Photo of house

Home Buying Not Tied to Student Debt

A popular assertion these days is that young adults paying off student loans can’t afford to buy a house. This might be the financial equivalent of Chicken Little.

Contrary to concerns that the sky is falling – or, rather, the first-time homebuyer market is falling due to student debt – a new study finds very little evidence to support this view.

The researchers tracked the home-buying behavior of more than 5,000 college-going young adults for a full decade through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. They confined the analysis to people who attended college – graduates and non-graduates alike – in contrast to previous research that compared the behavior of all young adults and found that borrowing got in the way of homeownership.

The new study actually found they were slightly more likely than non-borrowers to purchase a house. But this could be due to the fact that the borrowers tended to be the type of people who persist and complete their degrees, attend more expensive schools, and possess other socioeconomic advantages. This comparison of borrowers and non-borrowers still didn’t settle the question of whether the probability of owning a home actually decreases as the level of student debt rises.

When the researchers further narrowed the analysis only to individuals who held student loans, they found no relationship between the amount of money borrowed and the probability of homeownership. “If you have $30,000 in debt you’re no less likely to buy a home than if you have $3,000 in debt,” said one of researchers, Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College.

The findings, Houle said, “cast doubt on this idea that student loan debt is dragging down the housing market.” …Learn More

Retirement Coverage Expanded: UK vs US

President Obama signed a January memo officially launching his MyRA program to encourage saving by low-income and other Americans who lack a retirement plan through their employers.

The United Kingdom is also addressing pension shortfalls for uncovered workers in a much more ambitious way.  The U.K. program, put in place in 2012, has two key provisions that MyRA lacks: it automatically enrolls workers so more will save in the first place, and it provides them with matching contributions.

The U.K. program has enrolled 1.8 million of the 4 million workers targeted, primarily at small employers. A 2014 study by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, described the program and compared it with MyRA.

The United Kingdom’s retirement income problems largely stem from the contraction of the government’s retirement system.  A first stab at improving retirement income security came in 2001, when the government mandated that employers with five or more workers offer a low-cost retirement savings plan that workers could volunteer to join.  That program gained little traction among workers or financial firms.

The 2012 reform was much bolder.  In addition to mandating a 3 percent employer match (starting in 2017), the government matches 1 percent, with both matches contingent on the employee saving 4 percent of his earnings. To manage the program and offer a low-cost savings plan to employers, the National Employment Savings Trust, or NEST, was established. …Learn More

Photo of first-generation student

Attending College if Your Parents Didn’t

Education has historically been the most powerful way for children of the U.S. working class to brighten their futures. But as the cost of college rises, they must climb taller and taller mountains to attend.

The ideal for college – an ideal still pursued by students whose parents can afford it – is to attend full-time and focus on one thing: their studies. But five untraditional students who were profiled in a new documentary say they must juggle their multiple pressing priorities:

  • Work, sometimes full-time, to support themselves or help support parents or siblings.
  • Maintain a high grade point average after poor high school preparation.
  • Inadequate financial aid packages and parents who are unable to help.
  • Parents who may not understand the college financial aid process.
  • Complexities of transferring credits from a community college to a four-year institution.

Like many untraditional students, Sharon Flores is the first generation in her family to attend college. This top high school student and daughter of a single mother explains her struggle to attend King’s College in Pennsylvania in the documentary, “Redefining Access for the 21st Century Student,” which was produced by the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington. …Learn More

Photo of hands pushing against a wall

Underwater Homeowners Stuck in Place

Packing up and moving across state lines is a time-honored tradition in this country. Settlers headed to the Great Plains in the 1800s, retired snowbirds have flocked to the Sun Belt for decades, and roughnecks today are pouring into North Dakota for the shale-oil boom.

But moves like these became extremely difficult for an unprecedented number of Americans after U.S. house prices plunged, suddenly trapping millions of homeowners in houses that were worth less than what they owed on their mortgages.

The phenomenon, called “house lock,” was more pervasive during the recent housing market downturn, because the downturn was national in scope – prior housing declines had largely been isolated in regional markets.

Some 110,000 to 150,000 fewer Americans relocated each year from 2006 through 2009, reducing interstate migrations nationwide by 2 percent to 3 percent annually, according to the first study using data on individual house prices and mortgage balances to confirm that an increase in a state’s homeowners with “negative equity” affected migrations out of that state. …Learn More

Happy Thanksgiving from Squared Away !

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What You May Have Missed

A few articles Squared Away readers might’ve missed while they were on vacation are listed below.

A link to each article appears at the end of these summer headlines:

Couple Reach Across Financial Divide

Little Thought Put Into Retirement Date

How Can Debt Enhance Self-Esteem?

Progress Stalls for Young Adults

Free Financial Advice Goes Online

10 Student Loan Prevention Strategies

To support our blog, readers may want to sign up for our unobtrusive alerts – just one per week – by clicking here. And there’s always Facebook and Twitter!
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What’s Up With Women?

The share of women enrolled in college is increasing, and more women are breaking into the top tier of business, government and non-profits.

But at the same time that women are achieving more status than at in any time in history, we still know much less than men about money and finance. What’s up with that?

Financial literacy is important to women, because they live longer and need more retirement savings. Another reason this matters is that women are, according to a recent federal report, more financially vulnerable than men, particularly when they become divorced, widowed, or retired.

Anyone who is not savvy “will have a much tougher time preparing themselves for retirement,” Roger Ferguson, the president of the TIAA-CREF retirement system, said at the retirement research conference in Washington.

In a now-famous survey designed by Annamaria Lusardi, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business, and Olivia Mitchell at The Wharton School, only one in five American women who were asked three simple financial questions got them all right.

And the problem of financially illiterate women is universal. Lusardi recently fielded her survey on a global scale and found the same abysmal results. “Whether you look at the Netherlands or Sweden or Italy or the U.S. – these are very different countries – women know less than men,” she said.

She is, nevertheless, optimistic, because women are also more likely to admit what they do not know. Half of women in a separate U.S. study said they didn’t know the survey answers, while only one-third of men did. This admission can be viewed as “a good thing for women,” Lusardi said.Learn More