Thirty-seven-year-old Kelly Tynan would like to give her younger self two pieces of practical financial advice. First, go to state school; it’s far cheaper than a degree from a private college. Secondly, and relatedly, take on less student debt.
Student-loan bills now consume more than $700 per month of Tynan’s take-home pay, as a special-education teacher and mother of a 2-and-a-half-year-old in the Boston area. If Tynan didn’t have roughly $60,000 in student-loan debt, she could have saved more cash in her 20s, or would now live in a larger home. “I might have been able to take a few trips and have that experience of the world,” she says. “As a parent, that is nearly impossible to do now.”
Rising student debt is a central obstacle on the complex new financial landscape confronting Americans, particularly young people just starting out. In the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll, nearly three-in-10 young people who define themselves as just starting out cited paying off student loans as their biggest financial challenge; that tied with saving up enough money for major expenditures such as buying a home was their top concern. In sharp contrast, only about one-in-nine older poll respondents who define themselves as no longer starting out described student loans as the toughest financial challenge they faced in their own youth. Instead, older respondents pointed to making ends meet, not accumulating debt, and setting aside cash for major purchases as the greatest challenges in their early financial lives. (For an explanation of how the poll defined those who are still “starting out” and those who have advanced past that stage in their life, see here.)