The rising student loan debt is inconsistent with trends for other U.S. consumer debt categories, according to analysis by Experian.
In the six years since the recession officially ended, the total amount of U.S. student loan debt has spiked 84% to an all-time high of $1.2 trillion, the firm said. Forty million U.S. consumers have at least one open student loan, and about 32% of them are between the ages of 18 and 34.
But Experian's analysis of student loan data trends from 2008 to this year also shows that outstanding debt is decreasing in every other major consumer lending category. Student loan debt has become the second largest debt class behind mortgages and is bound to rise further in the coming years, Experian said. Student loan debt now surpasses home equity loans, lines of credit, credit cards and automotive debt.
Currently, 39% of all open student loan accounts - totaling an unpaid balance of $417 billion - are in deferment, meaning the period when consumers are not obligated to make loan payments. The remaining 61%, or $727 billion, are in repayment, with scheduled payments averaging $279 per borrower.
The study found that on average customers have 3.7 open student loans, with an average balance of $29,000 per consumer, while the average balance per loan is $9,000.
"What is a really compelling statistic is that the average person has nearly four student loans," Michele Raneri, Experian's vice president of analytics, said in a press release. "Student loans are the only credit vehicle where a lender continues to extend credit year after year without knowing the person's ability, or even willingness to pay."
Student loan payment history also affects credit scores, the study said. "A student loan is a debt obligation just like any other. Once that loan is open, the lender may begin reporting it to the credit reporting companies," Rod Griffin, Experian's director of public education, said in the release.
The study found that loan performance varies by region. The state with the highest number of student loans 90 days or more delinquent was Missouri, while the state with the least amount of delinquencies was Massachusetts.