Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are already vowing to do something about student loan debt. This is why the 1.6 trillion dollar issue could play a big part in the 2020 election.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY

Cassie Murphy’s college tuition bill is a moving target.

Three years ago, the Phoenix native received an acceptance letter and a hefty scholarship to the University of San Francisco, which she gladly accepted, thinking she’d pay about $400 out of pocket each semester for tuition. 

But that was before USF raised its tuition by 12.2% over the last three academic years.

The 21-year-old international studies major now has to pay nearly $3,000 for her remaining two semesters and faces almost $15,000 in student loans upon graduation, a number she expected to be near zero.

“I turned down offers at better schools to go to USF with the intention that it’d be a really good way to save money,” Murphy said. “But, as they continued to increase tuition, I started to go into debt and I wasn’t planning on it.”

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Murphy works at nanny full-time during the school year and shares a small two-bedroom apartment with three other students to help offset the unexpected costs, but said there’s only so much she can do while being a full-time student.

Mounting tuition fees and high stress levels have left more than three-fourths of Gen Zers and millennials stressed about tuition, living expenses, getting good grades and finding a career that pays well, according to a study released Tuesday by TD Ameritrade, a financial service company.

Some young people are considering online classes or skipping a four-year degree altogether when they can’t pay the college sticker price, the survey of 3,000 found.

High anxiety and nontraditional routes shouldn’t be surprising, as college costs are rising at levels higher than inflation, Dara Luber, a senior retirement manager at TD Ameritrade said.

“As college becomes more expensive and debt becomes more prevalent, young Americans are really concerned about college costs,” Luber said. “A lot of them are exploring options outside of their parents paying for it.”

Student debt has more than tripled in the past two years from an average of $10,205 to $31,370, according to a similar 2017 TD Ameritrade study. Total student loan debt in the United States reached almost $1.5 trillion during the first quarter of 2019, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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Covering costs

Almost 60% of Gen Zers plan to receive scholarships or grants, and 46% will work a summer job to cover tuition, according to the study. About four in 10 also plan to take out student loans, apply for financial aid and work at least one part-time job while in college.

Gen Zers and millennials are also considering cost-effective pathways outside a four-year degree. Half are considering online classes and one-third are considering community college before a four-year degree, according to the report.

Despite 96% of parents still expecting their children to pursue higher education, one in five young people may opt out of college entirely.

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Parents are chipping in

Students draw from many financial sources to pay for college, including student loans, scholarships, grants and part-time work. A majority also contribute cash from their own savings. According to TD Ameritrade, millennials saved an average of $9,258 on their own for college, while Gen Zers have saved $4,734.

Parents also chip in, with 44% of young millennials and 62% of Gen Zers reporting parental help, according to the report. However, almost half of millennials and 27% of Gen Zers plan to pay for 75% or more of college expenses on their own.

TD Ameritrade also showed that parents are increasingly involved in their children’s lives after they leave for college, with one-third having done their children’s laundry and over half texting daily.

“Parents are going beyond their kid’s tuition,” Luber said. “They’re continuing to be involved in their children’s lives, even when they’re in college. The adult thing’s a process.”

University of San Fransciso’s Murphy said her parents didn’t save any cash for her college fund, but they’re always available in case of emergencies.

TD Ameritrade’s Luber has suggestions for both parents and students to get ahead of student debt early on.

Start saving early and regularly

Luber suggests that parents start a 529 or similar college savings plan for their children as early as possible. For holidays, family members and friends can choose to send cash to save for college rather than give a physical gift, as the impact will be more far-reaching. 

“Even if it’s a small step today, take advantage of the college savings vehicles that are out there,” Luber said.

Talk about debt before choosing a path after high school

Student debt can have substantial effects after monthly payments and interest rates are taken into account, Luber said. This can delay major adult milestones like buying a home, getting married or saving for retirement. Taking these factors into account may affect when and where students choose to attend college.

Be ready for a trade-off

Not every family can afford to send their children to their dream college.

Even after scholarships, grants and savings are factored in, the numbers still might not add up, Luber said. Be prepared to have tough conversations about choosing a more affordable college, pursuing a two-year degree or working a part-time job to help cover costs.

“It’s a team effort between young people and their parents as they successfully prepare for college,” Luber said. “It’s really important to communicate and talk about your expectations.”

Follow USA Today reporter Rebekah Tuchscherer on Twitter @r2sure

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