Twenty-Somethings Drowning in a Sea of Bills

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Heather Schopp is a chiropractor in California dealing every day with her clients' physical pain. But her own pain is financial: At age 29 she is more than $170,000 in debt.

"I think about it every day," Schopp says. "I mean, I lay in bed, thinking in my head, 'Okay, how much money do I have? What will I have to do tomorrow? Do I have to buy anything?' "

Schopp is part of the exploding number of young people who are rapidly turning into "Generation Debt." These twenty-somethings are weighed down by hundreds of thousands of dollars of credit card bills and student loans.

Watch "World News" on Sunday for the first installment of a two-part series, "Young and In Debt." And USA Today will begin the first of six weekly installments of the series in Monday's newspaper.

Two-thirds of college students now take out student loans and graduate with an average of $20,000 in debt, according to Project on Student Debt, a group that tracks student loans. And the National Center for Education Statistics says a college education costs approximately 250 percent more than it did 30 years ago, leaving many recent graduates in the hole before they even pick up their diplomas.

On top of that, 76 percent of undergraduates carry credit cards with an average balance of more than $2,000, according to Nellie Mae, a provider of student loans.

It often is a burden too great for people entering the work force with modest starting salaries that aren't keeping up with the rate of inflation.

Schopp works two jobs, six days a week, just to make ends meet and keep pace with her debt, but it is still not enough.

Experts say such early debt also delays traditional markers of adulthood like buying a house and getting married.

"How am I gonna look five years ahead," Schopp says. "It's hard to look that far ahead because you can barely make it through the day."

Many young people caught in the spiral of debt say they wish they had some kind of financial education early on to help them avoid getting into trouble later in life.

Tamara Draut, author of "Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead," says those who are heading to college need a reality check right now.

"I think three decades, four decades from now, we're going to look back and remember this generation as either the generation that saved the American dream or the generation that lived through its demise."

Heather Schopp's dream was being a chiropractor -- a dream now tarnished by $170,000 of debt.

"It's kind of sucked the joy out of my profession," she says, "out of my career."

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