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Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Feb 15, 2013

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A new report by the Center for Responsive Politics states that 46 Senators and House representatives have student loan debt.

According to 2011 financial disclosure forms, each member listed student loan debt as a liability. The debts, for themselves or their children, add up to a total ranging between $1.8 million and $4.3 million. Exact amounts are unknown because Congressional members are allowed to report debts in ranges.

At least 13 members have loans that are listed as either Parent Plus loans, or loans co-signed for children or family members. However, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that most of the borrowing is for the lawmaker’s own education.

The member with the largest reported debt was California’s 36th district representative, Raul Ruiz, who listed debt ranging between $115,001 and $300,000. The top ten members with the largest amount of student debt can be seen in the following table, ranging from lowest to highest. 

Name State Minimum Value Maximum Value
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) VA $55,003 $165,000
Rep. Tom McClintock (R) CA $60,001 $115,000
Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (D) PR $65,002 $150,000
Rep. Louis B. Gohmert Jr. (R) TX $70,001 $130,000
Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) KS $80,003 $200,000
Rep. James Bridenstine (R) OK $100,001 $250,000
Rep. John Carter (R) TX $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Grace Meng (D) NY $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Tom Rooney (R) FL $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D) CA $115,002 $300,000

Ivy Leagues Schools, Top-of-the-Line Costs

Leslie Tayne, financial attorney and debt specialist, said the reason for congressional student loan debt is due to the cost for advanced higher education programs.

“Many people in Congress have advanced degrees, such as a law degree, which can cost upwards of $100,000. Many times they get these degrees at prestigious universities, such as an Ivy League, which come with an even larger price tag,” Tayne said.

The cause of Rep. Raul Ruiz’s large debt stems from his long history of higher education. Ruiz graduated from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and received a medical Doctorate and two Master’s degrees from Harvard University.

Tayne said congressional members could have taken out student loans with the intention of repaying them, but chose to postpone repayment to pursue other financial goals.

“The salary of a congress person is little compared to the price of these degrees,” she said.

Tayne advises that every recent graduate should be aware of the types of loans they have, and what payment options are available.

Planning ahead also helps.

“Students who are making entry level salaries must be more aware of their loan payments and put much more effort into repaying those loans than high earners,” Tayne said.

She recommends that student loan repayments should not exceed 10 to 15 percent of a graduate’s salary.

‘Integrity is Not Lucid’

Leslie Ungar, a communication and leadership coach, said money problems are rarely about money.

“Debt is not about money. Debt is usually about one’s approach to money,” she said.

Ungar said debt is similar to other human qualities, which could be telling of our congressional leaders true character.

“It is about one’s moral compass,” she said. “Paying off debt is a decision. It is a decision to sacrifice, to keep a car longer, to forego a vacation, to not live like the Jones’.”

She said the failure to repay student loans across a larger spectrum is simply an integrity problem.

“Paying off a loan is about a commitment to a promise,” Ungar said. “Integrity is not lucid. You don’t have integrity in some areas and not in others.”

The reason why congressional members have large amount of student debt relies on the fact that Congress is made of individuals. At a foundational level, they are just people.

“As long as those individuals think rules are not for them, then you will have a Congress that is an example of their thinking,” she said.