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Beyond the Headlines: Is Student Debt Strangling Millennials' Chances for Success?

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Beyond the Headlines: Is Student Debt Strangling Millennials' Chances for Success?

It’s no secret that the rising cost of student debt is a growing national crisis: the latest numbers suggest that seven of 10 college seniors last year graduated in debt; the total student loan burden in America today currently tops $1.2 trillion, a number that has tripled in the last decade, and at an interest rate of up to 12 percent. Everyone from Senator Elizabeth Warren to comedian John Oliver is taking to the activist soapbox (a/k/a late-night television) to bring national attention to the issues in the hopes of putting solutions in place.

The generation hardest hit is millennials. Student debt “now comprises 69 percent of the debt side of their balance sheets” for an average 25- to 30-year-old American, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — and it may already have strangled their chances for success in the prime earning years of their lives, according to new research. This is certainly adding insult to injury given that slightly more than half of those surveyed by Bentley University blamed higher education for millennials’ lack of preparedness for their first job and slightly less than half extended that complaint to millennials’ entire career.

The Washington Post reports that many life milestones are now out of millennials’ reach — marriage, a secure job, home ownership (or even a stable rental) — due to the “arrested development” experienced by their generation in the face of high student-loan debt and low employment rates.

Many have used entrepreneurship as the beacon of hope for the millennial generation, who have philosophically embraced the ideas and aspirations of starting their own businesses. This option holds special attraction to many as the solution to jumpstarting a career in the face of “a lack of career prospects.” Yet Forbes cites a “paradox” between millennials’ entrepreneurship potential and their exorbitant student-debt burden.

Sadly, getting out of debt and creating wealth is an uphill battle for millennials, who as a generation are far less trusting of financial institutions than Generation X or their own parents, according to a new study from Bank of New York Mellon and the University of Oxford, featured in this story recently from The Chicago Tribune.

But, millennials should also create a realistic financial road map based on their own generation’s financial reality. According to finance editors at Yahoo! and The Guardian, the actual financial benchmarks for adulthood have changed at their core for millennials, who “if they have a net worth of $10,400 means they are richer and far(ther) ahead of most of [their] generation.” How should millennials proceed? Prioritizing and paying off your student loans. “The more aggressively you pay them down, the closer you’ll be to participating more [in the global economy] as a financial citizen.” (Read the story and watch the Yahoo video here.)

More advice is available in an extensive money guide published by AOL Daily Finance. It seeks to help this “unfortunate generation” with custom tips in 29 Money Moves That Millennials Need to Start Making Now — including “#17: Visualizing what debt-free will look like.”

April Lane is a freelance writer. 

FEATURE STORY

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