Amidst Senate Inaction on Student Loan Rates, Paying Back Student Loans a Considerable Stress Point for Debtors

Nearly two-thirds of "Student debtors" delay dreams, from buying a home to saving for retirement, because of their loans

Jul 11, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, July 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- With Summer underway and back-to-school looming, student loan debt is a consequence that many students will face this school year. Despite a majority of Americans (55%, including 65% of Echo Boomers and 61% of Gen Xers) indicating that the government should regulate college programs to help make sure that graduates can get jobs and repay college loans, the U.S. Senate has yet to come to an agreement on student loans; as a result, new loan rates are on course to double for incoming students if no action is taken.


In a world where Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg cast a spotlight on making it big without a degree, is a college education really worth it? This is among the questions The Harris Poll set out to address in an online survey of 2,210 adults interviewed between June 12 and 17, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full findings, including data tables, available here)

Student loans delay dreams

Nearly four in ten Americans (37%) confirm either currently paying off student loan debt (16%) or that they have in the past (21%), with half (49%) of Echo Boomers either currently or previously affected.

Among current and past "student debtors," nearly two-thirds (64%) have put off a spending and/or saving goal in order to put money toward their student loan debts.  Some deferred goals include:

  • Saving toward retirement (35%);
  • A "dream" vacation (29%);
  • Buying or leasing a new car (29%);
  • Buying a home (24%);
  • Among parents of children under 18, putting money into a college fund for their children (22%); and,
  • Seven percent (7%) have even delayed a cosmetic procedure.

The percentage of parents of minors who are delaying or have needed to delay putting money into their children's college funds is especially worrisome. "What's striking," notes Harris Interactive VP and solutions consultant Dana Markow, "is that the economic impact of the student loan crisis is not only following students themselves, but is being visited upon the next generation as well. More than two in ten parents who have had to pay off student debt have deferred saving for their own children's college education, increasing the likelihood that this crisis will continue."

Totally stressed out

When comparing student loans to a number of common stress triggers, the majority of current and past debtors (59%) feel student loans are or were more stressful than at least one of the activities tested. These include:

  • Credit card debt (32%);
  • A trip to the dentist (25%);
  • Worrying about losing a source of income (24%);
  • Moving (24%);
  • Doing their taxes (23%); and,
  • Public speaking (20%).

What's your "cut"?

When asked what should be the maximum percentage of one's income to go into repaying college loans, the average percentage reported is 16.9%, identical to 2011 findings.

  • Perhaps surprisingly, Echo Boomers – the generation living most firmly under the weight of the student loan crisis – show a higher average "percentage of income" cap (21.8%) than any of their older counterparts (16.6% Gen Xers, 13.7% Baby Boomers, 13.6% Matures).
  • Those with a high school education or less feel the cap on payments' percentage of income should be higher, when compared to those with further levels of education (20.7% HS or less, 14.6% some college, 12.9% college grads, 14.0% post grads).
  • Men are comfortable with a higher percentage of income threshold than women (18.7% men, 15.2% women)

Mixed grades for colleges and universities

While majorities of Americans feel that both a college education and an advanced degree is worth the cost (65% and 61%, respectively), strong minorities agree that each does not help people get a job (40% college, 38% advanced).

There appears to be a sharp division in feelings toward higher education centers, particularly when profit comes into play.  While roughly half of Americans report positive opinions of both public colleges/universities (52%) and their private, not-for-profit counterparts (47%), only a third display positive opinions of private, for profit colleges/universities (32%, down slightly from 35% in 2011).

What's more, six in ten (60%) Americans specifically feel that for-profit colleges and/or universities don't care how many of their students graduate, just how many enroll and pay tuition (up slightly from 57% in 2011); by means of comparison, 44% say the same about public and not-for-profit schools. This feeling toward for-profit institutions is especially strong among college graduates and advanced degree recipients, who have experienced a full dose of higher education firsthand (56% HS or less, 57% some college, 68% college grads, 71% post grads).

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 12 and 17, 2013 among 2,210 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #43, July 11, 2013

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll® and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research. Harris possesses expertise in a wide range of industries including health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Additionally, Harris has a portfolio of multi-client offerings that complement our custom solutions while maximizing our client's research investment. Serving clients in more than 196 countries and territories through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit

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SOURCE Harris Interactive