How student loan debt hobbles so many Americans

It's an ongoing crisis: Millions of Americans are finding their future prospects hindered due to a mountain of student loan debt.

As the cost of higher education rises, many students are struggling to make ends meet while in college, and then they can spend decades after graduation trying to pay off those loans.

A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that outstanding student loan balances, as seen from data on credit reports, were nearly $1.2 trillion at the end of this past March, an increase of $78 billion compared to the same time a year ago. It also noted that over 11 percent of student loan debt is more than 90 days delinquent or in default.

Other federal government data shows that unemployment rates drop and personal earnings rise when the level of education increases.

But a new report from Bankrate.com also suggests that more than half of millennials, defined as people currently between the ages of 18 and 35, are putting off major life events as they try to bring their student debt burdens under control.

The Bankrate-commissioned survey interviewed a "nationally representative sample" of 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S. It found that 56 percent of millennials are deferring landmark purchases on homes and cars, as well as saving for retirement, because of current or past student loans.

In comparison, 43 percent of older adults say they've had to put aside major purchases as they cope with student debt, according to the report.

"Student debt is often portrayed strictly as a millennial issue, but the truth is that Americans of all ages have put their lives on hold due to student debt," Bankrate analyst Steve Pounds said in a press statement.

"Delaying major life milestones such as buying a home or saving for retirement doesn't only affect the individual and his or her family," he added, "it also has ill effects on the overall economy."

However, the survey also found that only 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have ever had student loan debt, compared to 41 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds.

But more than half of those surveyed who did have student loans complained they didn't get enough information or advice when it came to understanding the financial risks associated with those loans.