Student Debt Surging

By Matt Porter

September 28, 2012 Updated Oct 1, 2012 at 11:30 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Almost one in five households are dealing with student loan debt, according to the Pew Research Center.

Lynne Theophanis from Vestal has been paying student loans for more than 20 years, and she's not about to stop--she's added another $20,000 after completing a Master's in social work.

"I can't honestly look my daughters in the eye right now and give them any big promises that I'll be able to help them financially with their college expenses," said Theophanis.

The mother of two said she's paid almost $5,000 in interest paying off her first loans. That's nearly a quarter of the loan's original value.

"I don't think a lot of people look into about how long they'll take to pay off the interest that accrues over time," Theophanis said.

It's a growing problem.

Something experts say hurts a family's financial future.

"It will limit them if they can pay for their own children's college," said credit counselor Joanne Conant. "It will limit them on the size of their home or if they can purchase a home."

She said people can't ignore finances when choosing a school.

"Finances should be very important," said Conant, "Pick and choose a college that should meet your needs. It doesn't need to be a party college. It doesn't need to be the fancy college."

Despite the debt, Theophanis is betting her degree will lead to a better job and help improve her family's fiscal future.

"I don't want to take away from my daughters' experiences and opportunities that they can take advantage of because I'm still paying off my college loans," she said.

The Pew Center reports American households owe on average just a little more than $26,000. Up more than $3,000 from 2007.

They say student debt hurts young and low-income borrowers the most.