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Is It Bad to Stress About Student Loans? According to New Findings, Maybe Not

Matt Pelkey, CFEI
During his time as the director of education for OppU, Matt Pelkey, CFEI, successfully implemented personal finance courses, scholarship opportunities, and financial literacy resources for students and adults of all ages.
Read time: 3 min
Updated on February 23, 2022
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Women are extra about student loan debt. Men are chill. Guess who’s more likely to make payments on time?

America has a problem.

Over the past 10 years, student loan debt has more than doubled. In 2018, it hit a record high of $1.465 trillion.

Recently, the average debt for students has leveled off. This might be a promising development, but take a look at debt levels for parents. Those numbers continue to rise, because the situation has become so bad that moms and dads have started taking on the debt of their kids in an apparent attempt to save the day.

All of this might sound like a joke. In fact, it’s become one.

Women Are More Worried About Student Loan Debt Than Men

As the numbers show, there are many reasons to feel stressed about student loans. But the high-level statistics only scratch the surface. Student loan debt has been linked to lower homeownership rates among millennials, and borrowers who default on their federal student loans risk seeing 15 percent of their salary evaporate every paycheck.

To explore the impact of student loan debt, a new study from the University of Missouri reviewed a survey of 2,600 borrowers. The researchers found that a majority of respondents—55 percent—reported feeling worried about their student loans.

However, while anxiety was widespread, it was more prevalent in certain segments of the population. Women, it turned out, were more likely to feel worried about their student loan debt than men.

Does Stress Make You More Likely to Pay Your Loans On Time?

Here’s another interesting finding from the study: Women, who were more likely to feel worried about debt, were also more likely to make their payments on time.


So, people who feel more worried about student loans are more likely to make their payments on time. And people who feel less worried are less likely to make their payments on time.

Is there a connection?

The researchers didn’t speculate about whether anxiety helps people meet their debt obligations. But to some degree, it tracks. The levels of worry that women reported might suggest that they’re taking their debt responsibilities more seriously. And if they’re taking their debt more seriously, they’re probably more likely to stay on top of their bills.

But of course, there could be other explanations for the higher incidence of worry among women borrowers. For instance, women have more student loan debt than men—an average of $2,739 more, to be exact. Their levels of worry might have nothing to do with how responsible they are, and everything to do with the weight of debt they shoulder.

For the Record: It’s Not Good to Stress About Student Loans

Just to be clear, we’re not saying that it’s good to stress about student loan debt. Anxiety is bad, and debt should be manageable. Sure, stress has been shown to increase motivation, but harnessing anxiety to stay on top of payments is a less-than-ideal solution—to say the least. We’re not advocating it.

For one thing, student loan debt that causes excessive stress is probably a sign that something's wrong. Maybe the debt responsibilities exceed the means of the borrower. Maybe the borrower lacks a sufficient repayment plan. In either case, the stress is caused by something not good.

So is there a better way?

Sure is, and the study hints at it, because among other findings, the researchers discovered a notably low percentage of financial education among borrowers.

Financial Education Is Lacking

In the study, only 30 percent of borrowers reported receiving formal financial education related to student loans. Only 40 percent reported financial socialization from their parents.

Undoubtedly, this is a huge area of opportunity, and the study’s author says as much.

“My hope is that policymakers use this information when developing financial educational programs,” Lu Fan, who led the research, said in a statement. “Better educational resources created for specific audiences — parents, young adults, women and households that have experienced a drop in income — will lead to more educated borrowers.”

Bottom Line

Stress less and learn more. Go financial literacy!

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