Collective student loan debt altering entire U.S. economy

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

(CNN) — Millions of students are set to head to college campuses, and as many well know, that education comes with a hefty price tag.

As the nation’s collective student loan debt climbs further past the $1 trillion mark, students aren’t the only ones feeling the burden. That debt is altering the entire U.S. economy, for all of us.

“I’m 19 going on 20,” said college student Emily Vo, “and I already owe $30,000. I can’t explain it. If you’re not in debt, it’s a hard feeling to understand, so it is very emotional.”

Vo chose in-state tuition over a private school, cut spending to a minimum, and she’s working full-time this summer at a doctor’s office.

But it’s probably not enough. “Most parents and students think they’ll be paying off student loans for 5-10 years,” said Mary Morris, College Savings Foundation President. “The reality is it’s probably a lot longer than that.”

Morris said those first years off-campus can be different with debt. “No matter how much that is, it’s a bit of a struggle when you first get started. They have to delay, sometimes, buying a home, getting married, having children.”

Young people first feel the effects of that student debt while on campus, cutting back on things like vacations and study abroad. But, like the debt, the mindset appears to be having more of a carry-over after graduation.

Anthony Carnevale of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce said that “students are having to take longer and longer to reach a phase when they can be truly independent,” and that extended time has reshaped the entire U.S. economy.

“It distorts their own lives,” he said. “It creates distortions in the economy and reduces growth because they’re inhibited from going because they’re afraid of debt. They’re debt-averse.”

A recent survey by Bankrate found student loans delaying millennials from buying homes, saving for retirement and purchasing cars, and a recent study by the Pew Research Foundation shows more millennials are living with their parents than five years ago, despite a drop in the millennial unemployment rate and a rise in their earnings.

Vo said her friends remind themselves to “stay strong. You’re going to college for a good reason: to get an education. A lot of people don’t get that chance.”

Despite the debt, she’s set up a savings account, putting a little bit towards a financial future.

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