What would you rather do than pay back your student loans? A recent study by LendEDU.com found that a significant number of Americans would prioritize traveling, buying gifts, or even worrying about their social media status over student loan repayment.
On the bright side, the LendEDU poll of 500 student loan holders in the repayment phase found that the majority of respondents gave student loans a higher priority over all head-to-head alternatives with two exceptions. Three-quarters of respondents prioritized credit card bills and other essential monthly payments like utilities and given the relatively high interest rates of credit cards, that's a wise choice. 56% of respondents chose to focus on the best possible living situation over student loan repayment.
Other tough calls fell just below the priority of student loans, such as establishing a credit history (42.6%), saving for retirement (31.8%), and performing well at a job (27.2%). These are all defensible priorities. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips.
However, far too many respondents prioritized trivial things over student loan repayment. Examples include traveling (27%), Netflix (17.05%), wardrobe upgrades (12.4%), Game of Thrones episodes (11.3%), maintaining an exciting social life (11%), social media (8.3%), and fantasy football (6.3%). The results suggest a mindset that, somehow, student loans will magically work out.
This mindset starts during college, with student loan money being considered "free money" by too many students. A previous LendEDU poll found that just over 30% of college students used student loan money to pay for spring break trips perhaps a valid priority from the collegiate perspective, but not the best use of student loan money.
Yet another LendEDU poll backs up the premise of free money. In this poll, just under half of students polled believe that they will be able to get some form of federal forgiveness of their student loans. Currently, there are few methods that allow student loan forgiveness, generally serving in public service jobs or teaching in underserved areas. (Death or permanent disability also allows for student loan forgiveness, but presumably, respondents would prefer neither of those choices.)
Perhaps this belief is driven by the expectation that, given almost $1.4 trillion tied up in outstanding student loans, the government will be forced to step in and provide relief to avoid economic slowdown. More likely, the thought of paying back tens of thousands of dollars is too terrible for people to think about and therefore they ignore it.
Either way, ignoring student loans is a bad choice. Defaults will affect your ability to buy a home and get credit for years. Moreover, student loans generally can't be discharged in bankruptcy. Your student loans aren't going anywhere.
Adam Carroll, Founder and Chief Education Officer of National Financial Educators, calls untended student loan debt "the worst weed to have in your yard, because if it goes unchecked, it will grow to massive proportions." Students who try to delay the inevitable, or hope for forgiveness that will not come, will pay dearly in the end. "By the time they start around to paying it back again, it has capitalized on itself where the interest is now the principal," adds Carroll. "They may have borrowed $40,000 and it's ballooned to $70,000, and if they pay for that in 25 years, they're, in the end, paying more like $130,000."
As painful as it may be, you must make repaying student loans a priority. Otherwise, you are likely to end up in a desperate financial situation down the road, wondering why you didn't take our advice in the first place. We promise not to say we told you so.
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