Total U.S. student debt hit a record $1.31 trillion last year, the 18th consecutive year Americans' education debt rose, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Outstanding loans taken out for higher education have doubled since 2009, data show. No other form of household debt has increased by as much since then. In fact, of the six major categories of consumer debt tracked by the New York Fed, only student loans and auto debt have increased since year-end 2008 (total auto loans are up 46%). Total household debt has fallen by 1%.
Close to one-quarter of student debtors whose bills have come due are either in default or at least 90 days late on their required monthly payments, New York Fed data suggest. Delinquencies have remained stubbornly high, despite attempts by the former Obama administration to make loan payments more affordable. The federal government owns or guarantees more than 90% of all student debt.
The report is based on a sample of household credit reports, which regulators have found are often filled with errors, indicating the problem could be even worse than it seems. The Federal Reserve Board in Washington has total student debt pegged at $1.41 trillion.
A lack of good data prompted the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last week to announce a proposal to collect more detailed information from the nation's biggest student loan companies.
There was some good news: total student debt only increased by 6.3% compared with last year, the smallest annual increase in data going back to 2003.