Release date 06/28/2016
YONKERS, NY — Consumer Reports has partnered with the nonprofit Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to produce a special report examining the nation’s growing student debt crisis, in which some 42 million people owe $1.3 trillion. The report explores how the crisis occurred, and what people—including parents and students—can do about it today.
The education debt report is being released concurrently today by both institutions, with a cover story in Consumer Reports’ August issue, and online at both ConsumerReports.org/studentdebt and RevealNews.org/studentdebt. CR and Reveal contributed unique pieces of content, including separate articles reported and written by each organization, along with videos, infographics, survey findings, and student profiles. Reveal’s version of the investigation dives deeper into the players and decisions that created the student debt crisis today—including the roles played by banks and investment firms, private investors, debt collection agencies, the federal government, and public universities. In addition, the topic is the focus of Reveal’s hour-long public radio show and podcast, which begins airing on public radio stations across the country starting on Saturday, July 2, and will be available on the Reveal podcast on Monday, July 4: revealnews.org/podcast.
CIR and Consumer Reports also are partnering on a social media campaign using the hashtag #mydebtcouldbuy. On Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, we are asking readers to share the amount they owe in student debt, paired with the hashtag and an example of what they could purchase for that amount: for example, a new car, a tropical vacation, or 2,500 cups of coffee.
The two organizations hope that this joint effort will illuminate the forces that led to the debt crisis, illustrate the profound and lasting impact the debt can have, and offer practical advice for those looking to avoid the trap. The report includes a guide on how parents can have a frank talk about financing college with their teens, built around 10 key questions every family should discuss before they choose a school.
Degrees of Debt & Regret
Because the data consistently shows that getting a college education translates into a better future and higher lifetime earnings, it should be worth the money you spend on it. But try telling that to the 1,500 Americans with student debt who responded to a nationally representative March 2016 Consumer Reports National Research Center survey. The burden of paying off significant loans has left many questioning whether college was worth the cost after they left.
Forty-five percent of people who are no longer in college and have student loan debt said that college was not worth the cost. Of those who said college wasn’t worth the money:
38% didn’t graduate
69% have had trouble making loan payments
78% earn less than $50,000 per year
43% didn’t get help from parents when making financial aid decisions
CR’s survey demonstrated that once people leave college, student debt impacts them in a variety of ways. For example, 44% cut back on day-to-day living expenses, 37% delayed saving for retirement or other financial goals, 28% delayed buying a house, 12% delayed marriage, and 14% changed careers as a result of student debt.
The package includes a section called “Having the College Money Talk,” which suggests that parents and teens sit down together for a frank discussion about family finances and create an action plan so that everyone can weigh his or her options rationally when acceptance letters and student aid offers are on the table. It begins with 10 key questions. For the full report, visit: ConsumerReports.org/studentdebt. Here’s a look at some of the questions and tips:
What does your student want to get out of college? Only 39% of college students graduate in four years, often because they change majors or take classes that don’t count toward the degree they eventually choose. High school students can explore career options before they head off to college through volunteer work, gap years or job shadowing.
How much will college cost, bottom line? How much you pay depends on your family’s financial situation, the student’s academic record, and other factors. To evaluate a school’s true cost, you need to get down to the “net price.” And don’t assume that their state university will be the most affordable option. Some smaller private colleges can be cheaper than flagship state schools.
Should parents contribute, and if so, how much? Financial advisers say parents should prioritize saving for retirement over paying for their kids’ college. Experts CR consulted provide a specific rule of thumb on how much parents can borrow without affecting their own financial security.
What about community college? Starting off at a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution can be a good way to reduce costs. CR highlights the growing number of states and cities offering programs that make community college more affordable or even free.
Any other ways to cut costs? CR looks at other options for reducing costs, such as studying abroad and using ROTC scholarships for those interested in a military career.