If you're the sad owner of some of the $1.1. trillion of student loan debt in America, then you are less wealthy than graduates without debt, less likely to have a house, and probably holding the economy back. On the bright side, not all of the crippling debt haunting young adults is student loan related — mortgage debt and auto loan debt went up as well.
Pew Research Center released a report on Wednesday showing that debt-free college graduates have about seven times more wealth than their debtor friends — or $64,700 compared to $8,700 — despite making the same income. Part of that reduced net wealth is a result of all the other kinds of debt student loan holders carry, totaling $137,000 (compared to $73,250 for those without debt). The bright side is that having a college degree means you'll make more money, regardless of your debt. The down side is that the Pew study implies that students from poor families are more likely to be held back by their debt than students from wealthy families who have no debt. "It may also be the case that with the rising share of young adults enrolling in college these days, economic gaps between those who borrow for college and those who do not may be widening," the study says.
The most striking representation of the overall rise in student loan debt, however, comes from the Wall Street Journal. The New York Federal Reserve Bank found that student loan debt shot up 361.6 percent between first financial quarter of 2003 and the first financial quarter of this year, more than any form of debt — credit card debt actually went down 4.2 percent. During the first three months of 2014, student loan debt increased by $31 billion to a total of $1.1 trillion.
There's some debate over how much student loan debt is keeping young adults from buying grown-up things like houses and cars, thereby holding back the economy. The Washington Post's Jonnelle Mart reported on Tuesday that 27- to 30-year-olds with debt are now less likely than those without debt to buy a home, according to the Federal Reserve data. At The New York Times' Upshot blog, Neil Irwin argued that the data seems to prove that student loan debt is holding back the economy, especially since your can't declare bankruptcy on or foreclose a student loan. But The Atlantic's Derek Thompson argued that, actually, so few 27- to 30-year-olds are new home buyers because giant corporations are buying most homes. Student loans are depressing the market, but it's not the main cause.
The question now is what's being done about it. The most promising proposal has been Sen. Elizabeth Warren's bill, introduced earlier this month, that would allow students to refinance their student loan debt at today's much lower prices. As of now, it seems unlikely to pass but, as Mother Jones explains, very likely to be used by Democrats to shame Republicans. And even then, private loan lenders are more likely to give you the run around and over charge you than let you refinance your debt. If all else fails, just remember how much fun you had in college.