In our society, people have been expected to follow a certain path. Finish high school, go to college, get married, buy a house, start a family. These days, though, more and more young adults are postponing the wedding and the mortgage and the babies in favor of moving back home with Mom and Dad.
The lack of decent-paying job prospects for recent college graduates and the excessive student loan debt that most of them are saddled with has many young Americans putting their lives on hold to make their loan payments.
According to The Wall Street Journal, outstanding student loan debt in the United States has topped the $1 trillion mark. It continues to rise as current students take out more loans and past students default on payments.
Jodi Romine, profiled by WSJ columnist Sue Shellenbarger, borrowed $74,000 in student loans while earning a business management degree at Kent State University. Her student loan payments come to $900 each month, a whopping 60% of her monthly paychecks. Her fiancé Dean spends 40% of his monthly earnings on student loan payments. The couple is ambitious. Each puts in a 60-plus hour work week between multiple jobs to make ends meet and make their loan payments on time.
Their plans to get married and purchase their first home have been put on hold for the time being. They would also like to visit family more often or simply go out on occasional dates, but financial difficulties get in the way. The couple’s situation is not unique. A recent National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys survey found that members are seeing more and more people with student loans that are forcing them to delay major purchases or starting families.
As student loan debt continues to climb, the median age of marriage in the U.S. has dropped. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that a new study by economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight found that the number of young Americans delaying marriage and starting a family has increased. The median age of a first marriage for males was 27.5 years old in 2007. The median age for females was 25.6 years. By 2011, the median age of first marriage for males had crept to 28.7 and 26.5 for females. Fertility rates, which are calculated by the number of births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, have also decreased considerably. It is hypothesized that this is due in part to situations like Jodi and Dean’s.
Why are student loans wreaking so much havoc on our young adults? Unfortunately, it’s fairly common for college students to sign loan documents without putting much thought into how they will afford the payments once they’re out of school. A lot of borrowers “are very confused, and don’t have a good sense of what they’ve taken on,” Deanne Loonin, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Boston and head of its Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, told WSJ.
Students and parents look at a college education as an investment, and rightfully so. The difference in lifetime earnings between a high school graduate and a college graduate can be enormous but student loan funds continue to be borrowed without much planning.
The Baltimore Sun’s Susan Reimer compares student loans to buying a car. Most people realistically know what type of car payment their income will support and purchase a vehicle accordingly, but students and parents fail to make these same calculations for student loan payments. As such, they wind up borrowing so much money for school that they are shocked at the minimum monthly payments after graduation.
Reimer’s advice “Do the math and make the responsible decision: Don’t buy more college than you can afford” is something we should all keep in mind. It could help some new graduates make their loan payments and begin to live their lives as planned.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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