personal finance

Majority of borrowers say taking on federal student loan debt is not worth it, survey finds


Nearly one-third of undergraduates borrow money from the federal government to pay for college. That’s about 43 million Americans who owe a staggering total of nearly $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loans.

A new survey found that 54% of federal student loan borrowers said taking on that debt was not worth it. Overall, however, 44% said taking on that debt was worth it, according to the CNBC + Acorns Invest In You Student Loan Survey, done in partnership with Momentive. (The online poll was conducted Jan. 10-13 among a national sample of 5,162 adults.)

Yet, many millennials and Gen Xers are far more skeptical. Some 63% of respondents ages 35 to 44 said, considering their current situation, it was not worth it to take out federal student loans. 

The average loan amount for federal student loan borrowers is $36,510.

Kate Bernyk, 39, finished graduate school nearly 15 years ago with two communications degrees and about $100,000 in student debt.

Kate Bernyk, 39, finished graduate school with two communications degrees and about $100,000 in student debt.

CNBC | Andy Tenke

“I used to be really proud that I had a master’s degree, but now it feels a little bit foolish,” said Bernyk, a New York-based senior communications specialist. “It feels like maybe I shouldn’t have gone because it’s really hard to put a price on what  the advantage has been versus the disadvantage of getting into debt.”

She still owes more than $30,000 in student loans. 

A bachelor’s degree holder earns a median of $2.8 million during their career — 75% more than if they had only a high school diploma — although when broken down by gender, women with a BA have median lifetime earnings of $2.4 million, compared to $3.3 million for men.

Loan repayment pause ending

Borrowers got a reprieve from federal loan payments when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. That relief has since been extended five times and is now set to end in May. The payment pause has given many borrowers more money to use for everyday expenses (48%) and pay other debts (35%), the survey found.

Yet, when federal loan repayments resume, one-third or more of the borrowers surveyed said they’ll have to delay other financial goals, such as paying off other debts (42%), investing money (40%), saving for retirement (38%) or buying a home (33%). 

Source: CNBC + Acorns Invest In You Student Loan Survey, conducted by Momentive

Every dollar they borrow is going to cost them two dollars by the time they repay the debt, and they don’t really think about that.

Mark Kantrowitz

Financial aid expert

Biden campaigned on a proposal to forgive $10,000 in student debt. Some Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are calling on the President to cancel student debt up to $50,000.

However, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said blanket loan forgiveness would be a “massive mistake” — and the extension of the student loan pause has already cost taxpayers over $150 billion.

Overwhelming to think about



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