Briefs & Summaries Financial Behaviors Financial Inclusion

The Burden of Student Debt: Findings From a Survey of Low- and Moderate-Income Households

Completing a college degree continues to offer a pathway for enjoying greater earnings. Yet tuition has risen sharply and state higher-education funding has declined in recent years, shifting the burden of paying for college to students and their families. As a result, most students (70%) depend on loans to help pay for college and student debt is now greater than credit card debt in the United States. Student debt is increasingly difficult to manage, as debt-to-income ratios, loan default rates, and delinquency rates are on the rise. This brief utilizes data from the 2014 Refund to Savings study to examine the experiences of low- and moderate-income (LMI) tax filers with student debt. The findings show that over half (51%) of the sample (N = 8,772) had student debt. Borrowers owed $35,482, on average, and were more likely than nonborrowers to experience financial difficulties, such as overdrawing bank accounts, and hardships, such as skipping a housing payment. Compared with borrowers from other racial/ethnic groups, Black borrowers were more likely to experience difficulty repaying their student loans. Policies should aim to decrease the proportion of college costs that is financed by student loans, provide additional support to students from LMI households, and address racial disparities in education.

Project: Refund to Savings (R2S)


Despard, M. R., Taylor, S. H., Perantie, D. C., & Grinstein-Weiss, M. (2016, May). The burden of student debt: Findings from a survey of low- and moderate-income households (CSD Research Brief No. 16-15). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.