Student debt has reached an alarming benchmark as it now tops $1 trillion with nearly two-thirds of college graduates carrying a debt burden.
Loans for higher education exceed all other consumer loans except for mortgages and there is a growing concern about this new financial drag on the economy.
Kristen Mercado is proud of her college and graduate degrees but says the $100,000 in student loans are crushing her.
Mercado said, “I’m sitting here sometimes wondering, ‘Oh, can I afford to go do food shopping today or do I need to wait until my next paycheck?’ And I’m sitting here feeling like, what was the point?”
She says the loans take a quarter of her take home pay as a social worker, leaving her barely enough money for living expenses.
However, government loans do have advantages over private loans.
You may have the right to a temporary deferment or a flexible repayment plan.
Experts say students should only get loans from private lenders, like banks, as a last resort.
Suzanne Martindal, an attorney and student loan expert, said, “Private lenders don’t have to offer flexible repayment plans to students and they may not come with fixed interest rates, for example. And so that may make them costlier and riskier, harder to repay.”
Officials say you can also consider attending a state school, submit a federal loan application and borrow only what you need in order to minimize student debt.
Consumer Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, says no matter how careful borrowers are, their debt is having a profound effect on the economy.
Martindal said, “In record numbers, young people in their 20s and 30s are delaying major purchases such as buying a car, buying a home, starting a family.”
Mercado said, “How could I even fathom having money to put down on a house?”
Consumer Union is calling for changes in current law so students get standardized, easy to read information about their financial aid options.
They want that to include information on grants and scholarships before they commit to loans.
Also, they say students should have the right to refinance their loans.
They also want private lenders to be required to offer flexible payment options, like the government.