U.S. student loan debt has reached $1.3 trillion dollars, a figure that surpasses every type of consumer debt besides mortgage payments, and at the brunt end of this sad statistic are Millennials.
If that $1.3 trillion was divided evenly among the entire American population, every person would still have $3,800 of debt for only student loans. Of course, that debt is actually divided up mostly by Millennials — the generation born between 1985 and 2000 — who represent 54 million workers in the American workforce. A whopping 70% of them has debt of some kind, which is a shocking number compared to the generations that came before them.
Their average student loan balance is well into five figures and is crippling enough for this generation to put off spending on other major rites of passage, such as getting married and purchasing a house. A 2015 American Student Assistance Survey of Borrowers reports that 20% of all Millennials now put off getting married and over half chose not to purchase a home at all because of their student debt.
Student loan debt can create many obstacles in Millennials’ path to homeownership. First off, the amount of income left over after paying a monthly student loan payment is hardly enough to save for a substantial down payment on a home. Plus, this debt makes it much harder to get qualified by a bank for a mortgage, leaving some Millennials with a choice of obtaining either subprime mortgages or hard money loans.
These hard money deals are often sought after for their quick turnaround of about a week to process, making it easier for Millennials who are short on cash to get approved right away. But these loans also have a higher interest rate than standard loans, which only adds to their growing mountain of debt.
Property values are rising as well, causing another problem for Millennials who choose to wait a few years to invest in a home. Not only have commercial property values increased a 42% since their post-crash levels in 2009, but residential property prices are growing at a steady rate as well.
Take Boston for example: Residential home values there have grown 23.4% in the last five years. This means a home that would cost $300,000 in 2011 is now priced at around $370,000.
The homeownership rate throughout the nation is also at a 50-year low, which causes economists and realtors everywhere to worry about the future of the housing market.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors explains to The Boston Globe that first time homeowners are likely to create a positive chain reaction through the economy when buying a house, including the cost of moving and purchasing appliances and other items for the home.
Plus, Millennials are experiencing higher unemployment rates and sluggish wage growth, and “All of that is postponing the entry point of home ownership,” Yun explains.
It gets worse.
While financial experts believe that a college education is still worth its expensive sticker price, they have noticed some troubling trends underneath the trillion-dollar pile of debt.
First off, more and more students are going to college and getting expensive loans, but wind up leaving school before graduation. This trend is especially prevalent among minority and low-income students who lack the support of a wealthy family.
Secondly, Millennials’ student loan debts are going delinquent at a disturbing rate. Over 11% of loans are over 90 days late, and the defaults’ impacts on their credit reports can pose another problem to home ownership in the future.
And last but not least, those Millennials who are saving their money are not doing it in an ideal way. Most are using a general savings account, which represents a missed opportunity for growth, as the interest rates on those bank accounts are at an all-time low.
So where does that leave Millennials and the rest of us?
“The problem’s not just going to go away,” John Zurick, president and CEO of American Student Assistance said.
This debt affects everyone.
“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,” Zurick said. “It ripples all across our culture and economy.”