Between watching Game of Thrones, having the hip downtown loft, saving for retirement or paying off your student loans which would you choose? Essentially, the question becomes one of living for the moment or planning for the future. Needless to say, some of those options are more tempting than others. If given the choice, saving for retirement or paying off student loans would most definitely be at the bottom of the list. However, for 40% of college students, paying off student loans is not a choice, it’s a necessity, and student loan companies don’t take kindly to unpaid debts.
However, try explaining that to the student loan borrowers who took the LendEDU poll recently asking where borrowers prioritize their student loan payment. Apparently, over half (56%) would prioritize their living situation, a third (34%) would prioritize buying a car, and over a quarter (27%) would prefer to use their money for travel. (And yes, 11% experienced more stress about Game of Thrones - which is more than the number concerned about keeping up appearances on social media or the number concerned with maintaining an exciting social life.)
But it’s not all disturbing news. A third of borrowers (31.8%) prioritize saving and/or retirement over their student loans. A quarter of borrowers (27.2%) are more stressed about performing well at their job over their loans which is still less than the number of borrowers (27.8%) prioritizing healthier and more expensive food over their loans.
The fact is college students continue to disrupt the norms in our society. For generations there has been a basic path of life: school; career; marriage; house; kids; life. Millennials are the first generation to (thus far) value the experience of life, rather than bow to its economic constraints.
In one study, millennials report the dual importance of feeling financially secure and feeling mentally and physically healthy (reaffirming the need to both see “Game of Thrones” and pay off student debts). However, despite this ambivalence, millennials are keenly aware of their financial responsibility with 98% of citing “feeling financially secure” as important to their lives, however only 32% report actually feeling secure; an understandable concern given that millennials are earning less than previous generations. Similarly, a majority of millennials (63%) stress “having a job they love” as more important than a high income, again highlighting the need for happiness over money.
However, millennials inherently understand the financial constraints facing their generation and crave guidance on how to tackle these issues. Among students, 44% report having little to no idea how to create and maintain a budget and the majority gave themselves a “C” when rating money management skills. Where do these uninformed borrowers seek guidance? According to students they look to parents (55%) and schools (45%) as the first and second most trusted sources for information. However, in a separate LendEDU poll, only 21% of surveyed students reported their parents had specifically taught them how to manage money, with the largest majority (30%) claiming their parents did not teach any money management.
It’s a confusing situation; an educated, informed, aware group of students eager to learn how to manage their money while maintaining their personal happiness, yet, many are having difficulty discovering the kind of comprehensive financial education that would undoubtedly aid them in the future. Without parents providing significant guidance, the role of financial educator falls on the schools. However, only 31% of teachers feel comfortable teaching a financial education. Furthermore, 45% of students have stated they had not taken, nor do they plan to take, a class on personal finance in college.
Whereas personal finance courses would only be helpful to the limited amount of students enrolled, online financial literacy platforms, like iGrad, offer universal access and a personalized approach to engage and empower the student. Contests and online forums further prompt the student to take an active interest and involvement in their financial situation and utilize valuable repayment and saving skills to tackle their debts, and save appropriately later in life.
Both college students, and the young employees they will become later in life, do not have to sacrifice their mental and physical health for their student loans. With a proper financial literacy education, armed with knowledge, and able to make confident steps to ensure they are always in control of their finances, they can easily have their cake and eat it too.
The alternative, however, is easy to spot: such as the 76% of surveyed borrowers who expressed their regrets when considering their student loans. Only 24% of students expressed no regret in their handling of their loan situation, and a sobering 12% regret going to college at all.
It’s time students learn: they can still live downtown, and have their Starbucks, but if they invest their time in learning how to manage their finances, and invest their money in saving and paying down debts, they can easily achieve the work/life balance they seek. (And hold onto Netflix to see the next season of Game of Thrones.)