Mapping It Out: New Interactive Tool Shows Student Debt by Zip Code

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

The distribution of student debt in the Unites States spans across geography and household income, according to newly created interactive maps that compare zip code-level data on student debt, income, and delinquency.

The maps, released at an event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, are part of a project of the Center for American Progress’ Washington Center for Equitable Growth with data provided by Generation Progress and the Higher Ed, Not Debt partners. Using Experian credit reporting data, the groups examined the geographic distribution of student loan balances across the country based on zip codes, the delinquency rates in each zip code, and the median household income in each zip code. The data was then mapped to illustrate where student debt is held throughout the country and what areas have the highest rates of delinquency relative to the average family income of that location.

Overall, the maps showed three trends in student debt across the U.S. First, neighborhoods with higher median household incomes also have high average student loan balances per household. Second, low-income zip codes have higher delinquency rates. And finally, the geography of loan balances and the geography of delinquencies are vastly different within metropolitan regions across the U.S.

These trends are not necessarily groundbreaking, as there have been numerous studies and reports indicating that borrowers with the lowest loan balances and incomes often fall delinquent at higher rates than their more affluent counterparts. But by creating a visual representation of the varying student debt levels throughout the U.S., it is possible to should just how “pervasive” student debt has become in the U.S., said Kavya Vaghul, research analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

And while it is fairly easy to summarize the country’s student debt problem in a headline, “how it is distributed geographically adds a great deal of color to what we need to do to attack these problems” of student debt, delinquency, and income equality, Rohit Chopra, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said.


Publication Date: 12/2/2015

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