Survey: Women Feel Saddled With ‘Unmanageable’ Student Loan Debt and Fears of Losing Household Income

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American women feel the financial pinch at a greater rate than men, especially when it comes to managing student loan debt and preparing for retirement.

Our latest survey finds that women feel less secure than their male counterparts when it comes to their finances and being prepared for the future.

From managing their student loan debt to saving for retirement, women are worried about money. Here’s what we found.

Key survey findings

  • Women are more than twice as likely as men to feel their student loan debt is unmanageable. In fact, 28% of women with student loan debt said it was “not at all manageable,” compared to 13% of men who referred to their student debt that way.
  • Almost half of women (48%) say they regret taking out student loans. They said that they wouldn’t take student loans again if they could go back in time and do it again.
  • Women were less likely than men to have refinanced their student loans. Not only were men more likely to have heard about student loan refinancing (79%) than women (63%), they were more likely to have refinanced. Of those who knew about refinancing, 57% of women had not refinanced as compared to 32% who had.
  • Women don’t feel as prepared for retirement as men. Only 52% of women have a retirement savings vehicle, while 71% of men have access to a savings vehicle. On top of that, women have about half as much saved, on average, as men do.

Women are more than twice as likely as men to feel their student loan debt is unmanageable

On average, our survey indicates that American women have $91,647 in student loan debt. That’s slightly less than the average of $110,327 held by men. However, even though women have less student loan debt, they’re more likely to feel overwhelmed by their student loans.

Twenty-eight percent of women surveyed said their debt was “not at all manageable,” compared to 13% of men who referred to their student loans in the same way.

Additionally, more women than men regretted their decision to take out student loans. When asked if they would go back in time and use student loans for their education, almost one-half of women (48%) said no. Forty percent of men also said they wouldn’t.

But men were more likely to talk about student loan debt in terms of its necessity in getting an education to move forward with a career. “I had to take them out to continue my education,” wrote one male respondent. “The same would apply now.”

Other men wrote that they wished they had worked more during school to reduce the need for student loans, citing high monthly payments and interest rates.

Women were more likely to lament being in circumstances where they don’t use their degrees. “I hate having to make large monthly payments,” wrote one woman who wouldn’t take out student loans if she had to do it again. “I’m not even utilizing my degree.”

Other women reported similar experiences when answering qualitative questions about their student loan debt. They wrote about how they don’t work in their field of study or how they’ve left the workforce to care for children.

Women are less likely to be familiar with student loan refinancing

One way to get student loan payments under control is through refinancing. By refinancing to a lower rate, you can pay less each month and save money on interest, freeing up room in your budget for other expenses.

Men (79%) were more likely than women (63%) to be familiar with student loan refinancing.

Of those who reported knowing about student loan refinancing, men (69%) and women (64%) were both likely to have considered it.

However, even though they were almost as likely to have thought about refinancing their student loans, fewer women had gone through with it. More than one-half (57%) of women who knew about refinancing hadn’t tried it. On the other hand, only 32% of men who were familiar with the concept hadn’t refinanced.

Of those respondents who had refinanced, their No. 1 reason for trying it was to lower monthly payments. Seventy-two percent of women and 57% of men said lower payments were their primary reason for refinancing.

Women and men also saw saving money on interest as an inducement for refinancing. However, men were more likely to refinance in order to do the following:

  • Transfer a Parent PLUS Loan to a child or student.
  • Release a cosigner.
  • Convert a variable-rate loan to a fixed-rate loan.

Lorna Kapusta, vice president of women investors at Fidelity, pointed out that many women don’t know their options when it comes to student loan debt and aren’t sure refinancing is the best choice.

“Women are in control of so many things at so many levels,” Kapusta said. “When it comes to money, though, they’re not as confident as they could be. They underestimate their abilities and worry about their lack of knowledge, so they aren’t making the decisions they need to.”

