by Tami Luhby @CNNMoney
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Total student loan debt has topped $1 trillion ... but there's no need to panic.
Most borrowers have a reasonable amount of debt, and the total balance is not likely to cause major damage to the economy like the mortgage crisis did, experts say.
"I don't think it's a bubble," said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Finaid.org, a financial aid website. "Most students who graduate college are able to repay their loans."
This is not to say that there aren't problems with student loans, which now exceed the amount of credit card debt and auto loans. Students are taking on more debt, on average, and more than a quarter of borrowers are behind on their payments. And a hefty debt load could delay recent graduates' purchase of a home or starting a business.
But all the talk of a crisis or bubble in the student loan industry is exaggerated, experts say.
There's no doubt that student loan balances are rising fast, bucking the trend of other consumer debt, which fell during the Great Recession. In 2007, the total level of student loan debt was about $600 billion.
But more people are going to college these days, said Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the George Washington University School of Education. This is prompted in part by the economic downturn: When people lose their jobs or the economy turns shaky, a lot of folks return to school to learn new skills or bolster their resumes.