The student debt crisis has inspired various political candidates and figures, including President Joe Biden, to call for mass student loan forgiveness. Proposals call for forgiving anywhere from $10,000 in student loan debt to $50,000 in federal student loans, but no sweeping action has happened yet.
With tens of millions of Americans owing a combined $1.58 trillion in student loan debt, it’s no wonder so many are watching the news closely in hopes of seeing their balances shrink or disappear.
Student Loan Hero researchers analyzed Google Trends data to see where people are searching the most for information around four related terms: “student loans,” “Biden student loans,” “student loan forgiveness” and “Biden student loan forgiveness.” Google Trends indexes its data to 100 to show maximum search interest, so researchers averaged the index scores across these four terms for every state. Here’s what they found.
- Residents of Midwest states Google student loan forgiveness terms the most. Of the 10 states that search the topic the most via Google, six are in the Midwest.
- Individually, District of Columbia residents Google student loan forgiveness terms the most. Across the four terms, D.C. averages an 89 (remember: a 100 value means peak popularity) on Google Trends. New Hampshire and South Dakota rank second and third with a tie of 85, on average.
- California, Alaska and Utah Google terms related to student loan forgiveness the least. According to the data, the three states’ residents Google these terms roughly half as often as people in D.C.
- Student loan debt doesn’t necessarily explain whether residents in a particular state will Google student loan forgiveness terms. Borrowers in the 10 states that Google the terms the most have an average student loan debt of $35,320. Borrowers in the bottom 10 states owe an average of $34,300 — just a $1,020 difference.
- Similarly, student loan debt delinquency rates don’t correlate with the states that Google student loan forgiveness the most. The 10 states that Google these terms the most have an average delinquency rate of 10.2%, while the bottom 10 have a delinquency rate of 10.9%.
Though the states that search the most about student loan forgiveness land in various U.S. regions, Midwest states make up more than half of the top 10.
Google Trends indexes its data to 100, which indicates the maximum interest based on a particular time or location. Student Loan Hero researchers looked at four terms — student loans, Biden student loans, student loan forgiveness and Biden student loan forgiveness — from June 1, 2020, to June 1, 2021, and averaged the index over the four terms for every state.
Residents from six states — South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Iowa — appear to be some of the top searchers in the U.S. regarding Googling student loan forgiveness terms.
|States most interested in student debt forgiveness|
|Rank||State||Average index score (out of 100)|
|1||District of Columbia||89|
|2 (tie)||New Hampshire||85|
|2 (tie)||South Dakota||85|
South Dakota is the only Midwestern state that cracks the top three, with an average search index of 85 across the terms studied.
Across the four terms, here’s the state that showed the most interest in a particular term (all at a 100 index score):
- Student loans: District of Columbia
- Biden student loans: District of Columbia
- Student loan forgiveness: Wyoming
- Biden student loan forgiveness: Wyoming
Californians may lack interest in student debt forgiveness as residents of the Golden State Google these terms the least. With an average index score of just 39 across the four terms, residents are focused on their search bar less than half as frequently as folks in the District of Columbia.
Four other Western states — Alaska, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii — join California among the states that search for debt forgiveness least frequently.
|States least interested in student debt forgiveness|
|Rank||State||Average index score (out of 100)|
Across the four terms, here’s the state that showed the least interest in a particular term (and its index score):
- Student loans: California (45)
- Biden student loans: Alaska (20)
- Student loan forgiveness: California (50)
- Biden student loan forgiveness: California (19)
Perhaps the density of political professionals contributes to the District of Columbia’s ranking as most interested in these searches. Residents in D.C. seem more interested in student loans in general as they take the top spots for the student loans and Biden student loans search terms (though they’re not far behind on student loan forgiveness).
Interestingly enough, D.C. also has the highest average student debt balance per borrower at $58,200 — a whopping $23,433 more than the average across the 50 states and D.C. While this might make it less surprising that residents would be searching for student debt forgiveness, it’s not indicative of any larger correlation between debt balances and search volume.
Student Loan Hero senior writer Andrew Pentis considers D.C.’s political energy a factor since any legislation related to federal student loan forgiveness would likely come out of the capital, be it the White House or the Capitol.
“You can bet that the D.C.-area population is more attuned to the political winds blowing in their own backyard,” Pentis says.
One might assume that those with higher student debt balances would be more interested in forgiveness, but they might be wrong. Those who Google student debt forgiveness or similar terms don’t necessarily have more debt than folks searching less frequently.
Across the 10 states that search for student loan terms the most, borrowers have an average of $35,320 in student debt versus $34,300 across the 10 states that search the least.
The small difference — just around $1,000 — shows higher debt balances may not be driving borrowers to search for forgiveness options or news. While D.C. happens to take the top slots for debt balances and forgiveness searches, North Dakota has the lowest average student loan balance ($27,800) but comes in at No. 15 in the search rankings.
Similarly, states with high search volume aren’t necessarily more delinquent on their loans than states with fewer searchers. (Accounts are considered delinquent as soon as the day after a borrower misses a payment.)
Across the 50 states and D.C., 10% of student loan borrowers are delinquent — and both the groups of states searching most frequently and least frequently average close to the same share of delinquent borrowers. In fact, the 10 states most interested in debt forgiveness have a slightly lower delinquency rate at 10.2%, versus 10.9% in states that search the terms less.
Whether residents of particular states are searching these terms, there’s something people can agree on, Pentis says.
“Student loan debt is causing financial harm to adults who should be working toward other personal financial goals, such as buying or maintaining a home and saving for retirement,” Pentis says.