By Susan Tompor
Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) About $1.46 trillion in student loan debt has many millennials, as well as others, hiding their wallets and putting big ticket commitments on the back burner.
Detroit Free Press
Amanda Hill, 27, deals with big student loan debt by doing everything she can to keep her other bills small.
“I have cut out all the things that aren’t absolutely necessary,” Hill said.
She eats out maybe once a month. She limits her driving to control how much she spends on gas. She lives in an apartment in Southfield, Mich., near her job as a community outreach coordinator for the Better Business Bureau.
She avoids getting her nails done or shopping as a form of entertainment. She buys clothes about two times a year.
“Whatever you have, just make it work until the next season,” Hill said.
Hill, who is juggling $90,000 in student loan debt after graduating in 2015 from Hampton University in Virginia, figured she didn’t need a car payment on top of her monthly student loan payments.
So she bought a 2005 Saturn Ion last year from a woman at her church.
She paid $500 for her car.
“And I was surprised it actually worked,” she said. “But I had to learn how to drive a stick shift.”
Dreaming of buying a new car when you get that first job out of college? Or maybe buying your first house? It used to be a rite of passage. Not so much any more.
“It’s not going to be you’re 30 and you’re married and you’re going to have kids,” said Hill.
She has no timetable for when she’d like to buy a house or make other big purchases. She still hopes to go to graduate school but has delayed that until she has a better handle on her college debt for her bachelor of arts degree.
Right now, she said, it’s more about trying to stay afloat.
About $1.46 trillion in student loan debt has many millennials, as well as others, hiding their wallets and putting big ticket commitments on the back burner.
Plain and simple, many young consumers just aren’t ready to consume. And many sure don’t want to shop until they drop like their parents.
“This is really a pervasive trend and it will not be reversed any time soon,” said Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.
In a special report released in late February, the U-M research team noted that consumers younger than 35 aren’t terribly optimistic about making big purchases, unlike previous generations.
In the past decade, younger consumers have viewed buying conditions for homes, cars and other large household items far less favorably, the U-M survey noted.
The survey has been conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor since 1946. The survey monitors consumer attitudes and expectations.
What’s going on here? Some of it is, no doubt, all that college debt. But other factors may be coming into play, too.
One reason many young consumers are holding back their spending is that they’re frequently worried about taking on new debt, according to U-M report released Feb. 22.
College debt holding consumers back
Student loan debt in total is intimidating.
Outstanding student loan debt stood at $1.46 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Those ages 18 to 29 had the most college debt, more than $1 trillion.
“Average student loan debt at graduation is going to continue to increase,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for Savingforcollege.com.
The average debt at graduation is a bit under $30,000 for bachelor’s degree recipients, Kantrowitz said.
Borrowers in bachelor’s degree programs are increasingly hitting the borrowing limits for federal student loans, causing them to turn to private student loans and parent programs, such as the federal Parent PLUS loan.
The aggregate loan limit for Federal Direct Stafford Loans is $31,000 for dependent students and $57,500 for independent students.
Annual limits depend on what year the student is in school, ranging from $5,500 to $7,500 for dependent students and $9,500 to$12,500 for independent students.
Many have much more than the average amount of student loan debt.
In 2015-16, for example, 10.5 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with $50,000 or more in college debt, Kantrowitz said.
About 0.5 percent graduated with $100,000 or more in student loans. That’s counting both federal and private student loans but excluding Federal Parent PLUS Loans.
Baby boomers are far less likely than millennials to have ever faced such levels of student debt in the first place, in part because college costs were much lower for those who are now ages 55 through 73.
Even those baby boomers who had college debt, though, expressed much more optimism about taking on additional debt to finance homes, cars and other goods.
Half of baby boomers who have had student loan debt say it has not caused them to delay a major life or financial milestone, according to a recent Bankrate.com survey. But only 27 percent of millennials felt the same way.
Baby boomers loved to shop
Millennials, not surprisingly, may prove to have different spending habits than their parents.
“It could be that baby boomers were excessive in their material orientation,” Curtin told me in a phone interview.
Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, dominated consumer spending in the United States. Many defined the word consumer, as they bought cars, took vacations and headed to the malls. Boomers launched their careers during some strong economic expansions in the 1970s and 1980s.
The parents of boomers, by contrast, had lived through the Great Depression and World War II during a time when money wasn’t growing on trees, as many parents of the boomers told their kids, repeatedly.
So when baby boomers got out on their own, started making good money and had access to credit, they didn’t think twice about buying a new car or a home.
“Baby boomers thought ‘We’re living the American Dream,’ ” Curtin said.
Now, after watching their parents buy all kinds of stuff, and then fret over de-cluttering, millennials might to some degree be saying enough is enough.
Think about it: Marie Kondo is the new Martha Stewart of the era. Instead of telling us what kind of cookware and bedding to buy, Kondo’s Netflix series “Tidying Up” is forcing boomers and others to clean up their act. The message is to control your “joy” by only keeping what gives you “joy” and pitching the rest.
Millennials face their own set of unique spending challenges, too.
Many millennials found themselves burdened by student loans when better paying jobs were harder to find during an economic recovery that had been fairly weak early in the game. Some started careers at a time when it often was tough to negotiate a raise.
Nearly three out of four consumers ages 23 to 38 who had student loan debt delayed at least one major financial milestone as a result of those loans, according to a new Bankrate.com report.
More than one out of four put off buying or leasing a car. If you’re paying $300 or $400 a month on student loans, as many are, you think twice about whether you can really afford a car payment.
Hill pays $200 a month for her student loans but the payment was reduced based on an income-driven repayment plan. She’s paying $750 a month in rent; and $180 a month for basic car insurance.
She knows she’ll have to pay more toward those student loans one day as she makes more money and can afford it. So she doesn’t want to take on big bills now.
“There’s a real price for individuals across all age groups and our country as a whole from the mounting burden of student loan debt,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com in Washington.