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Posted by: Walter Metzen
We all know college is expensive. But just how hard is it to pay off student loans?
According to new information published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), choosing the right school to attend can have a huge effect on your future — but not just on what type of job you might be more likely to get with a fancier college on your resume. It might impact your ability to pay off student loans.
Sure, picking a $40,000-per-year-tuition college over one that’s half the price should be a serious topic around the dinner table when you’re a high school student. How many grants or scholarships are you eligible and applying for? How big of a loan will you need to get to cover the rest? And how will you pay it all back?
The Treasury Department staffers who authored the working paper for NBER found that low- and middle-income college borrowers struggle with loan burdens after leaving school by matching tax data with information in the Department of Education’s Student Loan Data System. Most low-income borrowers haven’t touched repaying any of the original balance of their student loans five years after college, while a borrower from a high-income family has repaid about 19%.
This is because the employment outcomes for students from low-income families aren’t as fruitful. More than 1 in 10 students from families earning fewer than $30,000 per year are unemployed five years after leaving school, while another 36% are working but earning fewer than $25,000. Meanwhile, only 27% of students from families earning $75,000 to $100,000 are earning fewer than $25,000, while 8% are unemployed.
Additionally, about 1 in 4 borrowers from low-income families default on student loans within five years of entering repayment.
Why the difference?
According to the data gathered for NBER, students from low-income families face tougher challenges with student loans based on their lack of access to wealth. Often, the balance of their loans is larger than when they originally took them out, five years after graduating. Wealthier borrowers also rely less heavily on student debt to finance college, according to left-leaning think tank Demos.
However, the NBER paper suggests that when low-income borrowers attend less selective schools that are still in the middle of the road in terms of economic mobility, about half end up earning more than $25,000 a year after entering repayment.
It’s important to note that the data was collected for student loans in repayment between 2004 and 2009, the tail end of that being right around the time of the economic collapse.
According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, schools that ranked best for upward mobility for low-income borrowers were:
- Cal State-Los Angeles
- SUNY-Stony Brook
- CUNY System
- Glendale Community College
- University of Texas at El Paso
The percent of students who come from families in the bottom fifth but reach the top fifth of income distribution are included in the analysis by the Equality of Opportunity Project. Cal State-Los Angeles has the best mobility rate at nearly 10% of students achieving that tier, while the average college in the U.S. only churns out 1.9% of graduates who dramatically increase their wealth.
So, which college is right for me?
You’ll need to weigh a lot of factors when choosing which college is right for you: programs offered, acceptance rate, location, price, and more. If economic mobility is important to you, it’s good to have the data behind trends seen in colleges today.
The colleges reporting the lowest median parent income on the list include schools in New York, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, and Florida. Of the lowest set of parent median incomes, the best child (individual) median income was reported from graduates of Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in New York, where graduates ages 32-34 are earning $53,000 per year compared to their parents’ $30,900 per year.
No goal of becoming a pilot or engineer? That’s OK. If you go to University of Texas, most campuses will show results of a higher child income than parents’ income — many of which also tend to be in just the $30,000 range.
At City College of New York, you’ll earn $48,500 per year compared to your parents’ $35,500. At Cal State-Los Angeles, you’ll earn $43,000 for your parents’ $36,600.
Meanwhile, some schools aren’t the best choices, economically. Beauty schools, like Paul Mitchell in Costa Mesa, California — the lowest child median income on the list at $10,300 per year compared to their parents’ $85,200 per year — and some technical and community colleges can affect upward mobility rankings. However, students earning two-year degrees at public colleges, in addition to four-year ones, generally have an easier time paying off student loans. Community college also can help students save a lot of money by earning general credits they’d pay big bucks in tuition for per credit hour at a four-year school.
For students, both child and parent, who never attended college, they’re making just $11,500 per year on their parents’ $35,200.
Interested in what school results in the highest median income for students? It’s Saint Louis College of Pharmacy in St. Louis, Missouri. The median child income is $123,600 — but that’s also coming from a parent median income of $92,500.
What’s the best plan for paying off student loans?
Student loan debt can be tough. It’s important to explore all college payment options when also considering adding student loan debt, and when you’re able to start repaying your debt, you should begin doing so immediately.
It’s also important to know that if you’re feeling crippled by student loan debt years after college, you have options. However, the law makes bankruptcy only an option in discharging student loan debt if you can show undue hardship. If you can satisfy each of these requirements, you may be able to discharge student loan debt:
- Based on your current income and expenses, you’re unable to maintain a minimal standard of living for yourself and your dependents if you’re forced to pay off your student loans.
- You have additional circumstances that indicate that this state of affairs most likely will continue during most of your repayment period.
- You have made good faith efforts to repay your loans.
Student loans are considered to be in the lowest category of general unsecured debt, which includes credit card and medical debt. It’s incredibly difficult to get a discharge on student loan debt, even though a growing number of influencers in consumer bankruptcy think that it should be dischargeable. The best route, however, would be to research all your financing options fully before choosing a college, possibly pursuing a degree that may land you a job that allows for loan forgiveness, like being a public school teacher or a nurse, and getting on a repayment plan after you graduate and sticking to it.
Walter Metzen is a Board Certified Specialist in Consumer Bankruptcy with over 28 years of experience. He’s represented more than 20,000 bankruptcy clients in and around Detroit where his firm is located. View his profile here.