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College debt high despite lower credit card, general debt

While national debt has decreased overall, student loan debt has grown substantially due to the nature of loans and their respective payment plans, said Boston University professors.

“The main reason is that students’ interest rates are subsidized, so they are lower than any other source of borrowing,” said Randall Ellis, a College of Arts and Sciences economics professor. “Most likely the student loan is the last one [debt] you should repay.”

Students might default on their student loans if the loans to not require students to pay back their debt right away or if the students choose to go to graduate school rather than entering the job market after graduation, Ellis said.

Student loan debt totals $956 billion, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York press release Tuesday, marking a $42 million increase in the third quarter. However, overall consumer indebtedness shrank $74 billion.

“The increase in mortgage originations, auto loans and credit card balances suggests that consumers are slowly gaining confidence in their financial position,” said Donghoon Lee, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the release. “As consumers feel more comfortable, they may start to make purchases that were previously delayed.”

Heather Jarvis, a student loan expert who spoke about student debt relief at the School of Law on Nov. 14, said students might have a difficult experience repaying student loan debts because they cannot find jobs after graduation.

“The job market is difficult and education doesn’t guarantee a lucrative starting position to the same extent that it once did,” Jarvis said. “People who are graduating with good educations and obtaining degrees are struggling and having to work hard and take time before they can find the right employment.”

But Kevin Lang, a professor of economics, said the overall labor market as well as the job market for young adults, has improved during 2012.

“It therefore seems likely that the market for young college graduates has improved,” he said in an email.

Students are paying other bills, such as credit card bills, before student loan bills because student loans are more flexible than other types of loans and have lower interest rates, Jarvis said.

Jarvis also said the increase of loan debt goes hand-in-hand with the recent increase in the cost of higher education.

Rebecca Ness, a College of Fine Arts sophomore, said student loans will be a significant burden for her after she graduates.

“More money was given to me at other schools, but I came here for academics, rigor and notoriety of it,” Ness said. “I knew what I was getting into, but it’s still frustrating.”

Ness said she is nervous about the future after hearing that a number of her friends who graduated are having trouble finding employment.

“I am going to go straight to grad school so I can have a better chance of getting a job,” she said. “But still, then I’ll have to pay for grad school. It’s a vicious circle.”

The speed at which a graduate pays back student loans depends on how successful he or she is after graduation, said Amber Campa, a College of Engineering junior. And while the job market is tough, many ENG graduates have had success finding employment, she said.

“In the College of Engineering, a lot of seniors I know found jobs, even before they graduate as seniors,” Campa said. “They’re pretty set when they graduate.”

Chelsea Cohen, a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student, said students who have trouble finding jobs and paying their student loans might choose to go to graduate school instead.

“That just makes the loan issue more, because grad school also costs money, so it’s piling on more debt,” she said.

Cohen, who previously attended Florida State University, said the majority of her undergraduate friends found a job within six months of graduation.

“It’ll be interesting to watch how things go the next six months because we just had the re-election,” Cohen said. “I don’t really know if we can tell just yet what the market is going to do.”

Lang said the economy is in an upswing, but worries if that can maintained itself.

“To some extent, that depends on our political leaders behaving responsibly and to some extent it depends on developments in Europe, China and elsewhere that are largely beyond our control,” he said.

Ellis said college graduates still have lower unemployment rates than the national average.

“Things may be tough,” Ellis said. “But [for BU graduates] it’s still better than a lot of people are finding.”

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