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A combination of increasing student debt, tighter lending standards and high levels of unemployment and underemployment has hampered young adult’s buying power.

StudentDebtA recent article from CNN Money audaciously claims that low debt levels among young adults is bad for the economy. The author, Nin-Hai Tseng, suggests that “young people are less willing to take on credit card debt and auto loans” as if they are doing that by choice. Tseng claims that debt is necessary for a healthy economy. This may be true in the consumer driven American economy however I am not convinced that young adults are choosing to have less debt.

If you really dig into the data you will find that lower debt and spending levels among young adults is a result of the economy instead of an increase in frugality and/or savings. As the article mentions (and the report from Pew states) student loan debt has increased while all other forms of debt have decreased for people under the age of 35. The author is perplexed by this:

What’s maybe most perplexing is that student debt has increased while all other consumer loans fell.

This isn’t perplexing at all; the decline in other loans is directly tied to the increase in student debt and the great recession. Acquiring student loans is still relatively painless while it is much more difficult to secure other types of loans or lines of credit, especially for young adults.

Consider this: in 2007 it was extremely easy to get loans and credit while student loan debt levels were much lower than they are today. In fact the average student debt level for people under the age of 30 in the first quarter of 2007 was $15,848; however by Q1 of 2012 the average student debt level had grown to $20,835 among adults under 30 [1]. Average student debt levels are accelerating with reports for recent graduates showing a staggering rise to $26,000.

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