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January 29, 2014 11:00 AM Half of Today’s 27-Year-Olds Are More Than $10,000 in Debt

By Daniel Luzer

Debt is becoming a big problem for American college graduates. While only 70 percent of college graduates have debt, among those who do it’s an average $29,000.

It gets worse. According to a recent report published by the Department of Education, about 80 percent of today’s 27-year-olds owe some money. About 55 percent owe more than $10,000.

But this is all 27-year-olds, not just college graduates. This comes from a study in which the Department, or its statistics arm, the National Center on Education Statistics, tracked high school sophomores beginning in 2002.

According to a piece at the Atlantic

More than 84 percent of today’s 27-year-olds have some college education. Only a third have a bachelor’s degree.
In 2011, today’s 27-year-olds were more likely to be earning less than $15,000 a year from work than they were to be earning more than $40,000.
At every single education level, more than 80 percent say their finances are at least somewhat stressful. At least 15 percent say finances are extremely stressful.

About half of 27-year-olds live less than 10 miles from their parents’ house.

This debt is a total. Education debt is surely a large portion of the problem, but there are other sources, including credit card debt and things like car payments.

All of this is not necessarily bad debt. A 27-year-old who owns a car may be making payments on that. That may be a sign of relative financial success, rather than economic problems (mortgages were excluded from the debt totals; about 20 percent of the 27-year-olds owned houses).

Still the numbers are interesting. The average 27-year-old is actually pretty limited in his choices. When you’re starting a professional life with $29,000 worth of debt, there are only some jobs you can take and it’s hard to get married or start a family. About 22 percent of people surveyed still lived with their parents. Almost 19 percent of college graduates lived with their parents.

The report didn’t break down the precise amount of this debt that is credit card debt, though it seems reasonable to think that a lot of people in this age group have significant credit card debt due to things like unpaid internships they take in order to try to obtain professional jobs. Either way, this seems to represent a situation that isn’t working out all that well.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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