More than 44 million Americans currently have student loans, with the average debt hovering around $33,000. Of course, you likely know at least one person who took out much more than that.
While the majority of students have between $25,000 and $50,000 in loans, there's still about 600,000 people who owe more than $200,000 in student debt, according to ValuePenguin.
And the trend of graduating with student debt shows no sign of slowing. About 60 percent of current college students ages 18 to 24 say they are responsible for covering more than half of the cost of their education, according to survey from Ascent Student Loans.
But for high schoolers and their parents, it can be daunting to try and calculate how much is the right amount. There's a simple rule-of-thumb figure you should keep in mind, says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a financial advisor, board chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, tells CNBC Make It.
"You should never take out more student loan debt then you believe will be your first year's salary," she says. So if you think you're going to earn $50,000 right out of college, you shouldn't have more than $50,000 in student loans total.
And while student loan debt is considered "good debt" because it's generally low-interest and goes toward helping boost your earnings potential in the future, too much of it can really hurt your financial stability after college.
"Good debt is bad debt when you're drowning in it," Schwab-Pomerantz says. She adds that while she understands many people need student loans to fund their college dreams, it's important to keep the debt at a manageable level so they're not struggling financially later.
"I get that people want to stretch, but you don't want to drown in debt," she says. If you do end up taking out huge loans, you may be forced to take on credit card debt for living expenses such as groceries and rent. In fact, millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 have an average of $42,000 in personal debt each, excluding home mortgages, according to Northwestern Mutual's 2018 Planning & Progress Study.
The biggest source? Credit card debt. Card balances make up a full fourth of the average older millennials owe, while student debt accounted for about 16 percent, according to Northwestern Mutual. Additionally, millennials ages 25 to 34 also hold the highest amount of debt compared to other generations.
"The reality is that GenX didn't have as much loan debt or as much credit card debt because school didn't cost what it cost today," Maryland-based financial advisor Marguerita Cheng tells CNBC Make It.
For those already in the workplace, Schwab-Pomerantz recommends keeping your total amount of debt ⎼ including student loans, mortgage, credit card bills and other loans ⎼ to less than 36 percent of your total gross income.
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