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Student Loan Debt Is Held by One in Five U.S. Households

Almost a fifth of U.S. households had student-loan debt in 2010, more than twice the level of 1989, with the burden falling disproportionately on the youngest and poorest.

The average outstanding debt was $26,682 in households with student loans, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington.

The total U.S. debt from educational loans was $914 billion in the second quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Student borrowing has soared with climbing college tuitions and as the federal government has raised borrowing limits to $31,000 from $7,500 in the 1960s. The government has tried to ease the burden of debt by creating an income-based repayment program.

While households in the upper fifth of income held 31 percent of student debt, the least affluent owed a greater share compared with their income, according to the Pew report. Among the poorest fifth, outstanding student debt accounted for 24 percent of annual household income, compared with 2 percent for the wealthiest 10 percent.

A record 40 percent of households headed by someone younger than 35 had student debt in 2010, compared with 17 percent in 1989.

Student loan debt was 5 percent of all debt held by U.S. households in 2010, up from 3 percent in 2007, even as total household indebtedness fell to $100,720 from $105,297 over the same period, according to the report.

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