Behind Obama’s Definition of Wealth and Paying Off Student Loans

Apr 25, 2012 4:21pm

President Obama told students at the University of North Carolina Tuesday that he knows what it is like to struggle with student loan debt because he and his wife didn’t pay off their student loans until eight years ago.

That may be true, but a quick look at the Obamas’ tax returns shows they were making enough to be considered “wealthy” by the president’s own definition in the years before his loans were paid off.

First, here is what President Obama said Tuesday about his student loans:

“We only finished paying off our student loans off about eight years ago,” the president said. “That wasn’t that long ago. And that wasn’t easy – especially because when we had Malia and Sasha, we’re supposed to be saving up for their college educations, and we’re still paying off our college educations.”

There’s no doubt that in the early years, the Obamas made little money as they accumulated student debt.

As Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Tribune wrote during the last campaign, Obama worked his way through college and law school – including jobs selling trinkets, making sandwiches at a deli in Hawaii and working as a telemarketer pitching subscriptions to The New York Times. Michelle’s early jobs included work as a camp counselor and a typist/assistant for the American Medical Association. In the early years, nobody would call the Obamas rich.

But according to their tax returns, which are available on the White House website, the Obamas had a healthy, six-figure income by the year 2000 (the earliest return available). And for at least two years before his loans were paid off, Obama, by his own definition, made so much they were wealthy enough to pay higher taxes.

Here’s a rundown of the president’s income, according to his tax returns, in the years before he paid off his student loans:

2004: $207,647

2003: $238,327

2002: $259,394

2001: $272,759

2000: $240,505

In 2001 and 2002, the Obamas would have met the $250,000 standard the president has set for those wealthy enough to afford to pay more taxes.

It’s also notable that the Obamas didn’t claim deductions for student loans on any of those years, most likely because they made too much money to qualify for the student loan deduction.

Then again, being wealthy enough to pay higher taxes under the Obama plan does not mean the Obamas were not struggling for years to pay off their student loans.

“The president and first lady worked their way through college and law school,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told ABC News. “Their education was made possible by student loans, which it took many years to pay off.”

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