NEW YORK (MainStreet) — College grads are not just putting off student loan repayments, they're delaying large milestones such as marriage and buying a home.
One in seven Americans with student loans says they're delaying tying the knot because of the crushing burden of student debt, according to a recent survey conducted by Student Loan Hero and the research firm YouGov.
”People are literally upside down on their student loans," said Andrew Josuwelt, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Student Loan Hero, a fintech advisory site for student loan borrowers as well as soon-to-be college students.
Student loans represent the second highest debt per household after mortgages. More than 40 million Americans -- 15% of the U.S. population -- carry student loans, and the total student amount of that debt has escalated to $1.2 trillion dollars.
The typical graduating senior finishes college with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, which tracks student loan debt data.
Roughly 14% of American student loan borrowers say they're delaying marriage because of the debt from their college education, according to the YouGov/Student Loan Hero student loan debt survey.
”If you're severely burdened by debt, getting married might cause more financial strain on your relationship versus not getting married," said Josuwelt, who added the expense of exchanging vows extends beyond the big-ticket expense of throwing a wedding reception.
Getting hitched can also change a student loan borrower's status on income repayment distribution programs and in some cases increase monthly payments, the Student Loan Hero CEO said.
The survey found that grads saddled with loans are postponing milestones other than nuptials. Some 41% said debt is holding them back from buying a home, and 25% responded it's slowing them down from moving out of their parents' homes.
From those polled, respondents prioritize rent, saving money and entertainment activities like purchasing Netflix, over paying down their student debt. Only 5% of borrowers named paying off student debt their number one priority.
That said, 83% of borrowers are not paying down their students loans based on data collected in 2012, according to the Federal Reserve of New York's 2014 report "Measuring Student Debt and Its Performance." The same study found that 17% of borrowers are delinquent and are more than 90 days past due on their payments.
The soaring burden of student loans and associated high delinquency rate negatively impacts a borrower's ability for big milestones, such as home purchases or access to credit to buy big-ticket items, the New York Fed report finds.
So what can borrowers learn to pay off student loans?
Use online financial tools to manage payments. Learnvest, ReadyforZero and Student Loan Hero, to name a few, are online financial services that offer educational tools and list payment plan options for student loan borrowers.
Learnvest, founded in 2009, connects users to a personalized financial action plan with a “commitment calendar” to track money toward financial goals, such as paying down student debt. A monthly subscription costs $19 per month with a one-time set-up fee.
ReadyforZero provides debt management to consumers for all sorts of debt from credit cards, student loans to mortgages. The site pulls in all your financial data and maps out a customized repayment plan. Premium users pay between $10 and $15 a month, depending on the plan.
Student Loan Hero offers indebted grads information on student loan repayment programs that are available in their state as well as tools to compare refinancing options. Users can create accounts for free.
Shop around for student loan refinancing. Look for ways to refinance student loans at lower interest rates. A number of traditional bank as well as new fintech companies offer services to refinance student loans.
Some non-traditional student loan refinance companies, such as SoFi, DRB Student Loan and Earnest offer annual variable interest rates as low as 1.9% with fixed rates starting at 3.5%. These refinance companies evaluate applicants based on other non-traditional requirements, such as type of college degree or employment history.
Make paying student debt a priority. “Treat your debt like your house is burning down if possible,” said Josuwelt. Tackling $30,000 or $150,000 may seem daunting, but you need to cut down on non-essentials like your Netflix subscription and the like.
Prioritize student loan debt repayment into an overall financial plan alongside the daily necessities of life, such as buying groceries and paying rent, the Student Loan Hero CEO advises.