Young adults strapped with student debt are delaying buying a home an average of seven years, according to a joint study by the National Association of REALTORS® and American Student Assistance released Monday. The average student debt load among survey respondents—who are millennials between the ages of 22 and 35—is $41,200, which is higher than their average annual income of $38,800, the study shows.
Eighty percent of the more than 2,000 respondents said they do not own a home. The vast majority of that group—83 percent—blame student loan debt for their delay in buying a home. “The tens of thousands of dollars many millennials needed to borrow to earn a college degree have come at a financial and emotional cost that’s influencing millennials’ housing choices and other major life decisions,” says NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “Sales to first-time buyers have been underwhelming for several years now, and this survey indicates student debt is a big part of the blame. Even a large majority of older millennials and those with higher incomes say they’re being forced to delay homeownership because they can’t save for a down payment and don’t feel financially secure enough to buy.”
The total value of student loan debt held by U.S. households today is a whopping $1.4 trillion, which is helping to lower demand at the entry level of the housing market. Furthermore, a quarter of current millennial homeowners say their student debt is preventing them from purchasing a move-up property, according to the study. They say it’s either too expensive to buy a larger home or they don’t qualify for a future mortgage because their student debt has impacted their credit negatively.
“Millennial homeowners who can’t afford to trade up because of their student debt end up staying put, which slows the turnover in the housing market and exacerbates the low supply levels and affordability pressures for those trying to buy their first home,” Yun says.
Besides delaying home purchases, survey respondents report that student debt is also forcing them to put aside several life choices and financial decisions. For example, 86 percent say they’ve had to make career sacrifices, including taking a second job. Forty-one percent say they are delaying marriage because of student debt, and 61 percent say they have sacrificed contributions toward a retirement plan.
“Being unable to adequately save for retirement on top of not experiencing the wealth-building benefits of owning a home is an unfortunate situation that could have long-term consequences to the financial well-being of these millennials,” Yun says. “A scenario where only those with minimal or no student debt can afford to buy a home and save for retirement is not an ideal situation—and is one that weakens the economy and contributes to widening inequality.”