Treasurer José Cisneros announces release of a report co-authored with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco showing student loan debt has tripled in the Bay Area

Approximately 735,000 Bay Area student loan borrowers owe $26.6 billion in student debt.

Treasurer José Cisneros announced today the release of At What Cost? Student Loan Debt in the Bay Area, a report that provides an in-depth look at student loan borrowing and repayment in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

“Student loan debt is accelerating the racial wealth gap in San Francisco, across the Bay Area and nationally.  These findings are stark, upsetting, and impossible to ignore,” said Treasurer José Cisneros. “We must work collectively to provide relief for struggling student loan borrowers and strive for a future where higher education is affordable for all.”

The report, a collaboration between the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office of Financial Empowerment and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, highlights that student loan prevalence, balances, delinquency and default have all increased significantly in the past 15 years. Adjusting for inflation, total student debt in the Bay Area increased by 243 percent between 2003 and 2018, with the percentage of the adult population with student loan debt nearly doubling from 6.2 percent to 12.2 percent.  Negative impacts are concentrated in neighborhoods with high percentages of Black and Hispanic residents, such as Bayview, Hunters Point and Treasure Island. 

 “This report provides new insights on student debt in the Bay Area, along with recommendations for community leaders to help reduce the burden on individuals already struggling to maintain financial stability in our area,” said contributing author to the report, Bina Shrimali, DrPH, of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

The report provides a detailed overview of student loan borrowing and repayment at the county and zip code level, using Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax data. 

Other key findings include:

  • In predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, 19.9 percent of borrowers are delinquent, 15.3 percent are in default, and 26.9 percent have defaulted since 2003.
  • Borrowers in low-income neighborhoods experience high rates of delinquency and default.  Twenty percent of borrowers in the lowest income neighborhoods are delinquent on their loans.  
  • Borrowers with low student loan balances experience high levels of delinquency and default.
  • Approximately half of all Bay Area student loan borrowers in default owe less than $15,000, and nearly one in five defaulted borrowers owe less than $5,000.

The report will be presented on Tuesday, April 23rd at the Bay Area Student Debt Summit where Treasurer Cisneros, David Erickson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Dr. Vince Matthews, Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District will deliver remarks.  The summit will gather researchers, advocates, policy makers and practitioners concerned with the growing student debt crisis. There will then be panel discussions to present findings from the report and explore strategies to address the student debt crisis.  The summit can be viewed via livestream on Tuesday, April 23rd beginning at 9:00 a.m. PT.

The full report can be found at:


About the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office of Financial Empowerment

The Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) is a unique private-public partnership housed within the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector of San Francisco that convenes, innovates and advocates to strengthen economic security and mobility of all San Franciscans. For more than a decade, under the leadership of Treasurer José Cisneros, the OFE has engaged partners inside and outside City Hall to equip San Franciscans with knowledge, skills and resources to strengthen their financial health and well-being. At the same time, the OFE has leveraged what has worked on the ground to model what is possible across the country.

Jacob DuMez, MPP and Sarika Abbi, MPA were contributing authors from OFE.

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About Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (SF Fed) promotes low inflation, full employment and financial stability and serves the Twelfth Federal Reserve District, which includes the nine western states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—plus American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern MarianaIslands. The SF Fed’s community development team works with a wide range of organizations to create economic opportunity for lower income Americans by developing and connecting best practices and emerging ideas with organizations positioned to make meaningful change in communities.

Bina Patel Shrimali, DrPH was the contributing author from the SF Fed.

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