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Members of Congress owe up to $4.6 million on student loans

Rep. John Conyers — who is 85 years old — lists his wife's student loan debt on his financial disclosure form.
Rep. John Conyers — who is 85 years old — lists his wife's student loan debt on his financial disclosure form.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

More members of Congress than ever have student loan debt — 47, or 8 percent of Congress, according to OpenSecrets. That's six more than in 2013. Together, these members owe between $1.8 million and $4.6 million in loans taken out to pay either for their own education or for that of their children and spouses.

Student loan debtors skew Republican. According to OpenSecrets, 28 Republicans and 19 Democrats list student loans on their financial disclosure statements. But there are also more Republicans in Congress, period, so that doesn't necessarily mean that student debt divides neatly by party.

And the members of Congress with debt have a lot of it. On average, they owe nearly $70,000 per person. The typical four-year college graduate in 2013 who graduated with loans had $28,400 in debt.

This is a great illustration of a weird paradox about student loans. While having high student loan debt can be a huge problem when it comes to things like renting on your own or buying a house, it's usually not the people with the most debt — like members of Congress — who struggle the most.

That's because those high-debt borrowers often have professional degrees in law or medicine that lead to high-paying, or at least prestigious, occupations. The highest default rates on student loans are among people with relatively tiny balances: people who often didn't finish college, and so have nothing to show for the amount they borrowed.

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