The new NeighborWorks America at Home survey says that nearly 60 percent of Americans who have student loans say the debt is at least somewhat of an obstacle to buying a home. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

While prospective home buyers are told to reduce their debt and improve their credit to prepare for buying property, the burden of student loan debt remains an obstacle that keeps many people renting for longer than they might like. The burden is greater in areas with high housing costs, because the loan payments add to already-strained budgets.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans who have student loans say the debt is at least somewhat of an obstacle to buying a home, according to the sixth annual NeighborWorks America at Home survey. Nationally, total student loan debt is more than $1.5 trillion, representing 42 percent of all consumer debt. Student loan debt has increased 130 percent since 2008 and has the greatest impact on millennials and women.

NeighborWorks’ research found that women are disproportionately impacted by student loan debt and carry two-thirds of the national student loan debt, or almost $900 billion.

The NeighborWorks survey found that 29 percent of women have student loan debt, compared with 23 percent of men. In addition, women of color carry more student loan debt than other groups, at 48 percent, compared with 22 percent of white women and 15 percent of white men.

Fifty percent of women with student loan debt say they worry about debt all or most of the time. Thirty-eight percent of women said they know someone who has delayed buying a home because of student loan debt.

A housing counselor can provide information about down payment assistance programs and work with people to develop a budget to pay down loans and prepare to buy a house. Nonprofit credit counselors also provide advice for student loan repayment options. The NeighborWorks survey found that 46 percent of millennials are not aware that local nonprofits offer free or low-cost student loan debt counseling.