NEW YORK (MainStreet)As if graduating college and landing your first job weren't enough proof of crossing the mythical threshold into adulthood, there's also the hefty nearly $200,000 price tag you'll pay to enter the ranks of the truly grown-up. Sure, we're all aware of the onerous burden of student loans (which according to a recent Nerd Wallet study now averages about $33,000 per borrower), but paying for your education isn't the only big purchase you'll make as you become a bona fide adult. Not even close.
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If, like many Americans, you'd also like to own a home and a vehicle someday the sorts of economic identifiers which mark the unofficial divide between our carefree youth and the responsibility of adulthood get ready to open your wallet again. When you add the average U.S. auto note and mortgage debt to the student loan amounts, it totals a whopping $194,082. These figures, taken also from NerdWallet and the Federal Reserve, vary slightly by source, but are nevertheless eye-opening for anyone graduating college today.
Of course, these numbers are just average figures. The wealthy or particularly frugal may not need to assume so much debt to afford the basic trappings of middle-class adulthood. And there's no law suggesting we all need to buy cars or homes. But it's worth pausing to note that college grads many of whom seek jobs in expensive large cities may face even higher costs. If you're planning on living and working in places like New York or San Francisco, you can tack on an extra 30% to 50% to those figures.
The headline figure also doesn't include credit card debt (typical for many first-time buyers of household essentials, for example), nor the cost of raising a baby. Adding these can send that average number north of half a million dollars.
Credit Scores and Home Ownership
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If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of this, take a deep breath: Even if you do decide to assume significant debt to afford home ownership, the impact on your overall finances may not be catastrophic. John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, says the decision to purchase a home while still in student loan debt, for example, isn't black or white.
"I don't believe it's right to put off buying a home simply because you are in student loan debt. Home ownership is a great way to build wealth, especially now that the real estate market seems to be recovering."
But according to a recent Fed study, that's exactly what's happening as the over one trillion dollars in student loan debt crimps borrowers' credit and hampers their ability to secure mortgages and auto loans. With over 45% of all 25 year-olds holding some student loan debt, it's a serious generational question.
But the relationship between student loan debt and your credit isn't direct; Ulzheimer says student loans typically only prevent you from getting a home loan when your debt-to-income ratio is too high. If student loan borrowers are having difficulty securing home or auto loans, it may be due to a confluence of factors (such as lower-paying jobs after the recession) not just the student loans, themselves. So, focusing on repaying your debt to more manageable levels (or increasing your income) should be a priority for young people considering home ownership.
Of course, this assumes you still view home or car ownership as desirable goals; a recent Pew Research study shows our generation's appetite for these has decreased significantly post-recession. Still, Ulzheimer says, the cost of adulthood mortgage and all- can have its rewards.
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"The impact of having a mortgage on credit scores is generally good, as long as you're making your payments on time," he says. "And, because a mortgage is an installment loan the downside is very limited. Installment debt just doesn't do much to your scores."
Janet Al-Saad is the founder of personal finance website FiveTenTwentyClub.com