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The Average Family Spends More on Student Loan Payments than on Necessities like Healthcare and Fuel, According to New JPMorgan Chase Institute Data

Study evaluates student loan payment burdens and trends for 4.6 million families

Median student loan payment is more than 5 percent of income; 1 in 4 young people spend 16.8 percent or more of take-home pay on student loans

July 24, 2019, (Washington, DC) – Today, the JPMorgan Chase Institute produced new research exploring the student loan payment burden for 4.6 million American families who have been observed making student loan payments. Approximately one in four of all families, across ages and incomes, spends at least 11 percent of take-home income on student loans in months with positive payments, while the typical family’s median payment is $179, or approximately five percent of take-home income. This is more than they spend on other necessities like out-of-pocket healthcare costs or fuel, according to previous JPMorgan Chase Institute research.

According to the New York Federal Reserve, student loan debt is the fastest growing consumer debt category in America, having doubled to $1.5 trillion in the last 10 years and roughly 22 percent of student loan borrowers are in default.

The new data from the JPMorgan Chase Institute finds the payment burden for young and low-income families is especially stark. A quarter of account holders under 25 spend 16.8 percent or more of their take-home income on student loans. For families with an annual gross income of $50,000 or less, one in four of these families spend 14.7 percent or more of their take-home income on student debt payments.

“While consensus is growing about the increasing role of student loan debt in America, there is still limited data about how student loan payments fit into the monthly financial picture for most Americans,” said Diana Farrell, President and CEO of the JPMorgan Chase Institute. “By understanding the relationship between these student loan payments and other financial outcomes, we hope to provide policymakers, lenders and other stakeholders with valuable information that can help shape policies to ease this burden for America’s families.”

The new report from the JPMorgan Chase Institute, Student Loan Payments: Evidence from 4 Million Families,” is unique not only for its large sample size but also for its visibility into private and federal student loan payments (including any fees and fines), alongside income, spending, liquid assets and other debt payments. This allows policymakers and stakeholders to better understand the relationship between student loan debt and other financial outcomes.

Key findings from the report include:

  • One in four families, across all ages and incomes, spends more than 11 percent of their take-home income on student loans in months with positive payments, and families are spending more on student loans than they are on key categories of basic necessities, like out-of-pocket healthcare expenses and fuel.
    • Though there is large variation in payment sizes and burdens across families and demographic groups, the typical family’s median student loan payment is $179 or 5.5 percent of take-home income in months with positive payments. This is more than what families spend on basic necessities like out-of-pocket healthcare expenses and fuel, according to previous JPMorgan Chase Institute research.
    • Borrowers with little liquidity made up a disproportionately high share of defaults. Homeowners with less than one MPE of post-closing liquidity made up 20 percent of our sample but accounted for 54 percent of defaults.
    • Student loan payments are sensitive to large income changes, and a considerable portion of the population making student loan payments may still not be fully served by income-driven repayment (IDR) programs.
      • In the face of job loss, unemployment benefits are especially important to making payments. Student loan payments fall by 7 percent upon job loss and 27 percent once unemployment benefits expire, greater than the cuts the long-term unemployed make to payments on their credit cards (17 percent), auto loans (nine percent), and mortgages (six percent) when unemployment benefits run out.
      • Thirty percent of families who stopped making student loan payments experienced a drop in median total take-home income of 10 percent or more around the same time, underscoring the extent to which cash flow dynamics coincide with a pause in student loan payments.
  • Younger and lower-income account holders are especially burdened by student loan payments.
    • A quarter of account holder in our sample under 25 spend 16.8 percent or more of their take-home income on student loans.
    • For families with an annual gross income of $50,000 or less, one in four families spend 14.7 percent or more of their take-home income on student loans.
    • Fifty-seven percent of families making student loan payments have a primary account holder under the age of 45 years. One in four 25 to 34 year olds spend 11.8 percent or more of their take-home income on student loans in months in which they make a student loan payment.
    • Families with higher income levels make larger student loan payments but are less burdened by these payments. In the months in which families made a positive student loan payment, among families earning less than $50,000, student loan payments represent seven percent of take-home income, compared to five percent or less for families earning more than $50,000.
  • Of families actively paying multiple loans, the proportion making consistent payments is lower for student loans than auto loans (10 percentage point difference) and mortgages (6 percentage point difference).
    • While multiple-loan families make student loan payments with lower consistency than their other loan payments, this is not just an outcome of juggling multiple payments: families actively paying only student loans make student loan payments with the same consistency.
    • 54 percent of families make consistent student loan payments, while 20 percent make payments in two-thirds of months or less.

The report leverages a new JPMorgan Chase Institute data asset consisting of high-frequency financial data from a universe of 39 million de-identified families with Chase checking accounts. From this universe, the JPMorgan Chase Institute identified 30 million core families (i.e., families with substantial activity in their Chase accounts) in the 2012-2018 time period, from which the sample was further narrowed to 4.6 million families that have made at least one student loan payment.


About the JPMorgan Chase Institute
The JPMorgan Chase Institute is a global think tank dedicated to delivering data-rich analyses and expert insights for the public good. Its aim is to help decision makers–policymakers, businesses, and nonprofit leaders–appreciate the scale, granularity, diversity, and interconnectedness of the global economic system and use timely data and thoughtful analysis to make more informed decisions that advance prosperity for all. Drawing on JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s unique proprietary data, expertise, and market access, the Institute develops analyses and insights on the inner workings of the global economy, frames critical problems, and convenes stakeholders and leading thinkers. For more information visit: JPMorganChaseInstitute.com.