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Student loan balances jump nearly 150 percent in a decade

  • As college costs continue to rise, outstanding student debt has ballooned to an all-time high of $1.4 trillion.
  • Still, delinquencies have decreased, which may mean that consumers are managing their loan payments better than they have in the past.

For recent graduates, their student loan debt may very well shape the rest of their lives.

Over the last decade, college-loan balances in the United States have jumped more than $833 billion to reach an all-time high of $1.4 trillion, according to a recent report by Experian.

The average outstanding balance is now $34,144, up 62 percent over the last 10 years. In addition, the percentage of borrowers who owe $50,000 or more has tripled over the same time period, according to a separate report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

A college education is now the second-largest expense an individual is likely to make in a lifetime — right after purchasing a home.

Currently, about 13 percent of the country's population carries at least one student loan, Experian said, although it's increasingly common to have more. The average number of loans is 3.7 per person, up from 2.4 per person 10 years ago.

"Student loan balances are on the rise, which is a result of the increasing cost of higher education," said Michele Raneri, Experian's vice president of analytics. "I expect that the price of getting a higher education will continue to increase, so I wouldn't be surprised if the loans increase also," she said.

Still, delinquencies are down 3 percent since 2007, Raneri said, "which means that consumers are managing their student loan payments better than they have in the past," in part because they're better educated about credit in the aftermath of the Great Recession, she said.

"In most cases, higher education is worth the investment because student loans pay off in the form of higher income over time." -Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian

Many graduates have expressed buyer's remorse regarding the cost of their education, according to a separate survey by Citizens Bank. To that point, 57 percent said they regret taking out as many loans as they did, and 36 percent said they would not have gone to college if they fully understood the associated costs.

That debt also has long-term consequences. From buying a car or a home to getting married and even having children, many millennials are putting off life's major milestones because of their record debt.

"In most cases, higher education is worth the investment because student loans pay off in the form of higher income over time. However, it's especially important for young people to understand the terms of their loans," Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, said in a statement.

More from College Game Plan:
Last-minute tips for paying for college
The first steps to repaying your student debt

Three ways to avoid the financial death spiral of defaulting on your student loans

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