Millennials increasingly face a difficult decision: pay off student loans or buy a home. That's because doing both is increasingly impossible.
Thanks to soaring college costs starting in the early 2000s, millennials, more than any other generation, were forced to take out massive student loans to pay for their degrees. A decade or so later, they're still not in the black. In fact, student loans currently account for roughly $1.4 trillion of U.S. debt. Today, about one in four millennials has some form of student debt, according to Pew, with those holding a bachelor's degrees carrying about $25,000. And some, of course, have more, even, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt they fear they'll never be able to repay.
That level of student loan debt is not only causing financial stress — it's also keeping millennials from becoming home-owners, which denies them long-term stability and wealth they could eventually pass on to their own children.
A college degree is still worth having: Studies consistently show that a BA provides more secure employment, higher lifetime earnings and even a longer life expectancy. But if you have to pay for it yourself, a college degree doesn't give you enough of a boost to enable you to balance debt and saving for a home at the same time. Over 80 percent of those between the ages of 22 and 35 who have student loans say that debt is the biggest factor holding them back from purchasing a home, according to research by the National Association of Realtors.
The New York Federal Reserve also found that the roughly 35 percent drop in home owners between the ages of 28 and 30 over the eight-year period starting in 2007 was due, in part, to student loan debt. (The other major factor, of course, was the housing crash and foreclosure crisis that started in 2008.) Going a step further, the Fed found that, if student loan levels had remained at 2001 levels, more than 360,000 of those millennials would have achieved home-ownership.
"If people had the same levels of student debt as about 20 years ago, they probably would be buying a lot more homes than they are buying now," Wilbert van der Klaauw, author of the study, tells the New York Times, which concludes, "College loans have made mortgages a pipe dream."
Indeed, the more student loan debt you have, the less likely you'll be to own a home: The New York Fed found that those with $25,000 in student loans will have a substantially lower chance of owning a home by the time they hit age 33 than their debt-free counterparts.
Among older millennials, those aged 29-38, less than a third own a home, the NAR found. And younger millennials fare no better, with only 11 percent achieving home-ownership. Those rates are part of a wider trend that shows home-ownership among those in the 20s and 30s is at an almost 30-year low.
Sadly, that trend is unlikely to change anytime soon. Although the vast majority of millennials say they'd like to purchase a home, most are about a decade away from having the savings to do so, according to 2017 data from Apartment List.
A lot still depends on where millennials are looking to buy and their savings rates. For example, the research found that those in Miami may be able to afford a home in a little over six years. Residents of San Jose, Calif., meanwhile, will likely need to save for over 20 years.
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