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Survey of student loan borrowers shows payments average 20 percent of take-home pay

And that doesn’t count their credit card bills

Photo (c) bearsky23 - Fotolia
A new survey finds young borrowers are paying more than 20 percent of their take-home pay to service their student loan debt, which exceeds $1.5 trillion dollars for all U.S. consumers. 

Researchers for TD Bank say those monthly payments are putting a severe strain on borrowers’ long-term financial health. With payments costing almost as much as a mortgage, these consumers have less money left each month to meet expenses, much less invest for the future.

In a sample of young adults, the average total student debt is $26,495. Their average debt payment is $579 a month. That means one out of every five dollars of a consumer’s paycheck is spent on repaying student loan debt if their average monthly take-home pay is $2,689.

Obvious impact

The immediate impact on the economy is fairly obvious. With a $579 monthly payment, it’s that much harder to purchase a home. Even other major purchases, such as cars and furniture, are hard to manage.

It also makes it hard to save for the future. Six-in-ten people in the survey said they saved 10 percent or less of their income each month, and 20 percent said they aren’t able to save anything.

"The results of our survey show that student loans can have a ripple effect on borrowers' financial futures," said Mike Kinane, head of US Bankcard at TD Bank. "Consumers owe money before they even earn their first paycheck, which is troubling."

What about credit cards?

The survey did not measure credit card debt, but it is also a complicating factor in many cases. Millions of young consumers with student loan debt have also run up large credit card bills.

A recent report from suggests that millennials are struggling to pay their credit card bills more than their student loans. 

The study showed only 13 percent of millennials with a credit card pay the balance in full each month, meaning the other 87 percent are running up credit card debt. The average credit card debt in the U.S. is $5,700, according to the Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve.

"Most conversations around millennials and debt center around the nation's trillion-dollar student loan crisis, but the truth is, credit card debt is far more prevalent,” said Matt Schulz, an industry analyst at CompareCards. “With many millennials juggling student loan or car payments on top of credit card bills, it's no wonder some think they'll never be debt-free."

The TD Bank survey found 61 percent of student loan borrowers expect to pay off their balances in four years, which may be wildly optimistic. Another 24 percent expect it to take at least 10 years.

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