Mary Knauff would like to start saving money, for retirement or for some future spending.
But because of about $28,000 in student loans, which she's paid down to about $17,000, the 2010 Xavier University graduate will continue living paycheck to paycheck.
"It's sort of disheartening," said Knauff, 25. "I knew going in that I was going to a private school. Especially when you're trying to get started, when loans take up a third of your living expenses, it's frustrating."
That delay in buying cars and condos, in starting families and savings accounts, reveals the true cost of student debt, to graduates such as Knauff and to the larger economy.
Even as Americans held overall consumer debt to a 9 percent increase from 2004 to this year, student debt tripled to $986 billion after adjusting for inflation, according to an Enquirer analysis of Federal Reserve Bank of New York data.
It's now 8.8 percent of all consumer debt, up from 3.1 percent in 2004.