Student loans act as 'gateway to millennial debt', study says

·3 min read
University students and graduates aged 40 and under have nearly double the amount of non-student loan debt than those who did not attend university. Photo: PA
University students and graduates aged 40 and under have nearly double the amount of non-student loan debt than those who did not attend university. Photo: PA

New research into the impact of student loans on financial decision making shows that receiving student loans can act as a "gateway to more millennial debt".

Analysis from credit reference agency Equifax found 47% of UK university students and graduates who received a student loan, admitted it made them "more comfortable" with other forms of borrowing.

According to the report, university students and graduates aged 40 and under have nearly double the amount of non-student loan debt than those who did not attend university.

On average, people who attended university have £12,445 ($15,267) worth of debt, excluding any student loans, while those who did not attend university typically owe £7,105.

Levels of anxiety when managing money were found to be high for all young people in the study, regardless of background.

Read more: Students and graduates face 12% interest on student loans from September

Meanwhile, 64% of those paying off a student loan said managing their money causes them anxiety, compared with 57% of those who did not attend university.

Paula Roche, managing director of consumer solutions at Equifax UK, said: "We know that graduates earn more, and are more likely to have a mortgage by the time they hit 40 years old, but there are signs that this greater exposure to the credit market is also being driven by a greater familiarity with, or even desensitisation to, borrowing while at university.

"Whether it's credit cards or car finance, using the credit system and building up a credit history is one of the best ways to build a positive credit score, which could be giving graduates a further advantage when applying for a mortgage in later life.

"Whilst taking out different forms of credit isn't problematic when managed responsibly and repaid on time, it's important for all young people to understand the different types of credit available, and to have a clear view of how their financial history may influence their ability to access them."

Equifax surveyed more than 3,000 people aged between 18 and 40 across the UK for the study.

Read more: How your university course and grade determines your pay

It comes after experts warned last month that government plans for minimum grade requirements to access student loans could disproportionately impact students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In February, the government announced reforms for higher education, including the introduction of a threshold of two E grades at A-level or GCSE passes in English and maths to access loan finance.

Most UK students rely on student loans to afford the £9,250-a-year tuition plus living costs. Mature and foundation year students would be exempt under the plans.

Universities UK said a minimum entry requirement could "prevent some of the most disadvantaged students from achieving their potential and entrench their disadvantage".

The group, which represents 140 universities across the UK, added that proposed controls on student numbers would have a "disproportionate impact" on the poorest students, including those on free school meals.

Watch: How to live off a student loan