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Student debt has become a drag on the entire economy. Half of the student borrowers surveyed in a new Federal Reserve survey say loan payments have affected their spending decisions, which has limited their ability to buy a home or own a car.

Indebted 30-year-olds are now less likely to be homeowners than their student-debtless peers. And twenty-five-year-olds saddled with student debt are less likely to own a car than their debt-free peers. That might not sound shocking, but it wasn't the case before the recession. Previously, those with school debt generally had a better level of education and higher paying jobs than those who were debt-free.


But the recession changed the rules of the game.

Though the economy is recovering, job gains for new graduates have been limited. Many student-debt holders are still struggling to support themselves, a situation that's further complicated by the fact that older Americans are delaying their retirement, according to the survey.


Overall, a quarter of the people surveyed said they are dealing with some type of education debt—either their own, or that of a spouse or family member. The average student debt is around $28,000— about the amount of cash needed to purchase a decent car or, in some housing markets, cover a down payment on a home.

The survey found that people who studied life sciences, engineering, health and vocational/technical fields are most likely to say the benefits of the loans were worth the cost. But those who studied in humanities and social sciences not so much.


Eighteen percent of those polled said they were behind on payments or had loans in collection. People who attended for-profit institutions are most likely to struggle to make their payments, partially because they were somewhat less likely to graduate. Of those making debt payments, one in four had dropped out of the program they borrowed money to attend.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.