Math is infinite.

Conjure up the largest number you can you can imagine and multiply that value by itself over and over again. You still wouldn’t reach an endpoint because there is none.

I thought about all that as I read Dr. Joel Elvery’s intriguing article on student loan debt in a recent issue of Forefront, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

According to Dr. Elvery’s calculations, the average monthly installment for student loan borrowers between 20 and 30 years old amounts to a very manageable $351 per month. I use the words very manageable because that payment represents less than 9% of the average pre-tax starting salary for recent college graduates, as reported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers ($48,127 for 2014 grads, or $4,010.58 per month).

As such, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask, “Then why the big deal about student loan debt?”

I reached out to Dr. Elvery for a bit more detail behind the numbers. He wrote that the data for his analysis was drawn from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Consumer Credit Panel.

This is the same FRBNY that recently reported how education-related debts that are 90 or more days past due totaled 11% of the nearly $1.3 trillion in loans that are currently outstanding.

It is also the same FRBNY that acknowledges in a footnote that this percentage rate is understated by roughly 50% (because only about half of these debts are actually in repayment), which makes the true percentage of student debts that are over 90 days late closer to 22%. And that doesn’t even take into account loans that are between 30 and 90 days past due (which, frankly, is the proper way to measure delinquency). Nor does it take into effect loans that are in temporary forbearance because the borrowers are unable to make the payments.

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Mitchell D. Weiss