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13% of Students Paying For College with Credit Cards Cannot Afford to Graduate

NEW YORK - As millions of young adults begin their fall semesters across the nation, new findings from a national survey by policy center Demos reveal the relationship between college costs and credit card debt, and its impact on students and their parents.


Major findings in “College on a Credit Card: The Experience of The Middle Class in 2012” include:

  • 13 percent of indebted families who put education spending on their credit cards dropped out to deal with their debts. 
  • 60% of indebted households who had college expenses for a child in the past 3 years report that those expenses contributed to their current credit card debt.
  • 71% of indebted households who had college expenses for themselves or their spouse in the past 3 years report that the cost of college contributed to their current credit card debt.

These new statistics are part of Demos’ year-long project issuing findings from an original household survey on low- and middle-income households’ credit card debt, called “The Plastic Safety Net.” The survey provides unique data on how the Great Recession, its aftermath, and the passage of major consumer credit card protections have affected American families’ economic security.

Young Americans are being put between a rock and hard place

“Young Americans are being put between a rock and hard place, having to choose between insurmountable credit card debt and a college degree,” said Amy Traub, co-author of “Plastic Safety Net” and Senior Policy Analyst at Demos. “It’s up to all of the players – individuals, government and businesses – to make sure our families can afford to send their children to college. But today, both government and businesses are cutting back on that commitment, leaving families to cope through a private safety net that comes with interest and fees.”

To interview co-authors Amy Traub or Catherine Ruetschlin, please see the contact information above. “The Plastic Safety Net” is the second in a series of reports that will look at the findings of the 2012 National Survey on Credit Card Debt of Low - and Middle-Income Households in greater depth.


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A multi-issue national organization, Demos combines research, policy development, and advocacy to influence public debates and catalyze change. We publish books, reports, and briefing papers that illuminate critical problems and advance innovative solutions; work at both the national and state level with advocates and policymakers to promote reforms; help to build the capacity and skills of key progressive constituencies; project our values into the media by promoting Demos Fellows and staff in print, broadcast, and Internet venues; and host public events that showcase new ideas and leading progressive voices.

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