By Ben Kaufman | October 26, 2020
Forty-five million Americans now owe a combined $1.7 trillion in student debt. The cost of this unprecedented burden extends far beyond dollars paid and outstanding balances. The impact of student debt ripples across borrowers’ financial lives, forcing them to push off homeownership and other life milestones, jeopardizing retirement security, and leading borrowers to pay tens of thousands of dollars more for other forms of credit.
Now, a growing body of evidence is suggesting that student debt could be detrimental not only to borrowers’ financial health, but also to their physical wellbeing. With healthcare coverage potentially in jeopardy for millions of Americans—especially for the low-income Americans who are often most burdened by student debt—this issue is more pressing than ever. Here are a few ways that student debt poses an immediate health risk:
- A team of researchers found that those with higher amounts of student debt reported higher levels of depressive symptoms, even with adjustments for parental wealth, childhood socioeconomic status, and other factors.
- Higher household debt burdens are associated with higher blood pressure according to a study from Northwestern University and McGill University—and we know that student loan borrowers face relatively higherhousehold debt burdens.
- Research from Southern University and A&M College indicates that borrowers who worry about repaying their student loan debts are less likely to rank their health as very good or excellent.
- Scholars at the University of Georgia and the University of Maryland found that student loan debt is negatively associated with the life satisfaction and psychological well-being of respondents even after controlling for other types of debt, wealth, income, and borrower demographics.
- More than a third of borrowers reported skipping a meal due to the expense of student loan debt, according to one survey.
- Analysis from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 39 percent of consumers aged 60+ with student loan debt skipped out on necessary health care needs such as prescription medicines, doctors’ visits, and dental care because they could not afford it compared to 25 percent of older consumers without a student loan.
- The Gallup Purdue index consistently finds year after year that student loan borrowers report worse physical health than non-student loan borrowers.
These studies just scratch the surface of the larger impacts across our public health system, where student debt is driving a shortage in rural health care access, furthering the decline in the number of general practitioners, and perpetuating nursing staff shortages. Instead, this research underscores that we are only beginning to understand the widespread ripple effects of the student debt crisis.
It’s time to stand up to address this growing health risk. It’s time to protect borrowers.
Read more in our Research Roundup series, including how student loan debt affects rural communities and farmers.
Ben Kaufman is a Research & Policy Analyst at the Student Borrower Protection Center. He joined SBPC from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where he worked as a Director’s Financial Analyst on issues related to student lending.