The Student Loan Debt Bubble

Student Loan Debt Hits $829 Billion Mark… Surpassing Credit Cards

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article detailing an alarming development in the college planning process…

“Consumers now owe more on their student loans than their credit cards.

Americans owe some $826.5 billion in revolving credit, according to June 2010 figures from the Federal Reserve. (Most of revolving credit is credit-card debt.) Student loans outstanding today — both federal and private — total some $829.785 billion, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and

“The growth in education debt outstanding is like cooking a lobster,” Mr. Kantrowitz says. “The increase in total student debt occurs slowly but steadily, so by the time you notice that the water is boiling, you’re already cooked.”


By his math, there is $605.6 billion in federal student loans outstanding and $167.8 billion in private student loans outstanding. He estimates that $300 billion in federal student loan debts have been incurred in the last four years.

Partially, this is a story about Americans paying down credit card debt, as many are seeking a new frugality. Meantime, many credit card companies are raising minimum monthly payments… and cutting off new and existing lines that consumers – in the past – may have turned to during tough times. Revolving credit, the majority of which is credit card debt, reached a high in September 2008 of $975.7 billion, according to Fed data.

Bottom line: A consumer who juggles both credit-card and student-loan debt is likely to pay off the credit-card first, as that debt tends to carry a higher interest rate.

In terms of volume, a person is likely to borrow more money to go to school today than, say, spend on necessities using a credit card during a patch of unemployment. Tuition at public and private four-year universities last year went as high as $26,000, with additional fees for housing and books not showing any signs of letting up either. It’s no surprise that many parents, reeling from the downturn, would turn to borrowing to make up the difference. With the cost of education increasing rapidly and the duration of unemployment increasing, perhaps the surprise is that this turning point didn’t hit earlier.

Student Loan Justice, a Washington State-based student loan advocacy group issued a statement on the student-loan eclipse, estimating that media coverage of credit cards exceeds coverage of student loans “by a factor of approximately 15-to-1 based on unscientific news surveys conducted since 2007.”

But student loan debt, in many ways, is different than credit-card debt. These loans typically can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. They have different repayment terms, some of which can have heavy consequences for borrowers who miss payments and borrowers’ families.

If there was ever a more obvious warning sign than $829 billion in student debt, I don’t know what it could be. Now more than ever, parents are in need of a rock-solid plan on how to pay for college… so their children don’t become part of this growing trend.

And step #1 of any plan should be to learn more about the college planning process… which we offer every day right here on this website.

Until next time,

Scott Weingold

P.S. Follow this link for more of our student loan research.

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