College Students Stressed about Finances

The findings suggest that the pressures of student loan debt and finding ways to make ends meet are weighing on America’s college students.

This survey was designed to give a more comprehensive picture of the financial lives of students beyond just their debt levels and loans,” he said. “We wanted to find out more about how they were managing their financial lives on a daily basis.”

The survey found that 64 percent of college students used loans to help pay for college, which is similar to what other studies have found. Students also indicated a willingness to borrow more to finance their college education if they expected higher starting salaries upon graduation.

When asked how much student loan debt they expected to have at graduation, the most common response (24 percent) was between $30,000 and $50,000. But 14 percent of responding students expected to owe between $50,000 and $80,000 and 7 percent thought they would owe more than $80,000.

McDaniel said she was concerned by how many students with loans borrowed right up to their limit.

“About 30 percent of students with loans said they borrowed the maximum amount for which they qualify each year, which may not always be the best choice,” she said.

“But the good news is that about half the students with loans said they tried to borrow as little as possible.”

About 43 percent of students don’t have a credit card and, of those who do, nearly half (47 percent) pay off the full balance each month. Of those who don’t pay off the full balance, the majority (55 percent) owe less than $1,000.

However, a sizable minority (8 percent) owe more than $3,000 after their monthly payments.

Financial problems lead some students to make difficult choices, the survey found. Nearly three out of 10 students said they reduced their class load because of the money they owed, while 16 percent took a break from their college or university and 13 percent transferred to another institution.

Still, the students generally felt good about how their finances would turn out in the long run.

Nearly 8 out of 10 said they believed they would be able to pay off any debt they acquired while they were still in school and 67 percent said that, when they thought about their financial situation, they were “optimistic about their future.”

Montalto said the survey results reported here are just the beginning of a long-term project. The Ohio State researchers will use the data to dig deeper into the financial wellness of college students, looking at the links between student borrowing, stress, graduation and other factors.

They plan to do another survey in two years with a larger group of participating institutions.

Other members of the research team are Kirstan Duckett, a research analyst, and Alicia Croft, a former graduate research assistant, both in the Center for the Study of Student Life.

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