Amanda Tappan, 21, tries her best to save money. She shares an apartment with four roommates, pays off her credit card each month, and drives between odd jobs in her used Chevy Cavalier.
But when she graduates next month from the University of South Florida, she won’t be spending that money, or her early career wages, on buying a home. Instead, that money will go straight toward her $16,000 in student loans.
“It was so easy to get a student loan. … But then two years later, it was like, ‘Why did I do that?’ ” Tappan said. “I want to have most of my debt gone before I even think about buying a house.”
The young marketing and management student is one of 38 million Americans who face a staggering $1 trillion in student loans, more than people nationwide owe on car loans or credit cards.
So instead of buying their first home after graduation, those educated debtors are running the other way, stoking worries that the massive debt could block many from the housing market just as it begins to rebuild.
For decades, young hopefuls like Tappan were one of the housing market’s most dependable fuels. Young families and new buyers bought starter homes en masse, allowing sellers to move up into better homes.
But over the past decade, as the recession zapped jobs and student debt quadrupled, young buyers have started to stay away. First-time buyers have traditionally bought 40 percent of the homes on the market, National Association of Realtors data show. In May, their market share plunged to 28 percent.
Americans paying off student loans are, depending on income, 25 to 36 percent less likely to own a home than those who are free of student debt, a One Wisconsin Now survey of 61,000 people found last month. Indebted graduates faced an average of 21 years of debt before their student loans were paid off.
In Florida, more than half of the state’s Class of 2011 graduated with an average of $23,000 in debt, Institute for College Access & Success data show. That’s a little less than the average indebted American graduate who owes $27,000. Students at some local schools face an even weightier anchor. At the private University of Tampa, 58 percent of graduates flipped their tassels with an average debt of $31,000.
Student debt eats up first-time buyers’ savings accounts, typically their first choice for making down payments. It stops them from qualifying for mortgages under banks’ tight debt-to-income demands.
And it can discourage them from taking on new expenses. Students said they’ll be forging into the chaotic working world already making hundreds of dollars a month in loan payments. Who has the confidence to add another bill, especially a big one like a mortgage?
Christa Hegedus, a USF St. Petersburg junior, said she expects to graduate into an unforgiving job market with nearly $10,000 in debt, despite her two scholarships.
“I have friends who graduated with thousands and thousands of dollars in debt, and they’re working at a restaurant,” said Hegedus, who wants to be a state senator. “I don’t know how anyone could do it and expect to buy a house.”