The Scourge of Student Debt

Avoid the ScourgeScourge: noun [skurj] A cause of affliction or calamity. There is no doubt about it, student loan debt is a scourge, particularly for Millennials.

A recent TransUnion study found that a decade ago, student loans accounted for only 12.9% of the total debt load carried by people ages 20 to 29. It now stands at 36.8%. Moreover, the average student loan balance for those with loans jumped to $29,575 from only $17,442 in 2005.

Student loan and credit card debt is killing Millennials. If a young person is constantly focused on debt, they are not in a position to save and invest for financial goals such as buying a home or saving for retirement.

The scourge of debt has led many to question the value of attaining a college education. While I believe there are some valid criticisms of the costs associated with attending college, I believe it is worth understanding there is a high correlation between education and income, and income is a significant factor in attaining wealth.

I don’t believe the right questions are “should I attend college and will it be a worthwhile return on my investment?” The questions should be, “What should I be studying at college and what is the best way to finance it and avoid taking on significant debt?” To the latter question, I offer three considerations.

  • Military Service. Individuals can learn a skill/trade while earning decent salary/benefits, use programs like Tuition Assistance (government pays 75% of costs) while on active duty, and the GI Bill once separated from service, all with the added bonus of serving your country. Individuals can earn a college degree (multiple degrees in fact) to pair with their training and real world experience at no expense…other than the service.
  • College Savings Plans. Forward looking parents should start a college savings plan (e.g. 529) as soon as possible. Unfortunately, too many parents are financially illiterate which negatively impacts their children with regards to matters such as determining how to finance an education.
  • Community College. There is no requirement, or need, to attend a university all four years. A better option is to spend the first two years at a local community college; staying at home and working at least part-time. Overall it is a great way to spend less money and be more prepared. The first two years are primarily spent just taking core courses (e.g. English) and lower level specialty courses anyway.

The infographic below nicely illustrates the exponential growth of student loan debt, suggestions for what the future might hold and options for paying for college.

Image created by Credit Sesame

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Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. Le sigh! Nice tips. I sometimes wish I didn’t go to a private school — I was banking on the reputation.

    • I would like to say that I had a master plan which helped me avoid debt in the form of student loans. However, that isn’t the case. The reality is that I had no desire to attend college right after high school but intuitively knew that working part-time in retail was a dead end, which led me to the Army at 17. Going to school later without the weight of debt hanging over me worked out better than I could have imagined.

      The only thing more troubling than reading about the debt younger people are dealing with – often after earning a degree of questionable value – is reading about those that have arrived at the conclusion college isn’t worth it. Experience and good fortune have taught me that college is absolutely worth it, and for most, absolutely necessary; however, great attention has to be paid to what is being studied and how it is being financed.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and add your thoughts, Melanie.

  2. I think there are so many options out there other than just going to university and I think people should be encouraged to decide which option is best for them instead of being pressured into university and debt.

    • Absolutely. A post-secondary education is still the best path to a middle class life and beyond for the vast majority of people; parents and students just need to be more engaged with finding better ways to finance that education.

  3. Cool infographic! We are definitely doing the right thing in spreading the word about 529 plans (and other plans). If my parents knew about this I probably wouldn’t have student loans right now.

    • Absolutely. College is ridiculously priced; however, there are ways to mitigate the costs and avoid significant debt … that can plague someone for a long period of time. Thanks for stopping by, Aldo and kicking off the conversation.

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