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19 Percent of Households Have Student-Loan Debt

A new analysis of government data by the Pew Research Center finds 19 percent of American families were carrying student-loan debt in 2010, up from 15 percent in 2007. As recently as 1989, it was only 9 percent.

Just how much in debt? On average, student borrowers owed $26,682 in 2010, compared with $23,349 in 2007.

Those are similar to figures provided by the Project on Student Debt that show two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010, and they carried an average of $25,250 in debt.

Pew's Richard Fry, who authored the report, found the situation is worse for families headed by someone younger than 35, where 40 percent are still paying off college expenses. And those in the low-income brackets are burdened the most by paying the greatest share of their money on loans. In 2010, student debt represented 24 percent of the household income of the lowest fifth of households.

Nearly 31 percent of Americans on the upper end of the income spectrum are in debt for college, an increase from 28 percent in 2007. But their pockets aren't hit as hard relative to their overall assets. Households in the 10th decile (90 percent and higher) owed just 2 cents of student debt for every dollar of household income, according to the Pew analysis.

More students are borrowing as the cost of tuition goes up, in part, as colleges respond to state funding cuts for higher education. Also, college enrollment overall is increasing, including more minority and disadvantaged students, fueling the rising debt loads.

A look at the big picture of debt, including credit-card payments and mortgages, shows an increasing share is represented by college expenses. The latest Pew analysis for 2010 finds student debt represents 5 percent of total household debt compared with 3 percent in 2007.

The good news: Overall, average household indebtedness fell from $105,297 in 2007 to $100,720 in 2010.

The Pew report is based on the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances, a triennial survey of the financial characteristics of U.S. households sponsored by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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