As Americans pay off credit cards, student loan debt grows

As Americans pay off their credit cards, economists are worried about another kind of debt that continues to grow: student loan debt.

This afternoon, we'll get new data from the Federal Reserve on Americans' consumer borrowing habits. In recent months, Americans have borrowed trillions, to pay for cars and college.

After the 2008 financial crisis, many Americans re-evaluated their relationships with credit. They got more conservative and they started paying down credit cards.

"If you look at delinquency rates on non-mortgage consumer debt, they’re near record-low levels," said Christopher Thornburg with Beacon Economics.

Default rates have dropped, but economists are worried about another kind of debt that continues to grow: student loan debt. Americans owe more money to student loan lenders than they owe credit card companies. And that's starting to affect the jobs market, said Robert Manning, the president of the Responsible Debt Relief Research Institute

"It has actually created some competitive disadvantages for Americans, who have high student loans and can’t take certain jobs," he said.

Manning said that there is talk of reforming consumer bankruptcy laws to include student loan debt. But that, according to some economists, looks eerily like subprime mortgage debt did just a couple years ago.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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