Women are less likely to feel prepared for retirement

Women aren’t just more concerned about their student loans. They’re also more likely than men to feel worried about retirement — and for good reason. On average, the women we surveyed had about one-half the amount ($45,614) in retirement savings as men ($90,189).

Only 52% of women reported having a retirement savings vehicle. On the other hand, 71% of men reported having a way to save for retirement. It’s no surprise to see that only 23% of women felt on track for retirement, compared to 48% of men in our survey.

The most commonly cited reasons among both women and men for not being on track for retirement included living paycheck to paycheck and student loans.

women and retirement

“I’m paying bills and not earning enough money to keep up with all my current payments,” wrote one male respondent. This sentiment is unsurprising, considering 73% of those surveyed had other debt in addition to their student loans.

Additionally, many respondents expressed a lack of knowledge about investing for retirement, especially among women.

“I don’t feel like I understand how to prepare for future retirement,” wrote one female respondent. Another cited her “lack of knowledge about retirement planning” as the main reason why she hadn’t started saving.

How can women get a better handle on retirement?

Kapusta said she sees this worry among many of the women she works with. “Women worry more than men about their lack of knowledge,” she said. “Traditionally, in our society, investing is something women stay away from.”

In order to help women feel more prepared for retirement, Kapusta is working toward helping them with a mindset shift.

“First, we need to help women feel comfortable with the knowledge they already have,” she said. “Research indicates women are better investors in the long run, so we need to reinforce that.”

Next, women need to know where they can access retirement and investment tools and resources. “It’s not that complex once you have the knowledge,” said Kapusta. “Once women learn about investing, it cultivates a feeling of can-do. They can take steps to feel more confident and in control of the situation.”

Finally, Kapusta said women should realize they can work on repaying student loans while saving for retirement.

“We focus on student loan debt because we’re scared of debt,” she said. “And, yes, you need to be paying down that debt. But saving for retirement needs to be in those goals. Don’t neglect retirement as you’re paying off student debt.”

Even if you can only put a small amount toward retirement, it’s important to start saving as early as possible, Kapusta pointed out. Plan to increase what you save for retirement as your debt is paid off.

Women are more stressed about the potential loss of a partner’s income

Finally, despite the advances women have made in the workforce in recent decades, many of them still rely on a partner’s income. When it comes to caregiving, traditional gender roles continue to exist, said Ginger Dean, a psychotherapist and the founder of the women’s financial education website Girls Just Wanna Have Funds.

“Women feel especially stressed about household debt because it’s added to their list of things they have to do,” said Dean. “And women are still very reliant in many ways on a partner’s income, even if they have their own jobs.”

Fifty-six percent of women in our survey said they’d be concerned about their finances if a partner lost their income. Forty-three percent of men expressed the same concern.

In our survey, women (58%) were also less likely than men (84%) to be a full-time source of household income. This indicates that women are more dependent than men on a partner’s income.

When asked about the challenges they’d face with a loss of income, men largely mentioned a difficulty in paying bills.

“Paying the mortgage and monthly bills would be a struggle,” wrote one male respondent. “Student loan debt would add to that puzzle.”

Others pointed out that if their partner lost income, they’d be fine, even if they had to reorder their priorities and cut back on expenses.

“If my wife lost her income, the only thing that would change is that we would only be able to put $1,000 a month extra toward our student loan debt instead of $2,000,” wrote a male respondent. “We could survive on my wife’s income if I lost mine, but we’d have to really tighten our budget.”

Women, caregiving, and personal financial power

Not one male respondent in our survey mentioned children. But women (45%) were more likely than men (32%) to make less than $50,000 per year. And they worried about how they would take care of their kids with the loss of income:

  • “I’m on the Pay As You Earn plan, so my student loans would not be affected. But I’d worry about how to pay bills and feed my kid.”
  • “I’d lose my home and have no way to take care of my children.”
  • “Since I don’t currently work and I stay at home with a child, it would affect me and my family immensely if my spouse lost his income.”
  • “I have a child to raise and the student loans only make it worse.”

