In addition to the apparent plateauing of education costs, it’s possible that student loan growth has slowed because of lower college attendance, specifically in the for-profit sector. There’s been a steep decline in enrollment at four-year for-profit institutions: 13.7% between fall 2014 and fall 2015. 
This isn’t totally surprising. Several for-profit colleges have closed due to pressure by the Department of Education and stronger regulatory scrutiny, and others are losing students as the economy rebounds and their potential students now have more job opportunities. In addition, the number of for-profit colleges that can award financial aid has declined.
For-profit schools are, on average, more expensive than public universities, and students who attend are more likely to take out loans. Students are opting instead to either attend nonprofit colleges or universities or be in the workforce, both of which likely contribute to lower overall student loan balances.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Try to increase income and cut expenses. Seeing education costs leveling off is great, but the challenge of rising housing, food and medical costs can make it tempting to use a credit card to cover what you can’t. Consumer debt is typically more expensive than student loan debt. Ideally, you should work within your budget to avoid pricey lifestyle financing.
“Taking on debt to cover the gap between income and expenses is a short-term fix with costly long-term results,” says Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s credit and banking expert. “Instead of taking on debt, try to increase your income by finding freelance work or a part-time job you can do on the side, or cut back on expenses where you reasonably can, before adding to your credit card’s balance.”
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re finding it increasingly harder to stay above water; the gap in income and expense growth is no joke.
Check out NerdWallet s salary negotiation guide if you think you’re being underpaid for your work. Then, learn how to make more and spend less to free up money to put toward your debt or put less stress on your budget.
The fearmongering has already started. Several news sources and financial sites are suggesting another major recession is ahead based on increasing debt numbers. However, debt levels alone don’t point to a recession. Inflation rates are down . delinquencies are flat . and the housing market is trending up  — all positive signs for the economy.
“When the next recession strikes, it’s unlikely to be the result of poorly managed credit card debt,” McQuay says. “By all measures, consumers are handling their debt far more responsibly than they have in years past, likely due to a combination of issuers tightening their lending rules and consumers paying their minimums more responsibly.”
Revolving credit card debt is costly
There are two main types of credit card users:
- Transactors pay off their credit card balances every month, so they don’t owe interest.
- Revolvers carry all or part of their credit card balances from one month to the next, so they pay interest on their average daily balance.
Because credit card debt is one of the most expensive types of debt, it’s not cheap to be a revolver. The average household with revolving credit card debt carried a balance of $6,885 as of June 2016 and pays $1,292 a year in interest, assuming an annual percentage rate of 18.76%.  This average changes when you break it down by household income and employment status.
AS YOUR INCOME GROWS, SO DOES THE COST OF YOUR DEBT
Just making more money doesn’t solve debt problems. In fact, according to our findings, debt loads increase as income does; therefore, annual interest payments are larger. Higher-income people can get higher credit limits more easily, giving them more room to rack up big balances. Low-income earners, on the other hand, don’t have access to a lot of credit.
Still, the difference is striking: Households that bring in more than $157,479 per year pay almost four times more in credit card interest than households that make less than $21,432.
It’s important to look at debt in relation to income to see the whole picture. Let’s take the average debt owed by someone who makes $20,000 a year versus someone who makes $150,000. The low-income household owes $3,611 in credit card debt, or 18% of its annual income. The high-income household has a card balance of $10,036, or less than 7% of its income. 
Despite much higher debt numbers, the higher-income household owes a significantly smaller percentage of its annual income. So while high-income households spend more, it affects their bottom lines much less.
NerdWallet reviewed internal and external data sources. Internal data has been identified as such throughout this study. The external data sources are publicly available online:
 CPIs, or consumer price indexes, measure the price changes for a set of consumer goods and services. The eight CPI groups are housing, transportation, food and beverages, medical care, apparel, education and communication, recreation, and other goods and services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall CPI went from 185.1 to 241.002 between 2003 and 2016. Medical care grew from 299.8 to 469.815 in this time period, and food and beverage increased from 181.5 to 247.56. To compare the increase in the CPI categories with income growth since 2003, we projected a 2016 median household income based on the rate of growth over the past 13 years. Our projections show median incomes of $43,318 and $56,578 in 2003 and 2016, respectively.
 According to our projections based on data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, total debt in the U.S. will hit $12.5 trillion by the end of 2016, surpassing the total debt of $12.37 trillion in December 2007.
 According to Experian s proprietary algorithm to calculate proxy interest rates, revolving balances and other attributes, the revolving credit card debt as of June 2016 is $320 billion. We projected a U.S. population of 125.27 million households in June 2016 based on U.S. Census Bureau numbers. We projected that 37.1% of U.S. households are indebted as of 2016, based on 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances numbers. NerdWallet s internal data show an average credit card APR of 18.76%.
 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the housing CPI grew from 185.5 to 245.685 from 2003 to 2016.
 To compare the increase in household debt with income growth since 2003, we projected a 2016 median household income based on the rate of growth over the past 13 years. Our projections show median incomes of $50,303 and $56,578 in 2008 and 2016, respectively. Adjusted average household debt numbers are $118,758 and $99,365 in 2008 and 2016, respectively.
 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the education CPI grew from 110.1 to 138.712 from 2003 to 2016.
 According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt was $1.28 trillion in September 2016 and $447 billion in September 2006.
 According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt was $1.2 trillion in September 2015.
 According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment for all degree-granting institutions decreased by 1.7% in fall 2015, compared with the previous year. Four-year for-profit enrollment decreased by 13.7% in that same period.
 Based on data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, we projected that total credit card debt in the U.S. will hit $842 billion by the end of 2019, surpassing the total credit card debt of $839 billion in December 2007.
 According to the U.S. Inflation Calculator, inflation rates in 2016 are down to 1.5%, compared with 2.5% and 4.1% in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
 According to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, delinquencies are flat or even declining, depending on which credit products you re looking at. Before and during the recession, they were increasing steadily.
 According to The Wall Street Journal, the housing market is trending up, though it has yet to recover from the housing crash between 2006 and 2009.
 We used consumer-reported data from the Survey of Consumer Finances and revolving credit card balance data from Experian to estimate revolving debt based on household income. We used the estimated average credit card APR of 18.76% from our internal data to calculate the amount of interest each household would pay. Households that made less than $21,432 owed $3,611 in credit card debt and paid annual interest of $677 on credit cards. Households that made more than $157,479 owed $13,406 in credit card debt and paid annual interest of $2,515.
 We used consumer-reported data from the Survey of Consumer Finances and revolving credit card balance data from Experian to estimate revolving debt based on the employment status of the head of household. We used the estimated average credit card APR of 18.76% from our internal data to calculate the amount of interest each household would pay. Households headed by an employee working for someone else owed $6,453 in credit card debt and paid annual interest of $1,211 on credit cards. Households led by someone self-employed owed $8,693 in credit card debt and paid annual interest of $1,631.
 The Fed voted Dec. 14, 2016, to increase interest rates by 0.25 percentage points.
 Adding a potential Fed rate increase of 0.25 percentage point to the average credit card APR of 18.76%, the average household would owe $1,309 in credit card interest per year.