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Is your education paying off? Or are you still paying for it?

Nearly 20 percent of the roughly 242 million adult Americans have student loan debt. For those that struggle with math, that’s almost 50 million people paying off student loans. 

By any measure, that’s a large number. The dollar amount of the outstanding loan balance is a staggering $1.6 trillion. Said another way, that’s $1,600,000,000,000, a number so large it’s difficult to comprehend.

Studies have shown that those with a college degree generally earn significantly more over a lifetime than someone without one. Many in the workforce have benefited from their education and are doing quite well career wise. 

But higher education isn’t paying off for everyone. Far too many feel as if they’re suffocating from the financial burden of paying off their debt.

How did we reach this point? It’s convenient to blame the students because they’re the ones that signed on the dotted line. Some of them didn’t use the loan money prudently. For others, life didn’t turn out the way they envisioned. And I suspect many simply didn’t understand the mathematics of taking out a loan.  

You might blame the educational institutions because tuition and fees have risen at a rate much steeper than the national inflation rate. In addition, many schools made the loan process far too easy for students. 

And let’s not forget to point a finger at the lending institutions. They must have some responsibility, right? Looking at the big picture, however, I believe the blame can be shared all around.

I’ve been a proponent of financial education my entire career.

Unfortunately, not too many high school graduates have been taught the mathematics of loans and interest. I would also like to point out that many don’t look at the earnings potential of their chosen field. 

If your career path has minimal financial upside and you anticipate having a large student loan, that’s a problem. The high cost of education suggests you shouldn’t look at your curriculum simply as personal enrichment. Your career path is also an important business decision.

Clearly, many bad decisions were made in order to accumulate such a staggering amount of debt. It’s also clear that this debt has created a lot of stress and worry for a lot of people. I’ve seen how overwhelming it can become.

I’m not one to encourage bankruptcy, but the reality is that it’s woven into in the fabric of our society. Things don’t always go as we plan. Especially financial matters. And for some, going through the bankruptcy court system is the only way out of financial difficulty.

Historically, student loans have not been forgiven in bankruptcy. But already in the new year, a student loan debt of more than $220,000 was forgiven by a Federal judge in the state of New York.

By no means am I suggesting that everyone with debt should file for bankruptcy. But it appears that doing so for student loan debt is indeed an option. Although I am not encouraging this path, for those that are struggling beyond hope, sometimes requesting loan forgiveness is the only path. And that option is now on the table in the eyes of the court.

Too much debt of any kind can be a burden. I suspect student loan debt will be a highly debated topic in this election year.