Americans sometimes find it difficult to relate to members of Congress, particularly from a financial standpoint. That’s understandable: Lawmakers are, on average, significantly wealthier than the average American, and about half of Congress (50.8%) is made up of millionaires. But there’s another thing above average about legislators’ finances, which might actually resonate with their constituents: student loan debt.
About 8% of congressmen and congresswomen had student loan debt in 2013. To put that in perspective, a Pew Research Center analysis of 2010 Federal Reserve data (the most recent available) said 19% of American households have student loan debt. The share of student loan borrowers among Congress may be smaller, but their debt load is much larger than the national average. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, student loan debt among the 47 members who had it in 2013 averaged $68,500, though the national average for the class of 2013 was $28,400, according to the Project on Student Debt. A note on that distinction: The Project on Student Debt figures are for individual borrowers, while some members of Congress reported student loans for other family members.
The Center for Responsive Politics figures are based on financial disclosure forms the legislators filed in May 2014, but the figures aren’t precise — they’re estimates of loans they borrowed either for themselves, their spouses or their children (of the 62 loans disclosed, seven were named for children and 15 for spouses). Six legislators (all House members) owed between $100,000 and $250,000 in outstanding student loan debt in 2013.
Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Okla.)
Bridenstine, 39, was elected in 2012 to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District, which includes Tulsa. He graduated from Rice University with three majors and earned an MBA from Cornell University. He spent nine years of active duty with the Navy.
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas)
Carter, 73, has represented Texas’s 31st District since 2003. Before that, he was appointed judge of the 277th District Court of Williamson County, a post to which he was re-elected four times. He graduated from Texas Tech University 1964 and the University of Texas School of Law in 1969.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)
Conyers, 85, reported a negative net worth of $187,501. His form indicated the student loan debt was his wife’s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.)
Meng’s office told the Center for Responsive Politics that the student loan was for her husband to attend dental school. Meng, 39, was elected in 2012 and represents New York’s 6th District (in the Queens borough of New York City), and she has a law degree from the University of Michigan.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.)
Rooney, 44, is the 59th-wealthiest member of Congress, with a reported net worth of $18.7 million. He has a B.A. in English literature from Washington & Jefferson College, an M.A. in political science from the University of Florida and a J.D. from the University of Miami.
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.)
When Ruiz, 42, was elected in 2012, he reported having between $115,000 and $300,000 of outstanding student loan debt, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center said his disclosure filing indicates he’s made “significant progress” on the debt, which he likely incurred in the course of earning four degrees, three of them from Harvard. He went to undergrad at UCLA and has a medical degree, master’s of public policy and a master’s of public health from Harvard.
These high levels of debt appear to come from expensive, advanced educations, which is not the nationwide norm.
On the note of national averages, the fact that legislators are generally much wealthier than other Americans is not an insignificant aspect of these high debt loads. The median net worth of members of Congress in 2013 was nearly $1.03 million — 18 times the median net worth of the typical American household ($56,355).
More on Student Loans:
- How Student Loans Can Impact Your Credit
- How to Pay for College Without Building a Mountain of Debt
- Strategies for Paying Off Student Loan Debt