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Could student loans be holding you back?

Studies show more Americans are putting off big financial decisions, due to student loan debt.

PORTLAND, Maine — Student loan debt is at an all-time high in America.

At last check it was roughly $1.53 trillion dollars. Compare that to $35-billion dollars back in 1985, according to a study done by American Student Assistance.

Here in Maine, each individual post college is carrying about $31-thousand a piece on average in student loan debt. Experts say that debt is forcing people to postpone big financial decisions.

"When I moved back to the state, I had a significant amount of student loan debt," Matthew Arey said. Arey is a financial adviser for Lebel and Harriman LLP in Falmouth. "It kind of hindered me in my first steps of independence."

Instead of renting or buying his own home, Arey initially lived with and cared for older relatives to cut back on costs. And though he wanted to become an attorney, his college debt put that law school dream on hold.

“It definitely limits your ability to choose the careers that you want to do or where you want to be,” Arey said. “And that's definitely hard."

That has become the reality for college graduates everywhere, as student loan debt in the United States continues to skyrocket.

"There certainly are a number of studies out there about people putting off decisions because of that student loan debt," Martha Johnston said. Johnston is the Education Director for the Financial Authority of Maine, or FAME.

Johnston has seen the roadblocks that can come with college debt -- like buying a home or car. She and her team at FAME help student borrowers pay off their loans and get them on a path to success that works for them. 

Though taking out student loans might be unavoidable, she says things like completing your degree, avoiding over borrowing and creating a financial roadmap can make a huge difference when it’s time to pay them off.

"It really is worth it. It's just really doing it in a way you are informed, you are empowered and you're making those decisions that are best for you with your eyes wide open," Johnston said.

That eyes wide open approach is what helped people like Arey eventually buy his first home and start law school. He says it might have taken him a little longer to achieve, but it's better late than never.

"For me, it was a very calculated choice, because the more proactive you are with it, the better off you're going to be," Arey said.

For more information about tackling your own student loans, click here.