6 Famous People Who Struggled with Student Loans

By Katie Taylor Updated on March 4, 2022

If the 30-something self you imagined as a child was wildly famous, threw awesome parties, and had tons of cash to spare, your student loans might be putting a tiny cramp in your style. 

Of course, sporting both celebrity status and a hefty student loan balance isn't unheard of. In fact, some of the folks you'd probably like to mob for an autograph were (or still are!) in the same boat. 

The long road to pay-off

First things first: paying off your student loans can take a while, no matter who you are.

The standard repayment term for federal student loans may be 10 years, but the majority of borrowers actually take quite a bit longer to pay their loans off. Recent research by Citizens Financial Group indicates that 60% of student loan borrowers anticipate paying off their student loans in their 40s.

That means plenty of current borrowers aren't recent grads. In fact, the Federal Reserve says U.S. borrowers between the ages of 40 and 49 hold $229.6 billion in debt. That's a hefty percentage of the $1.4 trillion held by borrowers as a whole.

So if lots of folks aren't paying off their debt until they're in their 40s, it's not surprising that some celebrities were still paying down those loans when they made it big.New call-to-action

Celebrities who tackled student loans

President Barack Obama

If you're looking for evidence that even the smartest, most successful people have to fund their educations with student loans–and then pay them back, look no further than the President of the United States.

In a 2013 speech, the former President told the crowd that he didn't pay off his student loans until he was in his 40s, right before he ran for the U.S. Senate and only a few years before he became the leader of the free world.

"And we know a little bit about trying to pay back student loans, too, because we didn't come from a wealthy family," he said. "So we each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt. And even though we got good jobs, we barely finished paying it off just before I was elected to the U.S. Senate."

First Lady Michelle Obama

You noticed that "we" in the paragraph above, didn't you? Both the former President and his First Lady had student loans to pay back—ones without which they wouldn't have achieved what they did, according to the President.

The legendary pair is the perfect example of the well-known mantra: the couple who pays down their debt together stays together.

Cheryl Strayed

The well-known author has a best-selling memoir (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail), is buddies with Oprah, and was portrayed by Reese Witherspoon on the big screen. But immediately prior to selling her memoir—after years of working as a writer—she and her husband were $85,000 in credit card debt and still had student loans.

She took a portion of the advance for the memoir and paid off her debt. Strayed says that she can talk about it now, but she was very ashamed at the time. "As anyone who's been in severe credit card debt knows, it was a nightmare," she says.

Jon Hamm

Don Draper may have been making bank as a fancy ad man, but the Mad Men actor was 33 before he was able to pay off his student loans. "I went to three universities in four years," he told a crowd of students at a political rally.

He wasn't able to pay off the loans until 11 years later, after he started getting regular acting work. "It shouldn't be that way," he said. "It should be easier."

Kerry Washington

Before Kerry Washington became the ultimate fixer on the hit show Scandal (in her mid-thirties), she was sending in her monthly loan checks just like the average borrower. She didn't regret taking out the loans, though.

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Washington shared that she wouldn't have been able to get an education without them.

Senator Ted Cruz

In 2015, the Texas Senator (and then-presidential hopeful) shared that he graduated with over $100,000 in student loan debt–and that he'd only paid it off a few years earlier. He was 44 at the time.

Miles Teller

Some celebrities are still paying off those loans—like Miles Teller, star of Whiplash and The Spectacular Now. He's continuing to make regular payments, saying "My business manager says the interest is so low, there’s no sense in paying them off. I can, if I want to have that badge of accomplishment, but until then I still very much have my NYU loans."

Want to get out of the student loan club?

Speaking of exceptionally low interest rates, living a non-famous life doesn't mean that you'll be paying down your student loans until you retire.

Refinancing student loans is one way lots of borrowers save money on their monthly payments while reducing the number of months (or years) they have to pay. You can start here.

New call-to-action

Published in: Student Loan Debt

About the Author
Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor is a content writer and editor with expertise in law and policy, finance, and entrepreneurship. She writes for startups and small businesses about everything from bookkeeping to telecom. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and SheKnows.com. She is continuing to pay off law school loans and lives in Richmond, Vermont with her wife, son, and an unruly dog. Read more by Katie Taylor