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The impact of student loan debt on small business formation


  • Brent W. Ambrose
  • Lawrence R. Cordell
  • Shuwei Ma


Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy and account for approximately one-half of the private-sector economy and 99% of all businesses. To start a small business, individuals need access to capital. Given the importance of an entrepreneur?s personal debt capacity in financing a startup business, student loan debt, which is difficult to discharge via bankruptcy, can have lasting effects and may have an impact on the ability of future small business owners to raise capital. This study examines the impact of the growth in student debt on net small business formation. We find a significant and economically meaningful negative correlation between changes in student loan debt and net business formation for the smallest group of small businesses, those employing one to four employees. This is important since these small businesses depend heavily on personal debt to finance new business formation. Based on our model, an increase of one standard deviation in student debt reduced the number of businesses with one to four employees by 14% on average between 2000 and 2010. The effect on larger firm formation decreased with firm size, which we interpret to mean that these firms have greater access to outside capital.

Suggested Citation

  • Brent W. Ambrose & Lawrence R. Cordell & Shuwei Ma, 2015. "The impact of student loan debt on small business formation," Working Papers 15-26, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedpwp:15-26

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Adelino, Manuel & Schoar, Antoinette & Severino, Felipe, 2015. "House prices, collateral, and self-employment," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(2), pages 288-306.
    2. Rothstein, Jesse & Rouse, Cecilia Elena, 2011. "Constrained after college: Student loans and early-career occupational choices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1-2), pages 149-163, February.
    3. Christopher Avery & Sarah Turner, 2012. "Student Loans: Do College Students Borrow Too Much--Or Not Enough?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 165-192, Winter.
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    5. Meta Brown & Andrew F. Haughwout & Donghoon Lee & Joelle Scally & Wilbert Van der Klaauw, 2014. "Measuring student debt and its performance," Staff Reports 668, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    6. Andy Cosh & Douglas Cumming & Alan Hughes, 2009. "Outside Enterpreneurial Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(540), pages 1494-1533, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Philip Armour & Melanie A. Zaber, 2020. "Does Student Loan Forgiveness Drive Disability Application?," NBER Working Papers 26787, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Karthik Krishnan & Pinshuo Wang, 2019. "The Cost of Financing Education: Can Student Debt Hinder Entrepreneurship?," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 65(10), pages 4522-4554, October.
    3. Wenhua Di & Carla Fletcher & Jeff Webster, 2022. "A Rescue or a Trap?—An Analysis of Parent PLUS Student Loans," Working Papers 2217, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
    4. Wenhua Di & Kelly D. Edmiston, 2017. "Student Loan Relief Programs: Implications for Borrowers and the Federal Government," The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, , vol. 671(1), pages 224-248, May.
    5. Cox, James C. & Kreisman, Daniel & Dynarski, Susan, 2020. "Designed to fail: Effects of the default option and information complexity on student loan repayment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 192(C).
    6. John Mondragon & Janice Eberly & Gene Amromin, 2017. "The Housing Crisis and the Rise in Student Loans," 2017 Meeting Papers 369, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    7. Richard J. Cebula & James V. Koch, 2021. "The Crisis in Public Higher Education: A New Perspective," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 80(1), pages 113-131, January.

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    More about this item


    Student loans; small business finance; Debt capacity;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • R2 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis

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