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Federal Reserve says student debt has hampered housing market

Links rise in debt to drop in homeownership and urban exodus among younger set

Student debt has impacted the housing decisions of young Americans, the Federal Reserve said, delaying homeownership and prompting a significant number of college grads to move away from rural areas.

In two papers published Wednesday, the Fed said homeownership for adults ages 24 to 32 fell 9% from 2005 to 2014, landing at 36%.

The Fed said that while a number of factors are at play, it attributes 2 percentage points of this 9% decline to student debt, meaning that 400,000 borrowers could have purchased a house but didn’t because of their debt.

Outstanding student loan balances have more than doubled to about $1.5 trillion in the last decade, according to the Fed, with the average debt per student in the 24 to 32 set rising from $5,000 to $10,000 from 2005 to 2014.

Here's a chart from HousingWire showing the student debt problem is worse than we thought.

The paper points out that increased student debt heightens the likelihood of default, therefore impacting an individual’s credit score and, with a weak credit score, it may be more difficult to obtain a mortgage.

“While investing in postsecondary education continues to yield, on average, positive and substantial returns, burdensome student loan debt levels may be lessening these benefits,” the researchers wrote.

But the Fed declined to say that the impact of student debt on homeownership is entirely negative, instead calling it “complex.”

“On the one hand, student loan payments may reduce an individual’s ability to save for a down payment or qualify for a mortgage. On the other hand, investments in higher education also, on average, result in higher earnings and lower rates of unemployment,” the researchers wrote.

Fed researchers also analyzed the causal relationship between student debt and a noted migration of debt holders away from rural areas.

More than half of student-loan borrowers moved out of rural areas to urban areas within six years of incurring their debt, researchers wrote in a second paper.

“The loss of college educated young people could have important effects on the economic vitality of rural areas and raises questions about what rural policymakers could do to retain a larger share of these individuals,” the researchers wrote. “As more college students borrow to finance their educations, this question becomes even more pressing.”

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