The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. student loan debt reaches a staggering $1.53 trillion.

For the second quarter of 2018, outstanding student loans hit $1.53 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

With the increase in student debt, we can’t keep ignoring the long-term effects it’s having on people’s ability to build wealth.

For the second quarter of 2018, outstanding student loans hit $1.53 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

This won’t come as a surprise to the many people struggling to handle their school loans. Burdened by monthly payments, many say they can’t afford to buy a home.

NeighborWorks America recently released its national housing survey. A key finding was how significantly student loans have affected homeownership.

“Millennials are shouldering most of the ballooning student loan debt, which has risen 130 percent since 2008,” NeighborWorks said. “Women carry nearly two-thirds of the total, or almost $900 billion.”

Fifty-seven percent of young adults said they felt burdened by their student loans. More than one in three respondents said they had delayed buying a home because of their debt or they know someone who has done so, according to the survey.

“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,” wrote The Washington Post’s Michele Lerner. “The burden is greater in areas with high housing costs, because the loan payments add to already strained budgets.”

[Read: New report details extent of how student loan debt weighs on prospective home buyers]

Here’s what one reader, with $70,000 in loans, said in commenting about the NeighborWorks report: “Student loan debt is literally the only reason I do not own a home. Even with ridiculous property prices in the District, I would be able to swing at least a halfway decent condo in a good location, if I wasn’t paying hundreds upon hundreds of dollars in student debt each month. I’ve been making regular payments of hundreds of dollars every month for the last four years, and my total balance has barely had a dent put in it.”

Some were quick to criticize this borrower, to which the person followed up by saying: “I took on the loan fully understanding what I was doing. But we’ve got to take a hard look and a hard think about our society on this point. We live in a time where most well-paying jobs require (at least) a college degree, and where getting one of those requires a significant portion of young people to essentially forego owning their own home (part of the much venerated ‘American Dream’) for years and years. Previous generations just didn’t have this problem. My parents and grandparents paid most or all of their way through school by working summer jobs — something that just isn’t possible for the vast majority of students today. My generation is facing an unsustainable system of semi-forced indebtedness that has real consequences on our ability to make significant life purchases.”

Many experts agree with this person’s observations.

“American higher education badly needs reform,” wrote F.H., who teaches at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. “Over the past two decades, universities have regarded the availability of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal student loans as an excuse for staggering tuition increases. Now students graduate with intolerable levels of debt, in an economy where they often can’t find jobs to pay it back. And too many universities have become political-indoctrination factories or intellectual babysitters instead of providing useful educations and preparing students for the adult world.”

[Read more: The silver bullet for student debt: Bankruptcy]

Many people see their student loans as a debt sentence so crushing they can’t see a way out. For them renting is in their foreseeable future, as it should be. As much as they may want to own a home, it’s important to pay down as much of the loans as they can before adding on more debt.

It’s okay to rent until you’re in a better financial position to buy a home. As I’ve said before, you are not a financial failure if you rent. Although homeownership can be a net-worth builder, it also comes with a lot of expenses.

And while you’re getting rid of your student loans, get good home-buying advice from organizations such as NeighborWorks America.

Read more:

Sometimes, it pays more to rent your roof than own it

You have $100,000 in student loans. Should you save for retirement or pay off debt?

5 ways to afford college without student loan debt

Color of Money question of the week

Are your student loans keeping you from buying a home? Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Student Loans.”

Live chat today

Let’s talk about your money. I’m live at noon (Eastern time) today to take your personal finance questions.

I'll be joined today by Lisa M. Cini the author of “Hive: The Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living,” which was the Color of Money Book Club pick for last month.

Here’s the review: Who’s living under your roof? Why a multigenerational household can strengthen your family finances and bonds.

It’s also “Testimony Thursday” so share with me your success stories. Have you paid of debt? Did you finally reach your emergency fund goal?

To join the live discussion click this link.

Multilevel marketing, a web site that helps consumers compare financial products, recently surveyed 1,049 multilevel marketing participants involved with at least one company over the past five years.

The survey found that most people were making less than 70 cents an hour in sales — and that was before deducting their business expenses. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they earned less than $500 over the past five years.

[Read more: Why multilevel marketing won’t make you rich]

In last week’s newsletter I asked: Have you been involved in a multilevel marketing business? If so, were you successful?

L. Davis from Dallas, wrote, “I actually worked for an MLM two to three years ago, as their head of supply chain. As I learned more about the company, the more ‘dishonest’ I felt. The ‘sell’ to our IBO's (Independent Business Owners) was the commission. I asked our head of accounting what percentage of IBOs actually earned a commission, and was shocked to find out it was about 3 percent. While helping to set up for a sales event, the hard sell was very apparent. If you didn't invest at least $1,000, how serious could you be about getting rich? The guys at the very top made a ton of money, but there aren't many of those. Refunds? Not going to happen. There is constant pressure to buy more even if you haven't sold what you previously purchased. A lot of people, without much money and in pretty desperate shape, doubled down on a bet that wasn’t going to pay off.”

Stu Stuart from Canada wrote, “I have been involved in a couple and actively recruited for many more. Basically the problem I have found is no one wants to sell the product. The dream is not fulfilled grinding it out. Personally I think concept is okay of it is the product you like and believe in, the margins are good and you can buy based on sales rather than inventory.”

Color of Money columns this week

Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

Stay informed about your money.

In addition to this newsletter, please read and share my weekly personal finance columns.

How I lost my perfect 850 credit score — and how I got it back

Debunking the myths about college financial aid

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Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested.

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