Survey of American Perspectives on Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt in the United States is growing at an extremely fast rate. According to the Federal Reserve, it reached $1.26T in 2016. ValuePenguin decided to study the perceptions Americans have about their experiences with it, and how their views tie into the current election. To that end, we conducted a survey of over 1,000 adults from across the country, and looked at major differences among people of difference age and gender.

Key Findings

  • 71% of Millennials think that the growing amount of student debt in the U.S. has not received enough media coverage this election cycle
  • Close to 1 in 3 people over the age of 34 believe student loan payments caused them to postpone saving for retirement
  • A high number of young adults (40%) say they've been over 90 days late on a student loan payment
  • Roughly 3 out of 4 people said the need to make student loan payments every month made them worry about their financial situation

Student Loan Debt Is Damaging Credit Scores

Four in ten respondents (41%) had been 90 or more days late on a student loan payment, meaning that their student loans have had a negative impact on their credit scores. Loan servicers report all late payments of at least 90 days to all three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, Transunion).

Have you ever been 90 or more days late on a student loan payment? (%)

Not sure

What Are People Giving Up Due to Student Loan Debt?

Americans have also put off major life decisions and purchases because of their student loan debt, and it may have an impact on how millennials are navigating major decisions in adulthood. In fact, 43% of millennials had put off or skipped buying a home because of their student loan debt, compared with only 26% of non-millennials.

Top 3 Things Millennials Postponed Due to Student Loans

Buying a home43%
Taking a vacation38%
Having children25%

Top 3 Things Non-Millennials Postponed Due to Student Loans

Saving for retirement32%
Taking a vacation31%
Buying a home26%

Millennials Are Embarrassed by Student Loan Debt

Millennials are also more likely than non-millennials to be embarrassed about having student loan debt, with 39% saying it was embarrassing compared to 27% of non-millennials (nearly half of non-millennials don't think student loan debt is embarrassing).

...But They Think It Needs More Media Coverage

71% of millennials think that the high cost of education and the growing amount of student debt in the U.S. have not received adequate media coverage during the presidential election.

This issue has not received enough media coverage in this election cycle.

IssueAgreeDisagreeNeither agree nor disagree
Growing amount of student debt in the U.S.71%11%18%
High cost of education71%8%21%

Student Loan Debt

Of the respondents, over half (62%) have taken out student loans, with most (72%) taking out Federal Direct Loans and using these loans to pay for their undergraduate education (74%). 61% took out less than $40,000 total in student loan debt, but 1 in 10 respondents took out $100,000 or more to pay for their postsecondary education.

Do you have any outstanding student loans that you took out to pay for your education?

No, I have paid off all my loans13%
No, I have never taken out a student loan38%

How much in student debt in total did you (or will you) incur during the course of your education?

Less than $40,00060%
$40,000 to $99,99926%
$100,000 or more11%
Not sure3%

Paying Off Student Loans

Most people (62%) expect to pay off their student loans in 10 years or less, but almost 3 in 10 respondents think it will take them longer to pay down their debt. In fact, 34% of respondents said they would be 50 years or older by the time they were finished paying off their student loans.

In how many years do you expect to pay off your student loans?

10 years or less62%
11 to 20 years16%
More than 20 years12%
Not sure10%

How old do you expect to be by the time you finish paying off your student loans?

Under 30 years old23%
30 to 39 years old23%
40 to 49 years old13%
50 or older34%
Not sure6%


The ValuePenguin Student Loan Debt Survey is designed to gain a deeper understanding of how Americans feel about their student loan debt and its place in the presidential election. The survey aims to discover differences among demographic groups and their perceptions about their own student loans and student loan debt in general.

ValuePenguin and SSI conducted an online survey between October 17 and 19, 2016. Participants are at least 18 years old. The survey results are based on 1,050 usable responses and are weighted by age, race and educational attainment to reflect the characteristics of the U.S. population as reported in the 2016 Census.

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