5 ways student loans can limit your life choices

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When you’re in school trying to earn a college degree, taking out student loans may feel like a no-brainer. You need an education and loans are a logical way to help pay for it. But then those first payments come due and reality hits: It will take years — perhaps decades — to pay them off.

Read more: 12 best resources to find college scholarships

Don’t let student loan debt limit your life choices

If you’re not careful, it could get worse. In addition to what seems like never-ending payments, here are a few ways student loan debt can come back to haunt you for years to come.

1. Stuck in your parents’ basement

Want to move out of your parent’s home, or out of that crowded apartment or house you share with roommates? Student loan debt may make it that much harder to get a place of your own.

While student loans that are paid on time can help you build good credit, that same debt can contribute to a higher debt-to-income ratio, which mortgage lenders evaluate when qualifying applicants for mortgages. The debt ratio compares your monthly loan payments to your monthly income. Add a new mortgage payment to student loan payments and your debt-to-income ratio may be too high, pushing homeownership out of reach.

A 2016 Federal Reserve study found that “a 10% increase in student loan debt causes a 1 to 2 percentage point drop in the homeownership rate for student loan borrowers during the first five years after exiting school.”

Those who wind up in lower paying jobs after school — or who live in areas of the country with high housing prices — may struggle for decades to save enough money to buy a home.

2. Bye-bye tax refund

If you fall behind on your student loan payments and end up in default on a federally guaranteed student loan, your tax refund may be intercepted and used to pay off outstanding student loan debt. The federal government has greater collection powers than your average debt collector. That means the refund you were counting on to pay bills (or catch up on your loan payments) may never reach you.

3. Better keep your day job

Close to two-thirds of millennials have considered starting their own business, according to an EY and EIG survey. Yet, 42% say they don’t have the financial means to do so. Starting a business means taking risks, and it’s hard to do that when you have serious financial obligations hanging over your head.

Student loan debt isn’t the only factor contributing to fewer startups among younger people, but it certainly may be one reason why millennials are on track to become the least entrepreneurial generation in history.


If you do have student loan debt and are struggling to pay it off, here are some easy ways to make extra cash that can help you cover your payments.

4. No SBA loan for you

Want to start or grow your small business by getting an SBA loan? These loans are one of the most attractive small business financing options out there, with favorable repayment terms and interest rates. But student loans could keep you out of the running for one in two ways.

First, SBA 7(a) loans for $350,000 or less are prescreened using a FICO SBSS credit score. This score takes into account the personal credit of the owner along with business credit data. Student loan debt doesn’t mean your credit scores will be lower, but if you have a large number of loans, or if you have missed payments, your credit scores could suffer. (You can check your business credit for free on Nav.)

In addition, business owners who are in default on a federally guaranteed debt — or who caused the government to take a loss on a debt — are not eligible for an SBA loan.

5. A rocky retirement

Think it’s just young Americans who are haunted by student loan debt? Hardly.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says while there are more young borrowers than older ones, those over the age of 60 make up the fastest growing segment of student loan borrowers, and that the number of older borrowers with this type of debt has quadrupled over the last decade. Many are in debt because they wanted to help finance the education of their children or grandchildren.

Worse, some are jeopardizing their precious retirement income to repay these debts. In 2015, the government collected about $171 million in defaulted student loans by taking part (called “offset”) of older American’s Social Security, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

When a parent or grandparent cosigns for a student loan, they are responsible for repaying it if the primary borrower defaults. The cosigner’s credit scores will drop too.

Here’s why parents should never cosign a student loan.

Don’t put dreams on hold!


Finding a way to dig out of student loan debt isn’t always easy. Our Student Loan Guide will help you understand your options. If you need one-on-one help, some non-profit credit counseling agencies offer specialized counseling.

More resources:

The 3 main rules of student loan borrowing

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