68 Percent of Americans Say They Would Have Financed College Differently: Survey

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Going to college or sending your kids off to college this fall? If you don’t have a trust fund or a scholarship, you may be planning to take out a loan to finance that education.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the total amount of outstanding student loan debt in the United States more than doubled between 2006 and 2012, with one-third of that debt being held by Americans 30 years of age or younger.

“There is no question that higher education affords people greater earning potential,” says Ernie Almonte, chair of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “However, as the cost of college continues to increase, the debt often required to get a degree can be stifling to new graduates. Students need to ensure they have a clear understanding of the amount of debt they're taking on and what their repayment options will be once they graduate.”

According to a March 2015 Harris Poll of 1,010 adults conducted for the AICPA, 68 percent of respondents with loans or those whose children have loans expressed some regret about the way they financed that education. This is an 8 percent increase over the previous survey in 2013, when 60 percent of respondents expressed regret.

Popular do-over options included attending a less-expensive college (54 percent) and going to a trade school for a specific profession (43 percent). In addition, approximately 84 percent of adults said they would make at least one change to their education choices, given the chance to do things differently.

On the flipside, the survey also found that 68 percent of adults without a degree said they would have gone to college to get a better-paying job if they could do things over again.

Taken together, these statistics demonstrate the difficult financial decisions people are faced with each year in paying for higher education.

The survey also revealed agreement between generations. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they would have delayed college to accumulate savings to reduce the amount of student loans, and 35 percent of millennials said they would do the same thing. In fact, millennials were also more likely to delay college than any other age group surveyed (35 percent).

According to Almonte, these results highlight the difficult choices today’s students must make about college, as well as the complicated relationship between education, employment, and debt.

So, the question remains: Does increasing your student loan debt translate to increased financial opportunities? More than half of the adults polled (52 percent) stated that millennials have less upward financial mobility than previous generations. Reasons for this include an uncertain US job market (21 percent), more jobs requiring higher education (14 percent), and rising student loan debt (11 percent).

“Deciding how much education you can reasonably afford and how to fund it is likely one of the most important decisions a person will make in their lifetime,” Almonte says. “Carefully considering all the available options increases the likelihood you can pay off your student loans, and that your higher education decision will pay off in the long run.”

Advice on Student Loans
The AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission offers the following four tips on what students and their parents should consider before deciding to take out a loan:

  • Explore all grant and scholarship opportunities before resorting to loans.
  • Ensure you have a clear understanding of what the monthly payments will be and when you will be required to start paying back the loan.
  • Calculate your potential salary upon graduation to determine if you’ll earn enough to pay off the loan and how long it will take you. The longer it takes you to pay off your debt, the more interest you will end up paying.
  • Speak with the financial aid office at any prospective schools before and after taking on debt.

In addition, here are a couple tips for students and their parents to consider when paying off a student loan, according to the commission:

  • Use the student loan consolidation and debt payoff calculator at feedthepig.org.
  • Speak with a CPA financial planner to get strategies to help you manage student loan debt.

About Allegra Nagler

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