Millennials: Forgive Us, for We Have Student Debt

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Someone needs to atone for the sins of student debt, but a large number of millennials believe it won’t be them. After decades of rising college expenses and record debt levels, students could one day experience relief with the help of taxpayers.

In the face of rising confidence, America’s largest generation says its debt burden will be forgiven in the future. According to a new survey from Junior Achievement and PwC, 24% of millennials think their student loans will ultimately be forgiven. Yet 50% of millennials are “very confident” in their ability to pay off their student loans, up from only 40% a year earlier. Meanwhile, college tuition and loans top the list of money matters worrying millennials ages 18-29, with 21% claiming it as their family’s main financial problem.

Recent legislation is likely to be at least partly responsible for millennials’ line of thinking on student debt forgiveness. Earlier this year, President Obama expanded loan forgiveness initiatives for federal student loans. Under the revised Pay As You Earn program, 5 million more borrowers are eligible to pay a maximum of 10% of their discretionary income toward student debt. After 20 years of monthly payments, the remaining balance is forgiven. Public service workers could qualify for loan forgiveness after only 10 years of monthly payments.

Junior Achievement and PwC found that one-third of student borrowers are paying over $300 per month, while 5% are making payments of more than $1,000 per month on their student loans.

Student loans are more popular than any other form of household debt, with the exception of mortgages. Since 2008, student debt has surged by 84% to almost $1.2 trillion, according to recent reports from Experian and the Federal Reserve. In fact, approximately 40 million consumers have at least one open student loan, with the average balance totaling around $29,000 per consumer. Nearly 11% of aggregate student loan debt is at least 90 days delinquent or in default, and this rate may be significantly underestimated due to various types of grace periods.

While debt forgiveness plans could encourage some borrowers to take out even more debt for college, new research from the College Board provides some hope for financial responsibility. Total education borrowing fell 8% between 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, and by 13% over the past three years. Borrowing per student also declined 6% in one year and 9% between 2010-2011 and 2013-2014.

Follow Eric on Twitter @Mr_Eric_WSCS

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