There is a student debt crisis. There are many students who have graduated, saddled with debt, only to find that the job market is not favorable in their area of study. Still others never finish college, yet still have the debt to repay. It feels like they are facing years of struggle to overcome this burden.
Is it any wonder that this crushing debt has a huge effect on mental health too? Depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders often accompany student loan debt. The biggest question is what to do about it. Until there is significant legislative reform or the cost of higher education stabilizes, student debt will continue to be an issue. What can be changed is how we react to that debt, how we deal with the stress that comes with it, and what preventative strategies can be employed before problems happen.
This involves a few different steps. First, we must understand what student debt is, where it comes from, and how much is too much. Then we must understand how student loan repayment will affect life after graduation. It must also be emphasized that there is a repayment rebound that will happen, but often patience is required. Student debt does not have to be as great a threat to the mental health of college students. Here are some ideas to get things under control:
How Much Is Too Much?
One of the biggest questions under debate is “how much student debt is too much?” The answers vary by profession and the school a student chooses to attend, but the primary question should be a simple business equation: The cost and benefits must be understood and weighed before student debt is incurred.
This is often a difficult process. By the time a student realizes how much debt they will have upon graduation, they may be partly or even most of the way through their education. Circumstances change, and many lower-income students without the support of parents and family also take cost-of-living loans in addition to tuition assistance. This greatly increases the amount of debt they accumulate.
Many students are also weighing the benefits of trade school vs. a traditional college. There was a time when a degree might have yielded you a larger salary or even prepared you for management and other positions in your career ladder that a trade school would not. While this is still true to an extent, the difference between costs has become a huge factor. Many students feel they can start a career and pay off loans, returning to college for more schooling if they need to later on.
This outlook has also led to the growing segment of working professionals who are seeking degrees both online and in person. Many must either move through classes slower or take more loans to cover their living expenses while they are in school. This often leads to more debt in the long run rather than less.
In fact, the average student borrower graduates with $37,172 in debt, and that is just for an undergraduate degree. Post-graduate studies cost even more and are more time intensive, leaving students with even more loans to pay off.
So while there is no concrete answer to the question of how much is too much, it is clear that most students are going into too much debt for their education. Medical school can end with the student in debt for nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Law school and other high-paying degree fields are not far behind, and unless students are independently wealthy, debt is the only choice.
Besides the financial costs, this debt takes a mental toll as well, and one of the best ways to mitigate that is to reduce the amount of debt accrued in the first place or increase the programs that assist students with repayment.
Life After Graduation
Part of the student dream is to graduate, get a good job, buy a house in the suburbs near their new job, and commute in the car of their choice, within reason. The problem is that this dream is seldom realized, at least as quickly as borrowers would like, and a large part of this is due to student loan debt. There are a couple of important ways to assist with this recognition of reality and its effect on mental health.
The first is that student expectations need to be adjusted. This can come from school counselors, lenders, and others who let borrowers know what to expect when they graduate. Adjusting student expectations will help them with the inevitable let down when the first loan statement comes a mere six months after graduation.
The other aspect involves education as well, but on repayment options. From income-based repayment to deferments that can extend when payments begin to be due, there are options out there as long as students are proactive. Once payments start, these options narrow, but if the student contacts lenders ahead of time or begins consolidation early, there are more options.
There are reassurances as well. Just because you have student debts to repay does not mean you cannot purchase a home or go into other debt as well. As long as you can afford the payments and you make arrangements or pay on time, student debt shouldn’t negatively impact your credit score. The key is often patience, and include important steps like working with a real estate agent to purchase the home you can afford, avoiding stress, and not procrastinating tasks you need to complete before you will be able to move.
To reduce stress and anxiety, students need education, understanding, structure, and realistic expectations of what those student loan payments mean and what their options for repayment are. Borrowers must think of the time after college as a starting and building period for both their careers and their credit.
This brings up another important point: There are repayment options, and often employers or other programs can help. Teachers and medical professionals can earn repayment credit by working in areas where their services are most needed for a predetermined amount of time. In most cases, they still must make some payments on their own, but once they have reached a point in their service or career, those loans can be reduced or erased.
At the same time, there are loan forgiveness or payment reduction services for other circumstances as well. The circumstances of graduating college, beginning a career, and even starting a family can be similar to those of losing a job or a family member. Just because events are positive does not mean they do not cause stress, and you need to understand the symptoms of extreme stress and how to deal with them.
There is a repayment rebound that many college students experience. At first, the number of loans and the time needed to repay them can seem overwhelming, but once payments start to eat away at the balance, and their career begins to take off, student debt repayment can become a regular part of their budgets and their lives.
Student loan debt can have a major effect on the mental health of college students. Stress and anxiety can even lead to physical symptoms and can even affect their careers. The key is in education, expectations, and an understanding of the repayment rebound that often occurs once loan repayment normalizes. This can mitigate this threat and make the ills that come with it easier to deal with.