at which college costs are rising, but students aren't blameless, either. Many will go out and take on large amounts of debt to attend a big-name school, or live on campus rather than commute. The result? More graduates are feeling the pain after the fact.

5. An estimated 4.7 million federal loan borrowers are in default 

Defaulting on your student debt can harm your credit and result in other negative consequences, so it's always best to reach out for help if you can't keep up with your payments. There are numerous protections in place for federal loan borrowers, and it pays to explore your options rather than resign yourself to falling behind.

Interestingly enough, most federal student debt defaults are on loans valued at $10,000 or less. One possible reason is that those with smaller debts never managed to finish college (had they completed their studies, they would've owed more), and as such, failed to get jobs where the salaries would allow them to tackle those payments.

Clearly, the student loan problem isn't going away anytime soon, so if you're planning to take on debt for college, let this serve as your wake-up call. As long as you graduate with a degree, you'll be statistically more likely to out-earn someone without one, so don't be lured by those fancy private colleges and their graduate success stories. Instead, opt for a public in-state school, which, compared to a private one, might easily save you $100,000 in tuition alone over the course of a four-year degree.

Finally, don't underestimate the power of getting a job during your studies to help pay for school. Doing so will help you keep your debt to a minimum and help you build skills that lead to a full-time role after graduation. Chances are, you'll need a job quickly to start tackling the mound of debt you'll accumulate, even if it's smaller than that of your peers.

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