The Real Cost of Student Loan Debt

Financial EducationSMART529
May 31 2016

By Kim Ward, WVSTO Communications

On social media, you can scroll through your feed on any given day and see an article or meme referencing student loan debt in America. We often joke about the amount of time it takes to repay student loans, but facing a lifetime of debt is no laughing matter. It’s a harsh reality for most college graduates.

Starting your independent life with debt hanging over your head is bad enough, but a recent study published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review suggests young adults who graduate or drop out of college with student loan debt may actually have a lower net worth down the road. The study showed when these students reached their thirties, they had fewer financial and nonfinancial assets, and had homes with lower market values. So basically, what the study found is that student loan debt compromised the student’s ability to accumulate wealth after college.

The study shows that student loan debt is not a short term problem, it truly impacts a student’s well-being over the long term. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to college. Other studies show that students with a college degree or other type of higher education earn a million dollars more over their lifetime than students who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma. The real message to take away from this study is how important it is to search out other means of paying your college tuition so that there is no need, or at least less need, for loans. Look for scholarships, even small ones. Plan ahead and put money in savings, or better yet, invest in a college savings plan where you may be able to increase your savings. Almost every state offers a 529 college savings plan, named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment plan. You can usually invest in any state’s plan, but look first at your own state plan because they often offer additional tax advantages for in state residents. West Virginia’s plan is called SMART529, and offers three plan options for college savings.

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