BOSTON (CBS) - The bills are stacking up faster than 15-month-old Noah can stack his favorite cups. "I'm $90,000 in debt from student loans," says his mom, Kaitlin Smith. That enormous bill impacts nearly every decision the young Billerica couple makes. "It definitely holds you back. It's hard to move forward in your life and career knowing you have this debt," says Kaitlin.
At 26 years old, the preschool teacher is saddled with a $457 loan payment every month. Over the next two years that monthly bill will double. Kaitlin and her husband, Eric, would love to use that money to save for a house. "It's not realistic for a family to live and pay for this astronomical bill. It's too much."
And the reality is more and more young Americans are putting off major life decisions because of the debt. According to a recent survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs by Harris Interactive, 41% are not contributing to their retirement, 40% have put off buying a car, 29% can't buy a house, and 15% have decided to delay marriage.
Kevin Fudge says he's not a marriage counselor, but he does counsel couples on how to deal with overwhelming college loan debt. He's a financial aid advisor at American Student Assistance.
"I've actually met people who are afraid to tell their partners what their debt is. They are so terrified that this is going to be a deal breaker." But chances are your partner has at least some college debt. Americans have now racked up more in college loans than credit card bills. Recent graduates owe an average of $28,000.
"What's the number one reason why couples split up? They always say money," explains Kevin. So to keep debt from ruining the relationship, Kevin says it's vital to talk about it and stick to a budget. "It can be something that you work with together and it doesn't have to drive a wedge between you."
Kaitlin considers herself lucky because Eric is debt-free. He even tries to pick up extra shifts at work to help out because he's sees the debt as his own, "We're both in it together. What's hers is mine, what's mine is hers." As for Noah's college education, Kaitlin is counting on scholarships, "we're barely keeping our heads above water ourselves. So, trying to save for his education is not a reality."
for more features.