The National Association of Realtors joined with the nonprofit American Student Assistance to conduct a survey of only those student loan borrowers who are current in their repayments and therefore mostly likely to be financially ready to make a home purchase.
Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said their student loan debt is delaying them from buying a home. More than half said they expect that delay to last longer than five years.
“Americans are concerned about this widening inequality” of wealth, said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “One of the contributors is that the homeownership rate is at a 50-year low. For most middle-class families, they have always perceived housing equity as their main source of wealth building. But fewer people are participating in home ownership, particularly among the younger generation, and that is tied to student debt, at least according to our survey.”
With 43 million Americans carrying nearly $1.3 trillion in student debt, the burden is affecting all parts of the economy, not just the housing market. But the housing market has felt its effects keenly. The homeownership rate among the 35-and-younger crowd has plummeted from 44 percent at the height of the housing boom to 34 percent today.
Forty-three percent of those polled carried between $10,001 and $40,000 in student debt, while 38 percent owed $50,000 or more. The most common debt burden was between $20,000 and $30,000.
Because of their student debt, 69 percent said they don’t feel financially secure enough to buy a home, while 80 percent said they can’t save for a down payment.
Student loan debt isn’t just affecting first-time buyers, although that group’s participation in the housing market is at historically low levels. Yun said he was surprised to see that move-up buyers also were being hampered. Nearly a third of those surveyed who are current homeowners said they can’t afford sell their current home and buy another one because of student loan debt. Among the reasons cited were the expense of moving and upgrading to a new home, credit problems caused by student loan debt and owing more than their home is worth because student debt has limited their ability to pay more than the minimum on their mortgage payment.
Some have suggested that these student loan-burdened borrowers have been scared off by the negative media reports and could qualify for mortgages if they tried.
“It’s certainly possible,” Yun said. “But one looks at also the hard data, and the hard data is showing home ownership is low. The people that are qualifying for mortgages, their credit scores are way, way up there. People that are younger, they have yet to develop their credit. Other indirect data supports the attitudinal, emotional responses [of this survey]. It’s a consistent story with other hard data that is out there.”
The 33-question survey was sent to 75,000 student loan borrowers, of which 3,230 responded. Among the respondents, 67 percent attended a four-year college and 27 percent attended a graduate/post-graduate school. Two-thirds went to a public institution. Seventy-one percent are employed full time while 14 percent are part-time but seeking full-time employment.