One in five adults age 20 and older have student loan debt and more than half of them worry they may be unable to repay their obligations, according to a new study from the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership Project.
Some 19.6% of adults have school-related debt, researchers Caroline Ratcliffe and Signe-Mary McKernan explain in “Forever in Your Debt: Who Has Student Loan Debt, and Who’s Worried?” Fifty-seven percent are concerned about getting out from underneath that burden.
The study, funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, used survey data from the organization’s 2012 National Financial Capability Study. The FINRA Foundation developed the survey in consultation with the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and several federal agencies.
Student loan debt, the researchers determined, is not exclusive to the highly educated. Nine percent of people with no more than a high school diploma have such debt, possibly incurred for non-degree training or to fund a child’s education. Twenty-five percent of those with some college experience but no degree have student loans, while 30 percent of college grads and 28 percent of those with advanced degrees contend with student debt.
While 16% of whites and 19% of Asians have student loan debt, 34% of blacks and 28% of Hispanics do so. Debt is held by adults fairly equally across the income spectrum. Twenty percent of those in households with annual incomes under $25,000 have student loans, just 2 % more than those earning $100,000 or more.
Repayment concerns cut across demographic and economic groups but are more prevalent among people with financially dependent children, women, people not employed full time, and people with lower household incomes.
Ratcliffe and McKernan note the importance of being well-educated in today’s economy and recommend several tactics to help more Americans reduce their reliance on student loans, reduce repayment anxiety, and make college more affordable.