Americans’ accumulated student debt has topped $1.4 trillion, an all-time high. While that debt came in the service of providing valuable education, it can be a formidable hurdle for individual workers to overcome as they transition from student life into their careers. Check out nine surprising facts about the past, present, and future of the academic loan industry.
1. SCHOOL WASN’T ALWAYS SO EXPENSIVE.
After World War II ended with an Allied victory, the U.S. government rewarded those who served with scholarships under the GI Bill. Millions of veterans got a free education, while millions more who didn’t serve could attend for extremely low tuition rates that could be covered by working a summer job. This kind of nearly unrestricted access continued for decades until the economy took a downturn in the 1970s. As oil embargoes and inflation led to a sharp increase in tuition, private lenders started to take the place of federal aid, and the debt boom began.
2. DEBT HAS SURGED 58 PERCENT IN THE PAST 10 YEARS.
It’s easy to blame inflation for the ballooning student debt balances of the past decade. Graduates in 2005 owed an average of $17,233, while those exiting school in 2012 owed an average of $27,253. But average debts in the auto and credit card industries have fallen in the same period. The difference? Economists believe students have become more likely to take on higher loan amounts in the belief they’ll be able to secure higher-paying jobs after graduation. Unfortunately, those jobs can fail to materialize, leading to growing amounts of debt.
3. …BUT MOST DEFAULTS ARE ON LOANS LESS THAN $10,000.
Economists say that it’s a misconception that enlarged debt amounts are responsible for many of the defaults. By some estimates, two-thirds of delinquent loans are for $10,000 or less. Surprisingly, totals of less than $5,000 make it eight times more likely a student will default than if they owed a greater amount. One possible explanation: These smaller debts belong to low-income employees who didn’t finish school. For workers in lower income brackets, these smaller debts can still be significant obstacles.
4. YOU CAN LOSE YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE FOR NON-PAYMENT.
What could a student loan default have to do with your driver’s license? In some states, a lot. Residents of Montana and Iowa reported to have non-payment of loans can see their licenses revoked. Other states, like Tennessee, can also suspend professional licenses. In 2010, 42 nurses had to stop working when their loans became past due.
5. DELINQUENT? YOUR WAGES CAN BE GARNISHED.
It’s a vicious cycle for graduates trying to climb the career ladder. If an entry-level job isn’t paying enough to cover student debt, the lender—often backed by federal government protection—can garnish already thin wages in an attempt to recoup their money.
6. DEBT CAN AFFECT YOUR LOVE LIFE.
One prominent economist has tracked survey data that examined the correlation between student debt and lifestyle choices like marriage. For every $10,000 owed, the likelihood of getting married within seven years of graduation fell by 3 to 4 percent.
7. SOME EMPLOYERS WILL HELP EASE YOUR DEBT BURDEN.
Given the prevalence (and amount) of student debt today, some companies hoping to attract top talent are including loan repayment in their benefits packages. Before you sign up for the assistance, know that there will likely be a cap on how much you’re entitled to annually. Another factor to consider: The money your employer puts toward your student loan is counted as taxable income, which means the benefit could end up being a burden once tax time rolls around.
8. YOUR STUDENT LOAN INTEREST PAYMENTS MAY BE TAX DEDUCTIBLE.
If you make less than $80,000—or $160,000, if you’re filing jointly with a spouse—you can claim any interest payments you make on your student loans as a deduction. (According to the IRS’s website, you can claim this deduction even if you don’t itemize everything you’re claiming.) By claiming your interest payments, you may be able to decrease your amount of taxable income by up to $2500.
9. THE GOVERNMENT MAY OFFER SOME SUPPORT TOO.
In an attempt to help recent graduates avoid default, the federal government offers programs aimed at reducing monthly loan payments. One, known as the IBR (income-based repayment) program, will ensure payments comprise no more than 15 percent of an individual’s income. (It will also forgive any balances that exist after 25 years.) Surprisingly, only 14 percent of people with federal student loans take part in this and other programs. If you’re struggling with your payments every month, don’t despair: See if you qualify for an income-based repayment plan.