If today’s working-age households had the same level of student debt as those recently leaving college, what kind of effect would that have on their retirement?
New research from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College aims to assess the impact of growing student debt on retirement security.
“Student loan debt has been growing at a rapid clip over the past decade, prompting widespread concerns about its impact on the financial futures of young Americans,” write authors Alicia H. Munnell, Wenliang Hou and Anthony Webb in a report titled “Will The Explosion Of Student Debt Widen The Retirement Security Gap?”
According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt was $1.2 trillion in 2015 – compared with just $0.2 trillion in 2003. This data shows that student loan debt now accounts for more than 30% of total household non-mortgage debt, having surpassed credit card debt in 2011.
The average student debt level for recent college students in 2013 was $31,000, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF).
“The question is whether starting out $31,000 in the hole could have a big impact on households’ retirement preparedness,” the report states.
What the report finds is that, yes, it does have an impact.
“This impact occurs through two channels: directly, by reducing saving in retirement plans; and indirectly, by reducing the rate of home ownership and home values,” the trio write.
The report finds that households with student debt are 6.7% less likely to own a home and that the homes they do own will have a 5.4% lower value.
“With student debt and particularly delinquent student debt, it can be harder to get a mortgage,” the report states. “Thus, in addition to getting a late start on saving in a 401(k) plan, those with student debt may also delay buying a house, a potential source of income in retirement.”
To then assess the impact of growing student debt on the retirement security of today’s working-age households, the report uses the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI). The NRRI measures the percentage of working-age households that are at risk of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living in retirement.
As of 2013, the NRRI showed that, even if households worked to age 65 and annuitized all their financial assets (including the receipts from reverse mortgages on their homes), 51.6% of households were at risk of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement levels of consumption once they stopped working.