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Today, as unemployment remains elevated over pre-recession levels, a large number of consumers are heading back to or remaining in college to bolster their educational qualifications and delay their entry into the workforce, according to a report from the credit monitoring bureau Equifax. This option has become particularly popular with people who have strong credit scores, as low-risk borrowers – those who have credit scores of more than 700 – account for 37 percent of all new student loan accounts last year. But at the same time, high-risk borrowers – those with credit scores of less than 620 – accounted for 35 percent of all new student loan accounts.

From December 2010 to the same month in 2011, there was a 2 percent increase in the amount of student loan debt carried by the average borrower, as it rose to $9,558 from the previous average of $9,322, the report said.

Meanwhile, the average amount per loan dipped 8 percent to $6,333 from $6,850. While both were highs seen in the last four years, that may indicate that consumers are now leaning on a number of student loans to make ends meet where their school-related costs are concerned, rather than just one.

Consumers aged 23 and under now also have the largest amount of student loans based on the sheer number of people enrolled in school from that demographic, the report said. However, those between the ages of 24 and 29 have the highest dollar share on new loans, which is to be expected given the higher cost of graduate programs. In all, student loan debt for both these age groups was more or less level, while that for consumers between 30 and 39 rose again, as it has since 2008.

Student loan delinquencies of 90 days or more, meanwhile, rose 14.6 percent on a year-over-year basis in February, to a total of $7 billion, the report said.

Having large amounts of student loan debt may be problematic for many borrowers facing severe financial trouble because in most cases it cannot be cleared from their records in a bankruptcy filing.

Image: 401k, via Flickr.com

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