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Student loan debt hits record numbers

  • Report: Nearly one in five households has student loan debt
  • Average debt is more than $26,000
  • Student debt can even affect senior citizens
Student loan debt hits record numbers

Student loan debt is on the rise, and it's touching a record number of households in the United States.

A new report from the Pew Research Center finds 19 percent of households had student loan debt in 2010, up from 15 percent three years earlier. The average amount owed was $26,682. That's 14 percent higher than in 2007, and more than double the average debt from 1995. Around 10 percent of households have student debt of $62,000 or more.

Pew says there are a couple of things going on with the increase in overall debt. More people are going to college -- enrollment increased 15 percent between 2007 and 2010. In addition, the number of students borrowing for college, and the amount they're borrowing, have increased.

So, who owes the money and how is it affecting them?

Age: The vast majority, 70 percent of student loan debt, is owed by households headed by someone younger than 45. But you might be surprised to learn that two percent of student loan debt is owed by people older than 65. Often, these are loans that a parent or grandparent co-signed for their child.

Income: People across the spectrum saw their student loan debt increase, but the growth was most pronounced at the extremes. Households in the bottom fifth of annual income owed 13 percent of outstanding student debt in 2010, up two percent in three years. The wealthiest fifth of households owed 31 percent of the total, up from 28 percent. But, as you might imagine, the impact of student loan debt on these households is very different: it ate up 24 percent of household income for the bottom fifth, but only about five percent of income for the wealthiest fifth of households.

At more than $1 trillion, overall student loan debt has exceeded credit card debt in the United States. And it can cast a long shadow on recent college grads who may not be making a lot of money on the job, if they're lucky enough to find one.

HLN money expert Clark Howard has a few ways to keep student loan debt under control:

  • Only borrow what you can under the federal student loan program. Avoid private loans at all costs.
  • Try not to borrow more than your expected first-year salary for the job you intend to pursue.
  • Look into income-based repayment and other means of loan forgiveness.

Get more on student borrowing from Clark here.


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