Student Debt

How Much College Debt Do Our Students Owe?
(And what does it really mean?)

As it turns out, these are not easy questions to answer. Metrics like consumer confidence, credit card debt, homeowner debt, unemployment and gross domestic product, all of which help us contextualize our financial situations, are readily available. Additionally, the data used to report these metrics are current. If not monthly, much of these data are reported quarterly. The numbers are annualized, sliced and diced, and contextualized in many ways by analysts, economists, politicians and academics on a continual basis.

So one might think that data about the average college loan debt carried by a 2013 graduate would be fairly easy to find. After all, it is an issue that is widely discussed across a variety of media, which often leads to a discussion about whether or not it is “worth it” to get a college degree.

Logically, someone interested in measuring the return on his or her investment in a college education would want to begin with a litmus test, a benchmark, some measure that answers the question, “How does the amount of debt I am carrying compare with the national average?”

Anyone looking for a number that can accurately answer this question, however, finds that it does not exist. We asked an expert why the data on student debt are so hard to find, and what that means for new graduates.

  • Paying for College
    Creativity, sacrifice and determination make the difference

    The headlines stir anxiety on an almost weekly basis: “Sticker Shock,” “College affordability is a struggle as state aid drops, tuition rises” and “Students battle college costs, one paycheck at a time.” There is no doubt the cost of earning a college degree can be daunting for students and their families. Tuition, fees, room and board, book rental fees and incidentals quickly add up.

  • How do you know what you owe?

    Total student loan debt outstanding exceeded credit card debt in 2010 and auto loan debt in 2011, and reached the $1 trillion mark in 2012. While these milestones are impressive, it is more important to consider the impact of student loan debt on individual borrowers.