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Nineteen percent of households owed student loan debt in 2010, more than double the share two decades earlier, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data. Forty percent of households headed by someone younger than age 35 owe such debt, also a record high.

The debt burden is heaviest for low-income families.

The average debtor family owes $26,682 in unpaid college loans, up from $23,349 in 2007.

The U.S. Education Department has released two-year and three-year default rates for student loans that came due in 2009 and 2010.

In three years, 13.4 percent of the 2009 cohort defaulted on student loans. Three-year default rates hit 22.7 percent for for-profit college borrowers, 11 percent at public colleges and universities and 7.5 percent at private non-profit institutions. The national two-year rate rose to 9.1 percent for the 2010 cohort, up from 8.8 percent in 2009 and only 4.6 percent five years earlier.

The default rates don’t include borrowers who’ve deferred payment because of hardship, such as unemployment, notes the Wall Street Journal. “Over the long haul, the government projects that nearly 1 in 5 borrowers will default on federal student loans at some point.”

Underemployed graduates with federal loans can link repayments to their discretionary income; the balance will be forgiven after 20 years.

Debtors are likely to postpone buying a new car, much less buying a home.

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Joanne Jacobs, formerly of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, is a freelance journalist who blogs at joannejacobs.com.

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