August 19, 2019
By Megan Leonhardt, CNBC
When it comes to uncomfortable conversations, Americans would rather talk about pretty much anything else — politics, health issues, religion — than discuss their finances.
Yet the money topic Americans voted as most thorny is one that’s constantly in the news: student loans. Over a third of Americans say they see student loan debt as the biggest financial taboo, according to a Harris Poll of over 1,000 U.S. adults commissioned by TD Ameritrade.
A similar survey conducted by the MIT AgeLab and sponsored by TIAA found that 40% of respondents reported they never talk to their family about their student loans. In fact, over half said their families know “nothing” or “very little” about their debt.
Yet you’re far from unique if you’re swimming in student loan debt. Americans have amassed $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, with one in four Americans carrying a balance. And both the prevalence and the effect of student loans is widely studied: the Fed found that 20% of the homeownership decline among millennials (ages 24 to 32) can be attributed to this debt. Other surveys have found that student loan debt is forcing millennials to put off other major life milestones, such as getting married and starting families.
Democratic 2020 presidential candidates are even making student loan debt solutions a core component of their campaigns — promising everything from better refinancing options to introducing more debt forgiveness programs to wiping it out completely.
So why aren’t people talking about their student loans around the dinner table or with friends over drinks? It’s personal, experts say. “Student loan debt may be pervasive and a constant topic in the media and in the political arena, but it’s still debt,” Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial Takes On Investing, tells CNBC Make It. “People are fundamentally uncomfortable talking about debt because it’s easy to assume another person is going to pass judgement on your choices.”
And boy do they.
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