A recent Harris Poll showed that education spending was the #1 “financial disruptor” for Americans in 2019, with 16% of survey respondents saying that education spending for themselves or their children had disrupted their long-term financial plans. In addition, education spending was the only category of disruptor that grew in the last five years.
According to the survey, a financial disruptor is “an event or situation that had a negative effect on their financial plans for the long-term or retirement” so it’s not surprising that with $1.6 trillion and counting of outstanding student loan debt, education spending upsets the apple cart. The survey comprised 1,015 US adults aged 23 and over with at least $10,000 in investable assets. Of those, 536, or almost 53%, considered themselves financially disrupted.
Also not surprising: younger generations– Millenials specifically– were the most disrupted, with the highest percentage of respondents in every category other than inability to work and divorce/separation/widowed.
What’s the dollar impact of these disruptions? According to the survey, a 62% reduction in median savings. Millenials, for example, reported a median monthly long-term savings rate of $400 before a disruption but only $200 after. Overall, the median monthly long-term savings rate was approximately $500 pre-disruption but only $190 after. Additionally, the average length of a disruption increased from 4 years, 8 months in 2014 to 6 years, 3 months in 2019.
If you translate that out to saving for a house, for example, you find that these Millenials would need twice as long to come up with a down payment. Dedicating 100% of savings towards that goal, at $200 per month it would take more than four years to come up with $10,000. Plus once they bought, they would be stuck with PMI and potentially higher interest rates due to their inability to save a larger down payment.
On the plus side, survey respondents reported feeling more prepared for financial disruptions in 2019 than did 2014 respondents, with higher percentages reporting steady incomes, rainy day savings, or the ability to be helped out by someone else.
Nonetheless, college remains one of the best investments families can make in their children’s future: college graduates enjoy higher earnings, lower unemployment, generally higher benefits, and, according to some studies, are healthier and happier than those without college degrees.
All of which means, the financial aspects of college should be front and center, wherever you are in the college selection process. For families of current high school seniors, that means being honest about what’s affordable before your student makes a decision. For families with more time to plan, it means doing your homework about what different colleges actually cost and what you can afford to pay.