We Asked 70 People About Their Student Loans, and They All Basically Agreed on One Thing

There are few topics more likely to rile up a dinner table conversation than student loans.  And it’s no secret that, this year, the issue is weighing extra heavily on many people. (In fact, Target and Walmart both cite loans, in addition to factors like inflation, as a cause for downturn in holiday spending.) But the debate rages. Cancel all loans? Put repayments on indefinite pause? Forgive loans for certain people? For now, payments have resumed as of October and we wanted to know: What are PureWow readers’ opinions? We polled 70 people aged 23 to 48 to learn where they stand, how it impacts their lives and what they think the government should do in response. Here’s what they had to say.

The Demographics  

Of those polled, approximately 47 percent were aged 23-30 and 53 percent were over 30. The majority (60 percent) have outstanding student loans, while about 16 percent had loans but have paid them off and 24 percent had no student loans to begin with.

student loans poll: public vs private university
Paula Boudes/PureWow

When it came to public vs. private education, most of the respondents reported attending a private university (65.7 percent). Some participants also noted that they had obtained graduate degrees, too.

So, what did they do with those degrees? The majors were diverse, from psychology and communications (including journalism, English and creative writing) to business, math, economics, nursing, computer science, medicine, dance, theology and international relations.

The Money  

Now on to your burning question: How much do they make? Reported salaries ranged from $0 (due to unemployment or entrepreneurship activities) to around $400,000 (reported by a mechanical engineer with an MBA). The majority of survey participants made under $100,000.

student loans poll: salary
Paula Boudes/PureWow

Of those with student loans, most (40 percent) owe $50,000 or less, but there is a sizable chunk of the group with over $100,000 in loans (17 percent). Payments also vary. Due to various payment plans and COVID policies, some survey participants shared that they haven’t made loan payments in years. Of those actively paying, amounts ranged from $100 to $2,000 per month.

One of the big topics in the national discussion about student loans is how it affects borrowers’ long-term financial plans and standard of living. Our survey respondents offer a microcosm of experiences from across the spectrum.  

“Not having loans is a tremendous privilege,” one respondent writes. “It’s something I think about a lot since most of my peers do have loans. [My siblings have loans and] I know it weighs heavily on them.”

Loans Currently Owed
Paula Boudes/PureWow

Another (the mechanical engineer) shared that at the time that they did have loans, they made specific lifestyle choices (driving an older car, not going out much) in order to prioritize paying down the debt. “I paid them off at 2-3x the required payment amount. I lived VERY lean for three years, paid them off and now have the ability to fully invest in myself and further my career. With my salary, I still drive a pretty average car and live in a home that I can easily afford so that I always have the full flexibility of my choices.”

And then there’s the predicament that most find themselves in—the burden of student loans that prevents them from saving for a down payment on a house, qualifying for a lease on an apartment, necessitating several part-time side jobs and siphoning money away from retirement accounts. That’s just for starters. “I literally can hardly afford to put a thing away due to the cost of living,” one person writes. “I just think the interest payback is awful.”

The Hot Takes: How the Government Should Handle Student Loans  

So what do our readers think the government should do with all this student loan debt? There are generally three camps. Forgive it all, forgive for certain groups of people and have people repay in full. But as the endless back-and-forth at the federal level proves, there’s not one straightforward answer, and the responses to this survey reflected as such. The only conclusion: The majority believe that there should be loan forgiveness in some way, shape or form.

“It’s not really cut and dry,” one participant writes. “I have a combination of federal and private loans. I understand the private loans are my responsibility. However, the federal loans should not have interest accrue when you’re in college. It makes no sense that the government or people they contract with are allowed to charge so much interest.”

student loans poll: stance on loan forgiveness
Paula Boudes/PureWow

Another echoed the sentiment, writing that the situation is nuanced and necessitates further conversation on the affordability of higher education. “I think we have backed ourselves into a corner with this debt. Moving forward, there needs to be serious talk of taxpayer dollars funding some type of free public higher education. If student loans are forgiven in full for all, I would be happy with that. I just fear that it will be a Band-Aid solution to a much larger problem."

Most agreed that the price of going to a university and the loan system is crippling, calling for reform. One proposed forgiveness for public universities and low-income students. Another suggested income-based repayments up to a certain amount. Yet another proffered the idea that there needs to be more accessible pathways to degrees for necessary jobs that might not compensate fairly (for example, education).

When it came down to it, the majority voted for full loan forgiveness (59 percent), followed by forgiveness for certain groups of people (33 percent). Just over seven percent believe everyone should pay what they owe, with 1 percent abstaining. Of those who were in favor of full loan forgiveness, 37 percent were aged 30 or under and 45 percent made $75,000 or less. The only clear thing? It’s complicated.

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