Student Loan Debt Affecting Americans' Finances and Living Situations

Half of Americans with student loan debt say they have delayed contributing to a retirement account.

Student loan debt, which according to the Federal Reserve now totals over $1.3 trillion, is causing Americans to delay saving for the future and forcing them to take on multiple jobs. Eight in 10 U.S. adults with student loans say they have made financial or personal sacrifices because of loan debt, according to a survey from the American Institute of CPAs conducted by Harris Poll. Half of respondents say they delayed contributions to retirement accounts, up from 41% in 2013. A growing number of Americans are working a second job as a result of their monthly loan payments, with 46% in the current survey saying they’re moonlighting compared with the 31% who did so in 2013.

Student loans are also affecting Americans’ living situations and family planning. Forty percent are delaying purchasing a house and that same percentage are living with roommates. Thirty-seven percent are living with family members. In addition, 20% are postponing marriage and 19% are delaying having children.

“College is often viewed as a stepping stone to the American dream. However, the way education is funded could actually wind up delaying homeownership, getting married and having children – hallmarks of that dream,” says Gregory Anton, CPA and chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “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.”

Considering the effects of student loan debt, it comes as no surprise that almost seven in 10 Americans (71%) say they would have changed their educational experience if given a second chance. Approximately one in three (36%) would have gone to community college for two years or to a public instead of a private university (34%). Despite the cost of higher education, 42% say they would have gone to college in the hope of getting a higher paying job, underscoring the importance of a college degree in today’s society.

To keep student loan debt in check or avoid it altogether, the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission suggests students seek scholarships, grants, work-study opportunities or work part time; consider attending community college or a public university instead of a private one; check if they qualify for military aid or any employer tuition reimbursement programs; fill out FAFSA forms (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible after January 1 to improve the chances of getting financial aid; carefully read loan documents before signing them with respect to interest rates, repayment terms and penalties; and learn about the differences between various sources of loans and repayment options.