On March 31, 2018 the United States crossed a milestone. As of that date, Americans’ student loan debt topped $1.5 trillion, exceeding the share of consumer debt held by auto loans ($1.1 trillion) and credit cards ($988 billion), and jumping by more than $521 billion in roughly six years.

A report released in May by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System laid bare the grim details behind this headline:

  • 42% of people who have gone to college took out debt. While a majority of this percentage took out student loans, 30% had some other form of debt, like card credit debt or a home equity line of credit. Additionally, a larger percentage of recent graduates have taken on student debt. Still, borrowing has declined since its peak during the 2010-11 school year.
  • Students who obtained a bachelor’s degree in 2016 owed an average of $28,400 – up from $22,100 in 2001. This number does not include those students who attended or graduated from for-profit schools.
  • In 2017, 20% of borrowers fell behind on their payments, up slightly from 19% in 2016 and 18% in 2015. Notably, those who never completed their education or secured any kind of degree encountered the most persistent trouble. The delinquency rates stood at only 11% for borrowers with bachelor’s degrees and at a minuscule 5% for those with graduate degrees. This gap in delinquency rates explained the fact that those with more debt often encounter fewer repayment difficulties.
  • Meanwhile, a publication released by the American Association of University Women (“AAUW”) exposed the worrisome persistence of a large gender gap. According to the AAUW, as of May 2018, women hold nearly two-thirds of all student debt in the United States. In addition, the average woman with a bachelor’s degree owes $2,740 more than her male contemporary, while African-American women assume more student debt on average than do members of any population segment.