Student Loans: A Trillion Dollar Problem

Michael Lux Blog, Student Loans 6 Comments

It has been well reported that the national student loan debt in the United States is now well over a trillion dollars.  While it may not be difficult to gain some understanding on how student loans can affect an individual, it isn’t easy wrapping your head around how big one trillion dollars really is.  We know a million dollars is a lot of money.  We know a billion to be even more, and we know a trillion is even larger still… but how do we truly understand the scale of a trillion dollar debt?

Understanding a Trillion

Ronald Regan told Congress in 1981 that if you were to stack a trillion $1 bills on top of each other, the pile would reach 67 miles high.

If Americans were to pay down their student loans by $1 every second, it would take 31,688 years to reduce the debt by a trillion dollars.

If the national student loan debt were to be split evenly between every American, we would all owe over $3,000 dollars.

If the United States set aside one million dollars a day to pay back student loans.  It would take 2,740 years to reach a trillion dollars.

If someone wanted to spend a trillion dollars in their lifetime (assuming they reach the average age of 77 years) they would have to spend $35,580,857 every single day from birth.

Student Loan Debt Compared to the National Debt

At the time of this writing the United States National Debt was at just over 16 trillion dollars.  If you watched any of the debt ceiling debate, you know that many view this level of debt as a major problem.  If our entire nation owing 16 trillion dollars is a major problem, then how big of a problem do the portion of Americans who owe over a trillion dollars have?  Unlike the United States, paying back the debt over many generation is not an option.

What does this all mean?

It means student loans are everyone’s problem.  This debt will prevent people from buying a house.  Retirement planning will take a back seat to paying off student loans.  This debt will prevent purchases of a new car.   It will limit things like vacations, investments, and consumer spending.

The people with student loans represent a large portion of our country.  Their debt is immense.  If they are not given a meaningful chance to pay off their loans and they are not contributing to the economic growth of the country, what will happen?

I guess that is the trillion dollar question.

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I love the student loan debt clock…well I don’t love that it’s so high but as a comparison to the national debt clock. I definitely agree that student loan debt will have severe consequences to the economy which will affect those who don’t have this debt.


Wow, never saw how much trillion dollar that way, my goodness. Only if the universities required a semester of financial literacy class for every borrowing students…


Way to make it real! Those mental images make me sick. I’m really glad I graduated without debt, but seeing the struggles of those around me is really disconcerting. And you’re right…it really does effect society as a whole.