Four years ago, Occupy Wall Street highlighted wage inequality in America. Then came the Fight for $15 movement and the nationwide push for a higher minimum wage.
Will the Million Student March become the next change agent?
On Nov. 12, organizers are counting on thousands of high school, college and graduate students, former students and family members to hold protest rallies at college campuses around the country. Their platform: tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt and a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all campus workers.
Whether you support this cause or not, we know rising student loan debt has become a hot issue. And for good reason. About 40 million former college students are carrying a load of about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans.
A new survey of millennials from the educational nonprofit Investor Protection Institute points to some troubling trends arising from this debt burden.
The survey, conducted in April of more than 1,000 21- to 29-year-olds, found that fewer than two in five respondents were saving for retirement. About an equal number also said that because of student loan debts, they were delaying buying a first home and getting married, and many had returned home to live with their parents.
About half of the millennial respondents reported carrying college debts, including 20 percent with debt of $1,000 to $20,000, 16 percent with $20,000 to $50,000 and 13 percent with $50,000 or more.
There were two other data points that painted a dark picture of the future. A large percentage of college graduates — 40 percent — said they were concerned about their delay in saving and investing for retirement, and 56 percent worried “about having to work longer as a result of having a late start” on putting money away for the later years.
“Many older Americans will remember the struggle to pay off their college loan debts, but those amounts owed in past years look insignificant against the skyrocketing debt that many graduates leave school with today,” said Don Blandin, president and chief executive of the Investor Protection Institute.
So, what’s the solution?
Certainly taking to the streets to push for change is one option, but you could also take some proactive steps to help yourself no matter how dire your financial situation.
▪ Don’t stretch the college budget. Stick with schools that are within your financial reach and are willing to pay you to attend through scholarships and grants as opposed to attending schools that require you to borrow up to your eyeballs. Aim to keep your college borrowing at no more than about $8,000 a year.
▪ Get educated. There’s really no excuse for not learning about money management strategies. Online resources abound, such as the Investor Protection Institute’s website at www.iinvest.org. There also are many free or low-cost community seminars and workshops. And as I’ve said before, parents can play a huge role in teaching their kids the financial ins and outs.
▪ Create a spending plan. More of my mantra, but track your spending for several months, and convert some of the money going out the door for dinner and iced coffees to savings.
▪ Take advantage of handouts. If your employer offers a 401(k) retirement plan and matches what you sock away up to a certain level, sign up.
“Saving and investing for your retirement should not be viewed as optional,” Blandin said. “These are the years that will make the difference between comfortable and lean golden years.”