Student Loan Debt Takes Its Toll on Housing

by James McClister

In the last decade, student loan debt has become a major hindrance to young college graduates entering the home buying market.

The saddling of debt is a struggle millions of Americans can relate to. And though, traditionally, household debt has been attributed to frivolous credit card spending and overpriced automobiles, a new report from the Dallas Fed illustrates that while that might have been true in the early 2000s, student loan debt has since become a far more imposing albatross.

In 2003, student debt was a blip on the larger debt spectrum, falling well below the national rates of auto and credit card lending markets. However, in the more than 10 years since then, student loan debt has skyrocketed, ballooning from just $241 billion to $1.1 trillion in June 2014, which amounts to a compound annual growth rate of roughly 15 percent. For perspective, cumulative credit card debt stands at $669 billion, while auto lending is slightly more significant at $905 billion.

The Impact on Housing

The impact the increasing prevalence of student loans has had on real estate is considerable, according to a separate financial study from John Burns Real Estate Consulting. In 2014, the company projects:

  • 414,000 housing transactions will be lost due to student debt.
  • Lost transactions will amount to $83 billion in foregone sales.
  • As a result of student debt, 8 percent fewer homes will transact than normal.

A New Millennia

In our modern economic climate, it’s easy to look at student debt as this long, persisting fungus that clings and spreads and is essentially unavoidable – a means to a beneficial end, which, in some ways, it is. But the idea of student debt being part of the whole “college experience” wasn’t set in stone until the turn of the millennium.

In the early 90s, according data from the Pew Research Center, college graduates were hardly coming out of school racked with outrageous debt. Of course, some students left university dragging the burden, but those few were relegated to graduates coming from already low-income families.

For the class of 1992-93, the average amount of cumulative debt facing students was just over $12,000. Twenty years later, that figure has more than doubled. In 2012, the average college graduate left with $26,885 of cumulative debt.

The Dallas Fed argues that the benefits of college still tend to outweigh the costs, and that rising student debt levels may be the result of expanding enrollment levels and expected rises in tuition rates and fees, but the fact remains that student debt is more and more keeping Millennials out of the homebuying market.

New legislation from the Obama administration, namely an expansion of the 2013 Student Loan Forgiveness Act, promises to alleviate some of the pressures of building loan debt. However, the benefits won’t available to borrowers until, at the earliest, December 2015, and even then the legislation fails to address the larger problem, which is the rising cost of tuition.

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