Careers

10 percent of Congress is paying back student loans

Members of the 115th U.S. Congress take their oath of office on the floor of the House of Representaives January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Members of the 115th U.S. Congress take their oath of office on the floor of the House of Representaives January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Over 44 million Americans collectively hold nearly $1.5 trillion in student debt and almost no one is immune — including members of Congress. Even though the 115th Congress is one of the richest of all time, Roll Call found that one in 10 members holds student debt, either personally or for a family member.

Out of 530 voting members of Congress (431 members of the House of Representatives and 99 Senators, minus vacancies), 53 listed owing a total of $1.8 million in student loans in their financial disclosures. Of these student debt holders, 28 had a positive net worth and 25 had a negative net worth.

For instance, California Representative Ro Khanna listed $50,000 in student loans, but he is actually worth over $27 million thanks to considerable tech investments and his wife's significant family wealth. "I certainly have been very blessed and fortunate in my own life that I've been in a position where the loans are not crippling," he tells Roll Call. "But there are a lot of people who don't have that opportunity."

Florida Congressman Darren Soto is one of the 25 representatives who, based on the methodology used for Roll Call's Wealth of Congress report, has a negative net worth. "I still owe $75,000 and understand the great responsibility of repayment," he says. "I value education and believe having the ability to attend a top law school was an essential part of my success."

A representative for Rep. Soto maintains that despite his outstanding loan balance, he has a positive net worth.

Soto, D-Fla
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Soto, D-Fla

And student debt is now so common, it's actual bipartisan. Twenty-five of the representatives with student debt, including Khanna and Soto, are Democrats. The remaining 28 are Republicans. Sixteen of the congressional members with student debt are in their first term, but age isn't necessarily a primary reason these reps hold debt.

Many representatives have taken on student debt in order to support family members. Republican congressman Trey Gowdy reported owing more student debt than any other lawmaker in the House or the Senate. He took on more than $150,000 in student debt to finance his child's education.

Holding significant student debt later in life is becoming increasingly common. Today, 70 percent of college students graduate with significant debt, and research suggests that a majority of borrowers expect to pay off their loans in their 40s.

Former President Barack Obama has previously spoken about how he and the former first lady were paying off student debt well into their 40s.

"We each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt. And even though we got good jobs, we barely finished paying it off just before I was elected to the U.S. Senate," Obama told an audience in Buffalo, New York. "I mean, I was in my 40s when we finished paying off our debt. And we should have been saving for Malia and Sasha by that time. But we were still paying off what we had gotten."

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