Society largely considers men to be the breadwinners. Recent findings from the Pew Research Center indicate about 72% of men and 71% of women believe a man must be able to provide for his family to be considered a good husband or partner.

Conversely, 25% of men and 39% of women believe women need to provide in order to be a good wife or partner.

On top of that, in about two-thirds of married or cohabiting couples, men outearn women. This can worry women, said Dean.

“Money equals power in so many aspects of our lives,” she said. “Many women find their choices constrained when they have children and debt and rely on their partners for the income they need to survive.”

The end of a relationship can complicate matters for women

Another reason women feel stressed about their debt, said Dean, has to do with the fact that they can have a hard time improving their situation. With caregiving responsibilities, women need a strong support system in order to feel in control of their finances, she pointed out.

Plus, with the way the student loan program is set up, continuing an education can be difficult for recently divorced women.

Dean knows this from experience. After her own divorce, she had a hard time funding a degree that would lead to a higher income.

“When you fill out the FAFSA, they base your need on the previous year’s tax returns,” Dean said. “Well, you filed jointly, so your ex’s income is considered. The only problem is you don’t have that money anymore.”

The same issue can thwart women who try to get on an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan after the end of a marriage, said Dean. “It takes time for all of that to shake out and for the government’s system to catch up with your actual income situation.”

How can women reduce their feelings of financial stress?

“Women feel more stressed out about finances and planning,” said Kapusta. “It’s one of the top issues keeping women [up] at night.”

So, with that in mind, how can women improve their finances and reduce financial stress?

Kapusta said that learning about investing can help women feel like they can plan for the future. “Our research shows that investing is the No. 1 thing women want to learn about,” she said.

In order to get that knowledge, Kapusta suggested that women speak with a financial professional.

“A professional can walk you through your options, as well as help you make a plan to pay down your student loans while investing for the future,” she said. “Find a financial professional you’re comfortable with. Aside from that, there are plenty of tools and resources online and in books that can help you gain a working knowledge of money and investing.”

Dean recommended creating a plan to deal with debt. “Figure out what you have control over and make a plan to deal with [debt],” she said. “You’ll feel better.”

Review options such as IDR and student loan refinancing, Dean suggested.

She also pointed out that women often revisit their mistakes and worry about how they got to where they are. “No matter why you’re in debt, you have to take care of it,” Dean said. “Look ahead to your desired outcome and find ways to make that happen.”

Finally, Dean said it makes sense to increase your earning potential. “Start a side hustle, go back to school, or increase the hours you work,” she said. “It’s not easy, but try to find a support system that can help you as you increase your financial power.”

Survey Methodology: Student Loan Hero conducted this survey via SurveyMonkey on Feb. 2, 2018, and collected responses from 1,776 adults living in the United States. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.97% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit, email us at, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate.” Rates listed include a 0.25% EFT discount, for automatic payments made from a checking or savings account. Interest rates as of 11/8/2018. Rates subject to change.

Variable rate options consist of a range from 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term, 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term, 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term, 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.98% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 2.35% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 2.40% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.65% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.90% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term would be from $180.89 to $193.75. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term would be from $139.65 to $146.76. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104.56 to $111.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.77 to $86.78. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.05 to $75.68.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance:
    Fixed rates from 3.899% APR to 7.979% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.470% APR to 6.990% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.470% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.30% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score.
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.

5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.

All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.28% effective October 10, 2018.

6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of November 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.29%. Variable interest rates range from 2.79%-8.39% (2.79%-8.39% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.75%-8.69% (3.75%-8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled. Applicants with an Associate’s degree or with no degree must have made at least 12 qualifying payments after leaving school. Qualifying payments are the most recent on time and consecutive payments of principal and interest on the loans being refinanced. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The cosigner (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a cosigner will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.

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