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5 Scary Stats About Student Finances

Christine DiGangi

While most college freshmen likely worry about debt, it appears they’re not always doing their best to avoid it.

A recent report outlining a survey of 40,000 U.S. college students, 91.2% of them freshman with a mean age of 18.2 years, studied their attitudes and behaviors as they relate to debt. The study was conducted by EverFi, a company that provides financial literacy education, and sponsored by Higher One, an education-banking service.

Managing debt — from loans and credit cards — is a regular problem for students. Some good news: Most students (86%) reported having a checking account, and those who had a relationship with a financial institution and visited their bank or banking website were more likely to practice good financial habits.

Among the slew of interesting findings the report yielded, these statistics about college freshmen stood out:

79.2% of college freshman worry about debt

Though worrying about finances can be very stressful, the report identified this as a good thing. Worrying about debt falls under “Cautious Financial Attitudes,” a factor in the report that was considered to be a better financial behavior, like following a budget.

Other cautious financial attitudes included beliefs like saving before buying, staying home instead of borrowing money to go out and thinking it’s difficult to escape debt.

Students who exhibited cautious financial attitudes were more likely to have a checking account and less likely to withdraw from college or participate in high-risk debt behavior.

24% of college freshman have felt others would be horrified by their spending habits

Students’ social lives played into their spending habits in different ways.

For the most part, a student’s perception of money as an indicator of social status didn’t impact most financial behaviors, with the exception of budgeting. Students were less likely to keep a budget if they mentioned admiring people who own expensive things and had a preference for luxury items. The same can be said for the 60% of students who said they liked to own things that impress others. As far as acquiring those fancy goods, many students prioritized instant gratification: 31% said it’s better to have something now and pay later.

Buy now, pay later isn’t inherently bad — the problem is when it gets out of control. Especially when it comes to frivolous things, paying more than is necessary isn’t a good financial plan.

20% of college freshman have bought things they can’t afford

Spending compulsion was the factor that best predicted high-risk financial behavior among students.

These are the students who like to buy impractical things, love the feeling of a shopping trip and feel the need to spend any extra money. Those who identified with such practices were more likely to have no relationship with a bank, pay credit card bills and loans late and take out payday loans or credit card cash advances.

60% of college freshman think it’s OK to pay an overdraft fee if you know you don’t have the cash

Overdraft protection tends to be marketed as a protective measure, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a report on the subject. While it can prevent bounced checks and declined transactions, it can cost consumers a lot of money.

Since mid-2010, account holders have had to opt-in to overdraft protection. In 2011, average checking account fees for those who opted in were $196. Those who did not opt in had average fees of $28.

40.5% of college freshman think students have to go into debt

Despite worrying about debt, a lot of students saw it as a need. In fact, 70.3% said banks should be unsurprised by students taking on large amounts of debt.

Those who think debt is a necessity were less likely to save, budget, have a checking account and pay student loans on time and in full, according to the report. They were more likely to withdraw from college and be late on a credit card payment.

Student loans are certainly a huge part of people’s lives. They account for more than $1 trillion of consumer debt, and two-thirds of the class of 2011 graduated with education debt.

Whether or not they’re necessary really depends on a student’s flexibility in school choice, ability to receive scholarships, willingness to work and many other factors. Taking out student loans isn’t a bad thing — but it requires some work to figure out what’s affordable.

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