Millennials and their debt: Why it's dragging down the economy

The generation born between 1980 and the start of the new century -- "millennials" -- are living under a pile of debt like none before them.

Now, some believe that may be having a very real effect on the broader economy.

Roughly $1.2 trillion of student loan debt has accrued nationwide, a number that's tripled in the last decade. More than seven million students have defaulted on their loans.

Conventional wisdom has been that education leads to a better paying job, so students can quickly pay off that debt, but many now believe this trillion-dollar bubble is turning into a black hole for the economy.

Minnesota is actually fifth in the nation when it comes to the size of student debt, with seven of 10 students taking out loans.

According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, for a bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota, the average debt a student can expect to build up is $27,600, compared to $32,600 at the state's private non-profit colleges.

At private for-profit schools -- like the Minnesota School of Business, Brown College, and Rasmussen -- the average debt is $47,500.

Fed Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen says she believes millennials' debt may be dragging the economy down.

"I think we're just beginning to understand how millennials are behaving," she recently said. "They're certainly waiting longer to buy houses, to get married. They have a lot of student debt."

In fact, despite record low interest rates, only half of millennials own their own home, and just 70 percent are expected to get married by the time they're 40.

Javier Ruff, a senior studying economics at the U of M, tells us that "kind of makes sense."

"You have to establish yourself before you move into marriage... you don't want to carry debt with you," he says.

But getting married, having kids, buying a home -- those are the things that drive the economy.

Millennials may indeed have their whole lives before them, but the fear is they may wait too long to start living it.

But while Minnesota is a student debt leader, there is some good news. The default rate on federal loans here is about 11 percent.

That's one of the lowest default rates in the nation, suggesting that most students in Minnesota are able to handle their loans.


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