The $1.6 trillion in U.S. student debt may not pose a direct threat to the economy, but it's causing anguish that goes far beyond financial concerns for the people who owe it.
One in 15 borrowers has considered suicide due to their school loans, according to a survey of 829 people conducted in April by Student Loan Planner, a debt advisory group.
Most student debt is held by people with balances on the lower end of the scale, with only 0.8% of the U.S. population owing more than $100,000, according to Deutsche Bank economists. They have labeled the issue as a "micro problem" for individuals, rather than a macro problem for the economy.
Yet that still equates to 2.8 million people with around $495 billion in debt as of March, according to Department of Education data. Even more worrying is that it's an increase of nearly $61 billion since the end of 2017.
Student loans are the second-biggest kind of debt in the U.S. behind home mortgages and often more expensive to service relative to the amount owed because interest rates are generally higher. Not to mention that unlike buying a home, an education isn't a tangible asset that can be sold.
It's also turning into a hot political issue as next year's presidential election approaches. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a plan to cancel loans for many borrowers, while former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed some of the effects on the economy in a presentation at the Milken Institute conference last week.
"Of course millennials would love to buy a house," Hickenlooper said April 30 in Los Angeles. But, "they're buried in debt!"
The following scenarios show the monthly costs associated with different levels of student debt. The first envisages a 10-year loan at 6%. To put the figures into perspective, a 30-year mortgage of $400,000 at current interest rates would cost about $2,000 per month.
In the second scenario, loans are shown over a 20-year term with rates at 7%. Monthly payments are smaller but the overall burden is bigger, with total interest payments on $100,000 of debt rising above $86,000.