68% of Americans with student loans are unhappy with how they financed college

By Courtney L. Vien

If they had to do it all over again, the majority of Americans would have paid for college differently, a new AICPA survey finds. Sixty-eight percent of adults with college loans or whose children have loans said they regret how they financed their own or their children’s education. Moreover, 4 out of 5 respondents questioned at least one decision they had made about their education.

Whether or not they chose to attend college, many Americans doubt whether they made the right decisions about their education. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents said that, if given the chance, they would change at least one of the choices they made about it. Sixty-eight percent of adults without a degree said they wish they had attended college so they would qualify for higher-paying jobs, while 43% of all respondents wish they had gone to trade school to prepare for a specific job. Fifty-four percent wish they had attended a less expensive school, and 27% wish they had delayed going to college so they could have saved more money first.

The survey also suggests that, for many Millennials (age 35 and under), education has yet to translate into financial opportunity. A slight majority of respondents (52%) said that Millennials have less upward financial mobility than previous generations, citing an uncertain job market (21%), the fact that more jobs require higher education (14%), and increased student loan debt (11%) among the top reasons. Over one-third of Millennials (35%) reported wishing they had delayed college until they had saved more money so they could reduce the amount of loans they took out.

The survey, conducted for the AICPA by Harris Poll, polled 1,010 adults in March 2015.

The National CPA Financial Literacy Commission recommends that before deciding to take out a loan, students should determine their monthly payments, their estimated salary after graduation, and the date they will need to start paying it back. The commission also suggests that students investigate grant and scholarship opportunities and speak with their financial aid office before taking out a loan. Consumers paying off loans can seek advice from CPAs and use the free Student Loan Consolidation and Debt Payoff calculator on the AICPA’s Feed the Pig website.

Courtney L. Vien (cvien@aicpa.org) is a JofA associate editor.

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