About 44 million people in the U.S. owe on student loans. At more than $1.5 trillion, education debt now exceeds our credit card balances and auto loans.
Student loans have become so ingrained in our culture that they’ve appeared everywhere from workplace benefits packages to game show awards. And as tuition continues to rise – it has more than tripled since the 1970s – student debt headlines are likely to continue to drive traffic for local papers, magazines and national TV broadcasts.
While most Americans say student loans are worth the cost in the long run, nearly nine in 10 also believe that too many borrowers have a hard time paying back their debt. Arguments over the best way to address the country’s collective burden have grown into a divisive political topic.
Because student debt is such a hot topic, it’s also easy for time-pressed journalists to fall into common reporting traps, such as highlighting misleading statistics or publicizing extreme cases of borrowing as if they were typical.
The following information will help journalists find reliable data, cut through misleading statistics and understand the nuances of the federal loan system, including who is borrowing and how well they are repaying.
Updated September 2020