Student Debt Savages the ‘American Dream’: AICPA Poll

Monthly loan payments demand financial and lifestyle sacrifices for 81% of borrowers

How bad is the student loan crisis in the U.S.? Very bad indeed, according to a new survey released Thursday by the American Institute of CPAs.

Eighty-one percent of adults with student loans reported that their loans had forced them to make personal or financial sacrifices.

Fifty percent had delayed contributions to retirement accounts, up from 41% in 2013, and 46% said they had taken a second job, their moonlighting necessary to make monthly loan payments, up from 31% in 2013.

Nearly half had delayed buying or upgrading a car.

Harris Poll conducted a telephone survey of 1,005 U.S. adults in March on behalf of the AICPA.

“Recent graduates can face sticker shock when they get their initial student loan bill in the mail,” Gregory Anton, chairman of the AICPA’s national CPA financial literacy commission, said in a statement.

“For many, it’s their first realization that making the monthly payments will require financial and lifestyle sacrifices.”

For 40% of those surveyed, this meant living with roommates rather than alone. Another 40% said they had delayed buying a home, and 37% had moved in with family members.

Not only that, 20% of those with student loans to pay off said they had put off marriage, and 19% had delayed having children.

Anton said that although college is a stepping-stone for many to the American dream — marriage, children and homeownership — the way it is funded means they often have to postpone these things.

 “To put themselves on the best financial footing possible when they graduate, students should explore all available options for funding their education before they resort to taking out loans,” he said.

Looking back, 71% of those polled said they would approach their educational experience differently if given a second chance. Thirty-six percent would attend a community college for two years, and 34% would go to a public university instead of a private one.

Cost aside, however, 42% said they would pursue higher education in the expectation of getting a well-paying job.

This finding underscores the importance of a college degree in today’s society, the AICPA said. A recent New York Times report illustrated the difficulty in finding a job for those without one.

According to the report, the unemployment rate for high school graduates ages 17 to 24 is 18%, jumping to 33% when the underemployed and discouraged are factored in.

On the presidential campaign trail, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have offered detailed proposals to lessen or eliminate the cost of a college education. Republican Donald Trump has inveighed against the federal government for making a profit on student loans.

Lightening the Load

Anton’s commission offered several pointers to lessen the burden of student loans and deal with the financial aid process.

  • Look for ways other than student loans to pay for college such as scholarships, grants, work-study or part-time work, or consider attending community college or a public university instead of a private one.
  • See whether you qualify for military aid or employer tuition reimbursement programs.
  • Improve your chances of getting financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid soon after Jan. 1.
  • Carefully read before signing any loan documents with respect to interest rates, repayment terms, penalties and other important information.
  • Research the differences between need-based and merit-based aid, subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, Perkins loans, PLUS loans and private loans from commercial lenders.
  • Know about various repayment options: standard repayment plan, graduated repayment plan, extended repayment plan, income-based repayment plan and loan consolidation.
  • Understand that death and permanent total disability are two of the very few ways to get student loans discharged. (And on some private student loans, not even death will set your estate free.)

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