Student Loan Debt Facts & Stats (the Numbers May Surprise You!)

student loan debt

Borrowing for college is a fact of life for many students. The most recent data on the average student loan debt burden shows that U.S. students owe over $1.49 trillion in outstanding college debt.   The largest percentage of students (28.1%) borrowed between $10,000 and $25,000.ii So where do you fit into the picture?

General Student Loan Facts and FAQs

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four out of ten U.S. adults between ages 18 and 30 have student loan debt. Let’s learn more about who is borrowing, how much has been borrowed, and what the average student loan monthly payment might be for borrowers.

Distribution of Student Loan Borrowers by 2015Q4 Balance
Source: FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax

How Many College Students Are in Debt?

According to the most recent data, over 44 million U.S. students have college debt

What is the Average Student Loan Debt?iii

In 2011-12 (the most recent data), undergraduates borrowed an average of $7,100 in federal student loans. Graduate students borrowed an average of $21,400. These stats are for one year, and don’t reflect the average total debt. And, keep in mind that these stats don’t include private student loans that were borrowed.

What is the Average Student Loan Monthly Payment?

Answers vary, but some recent data says that students between the ages of 20 and 30 pay an average of $351 per month.  CollegeInvest, a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, breaks it down a bit further: for a $25,000 student loan, assuming 6.8% interest rate and a 10-year repayment plan, the monthly payment will be approximately $280.  of course, the size of your payment will depend on the specifics of your loan.

What is the Student Loan Default Rate?

11.0% of aggregate student loan debt was 90+ days delinquent or in default, as of the fourth quarter of 2017.

Stats on Federal Student Loansvi

Federal student loans (college money you borrow from the government) come in different shapes and sizes. Eligible students may be able to participate in one or more federal student loan programs or borrow different types of loans. And, various repayment plans may be available to help students pay back what they borrowed. All these factors contribute to a complex picture of student debt. Let’s take a look at the most recent numbers!

Direct LoansFederal Family Education Loans (FFEL)Perkins LoansTotal
Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Unduplicated Recipients (millions)
Stafford UnsubsidizedStafford (Combined)Grad PLUSParent PLUSPerkinsConsolidation
Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)Dollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)
In-SchoolGraceRepaymentDefermentForbearanceIn Default
Dollars Outstanding (billions) Dollars Outstanding (billions) Dollars Outstanding (billions) Dollars Outstanding (billions) Dollars Outstanding (billions) Dollars Outstanding (billions) 
Repayment PlanDollars Outstanding (billions)Recipients (millions)
Level: 10 Years or Less$197.5010.99
Level: More Than 10 Years$76.401.70
Graduated: 10 Years or Less$77.702.89
Graduated: More than 10 Years$13.800.30
Pay As You Earn (PAYE)$61.601.14
Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)$95.001.79

More Stats on Federal Student Aid (2011-12)iii

  • 71% of all undergraduates received some type of financial aid.
  • 42% took out student loans
  • 5% had parents who took out federal Direct PLUS Loans.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Statsvi

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program is designed to help eligible students have their debt forgiven when they work for certain kinds of public service organizations. To have the remaining balance on your Direct Loans forgiven, you must have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. Here’s how many borrowers submitted documentation for the PSLF program as of 2017 Q3 (most recent stats):

Total Approved ECFs*Total Denied ECFs*Cumulative PSLF Borrowers**
*Based on submission of Employment Certification Forms (ECFs), which PSLF submit on a voluntary basis.
**Borrowers with one or more approved ECFs

Stats on Private Student Loans

While the U.S. Department of Education publishes plenty of statistics on federal student loan debt, info on private student loan debt may be a bit harder to pin down. Here’s what we know:vii

  • Almost 1.4 million undergraduates borrowed private loans in 2011-12.
  • Almost half (47%) of private loan borrowers in 2011-12 borrowed less than they could have in Federal Stafford loans, which may be less risky than private loans.
  • Students at public two-year colleges comprised about 38% of all undergraduates but only 10% of private loan borrowers in 2011-12, making them the least likely to borrow private loans.
  • 12% of students at both for-profit and private nonprofit four-year colleges took out private loans in 2011-12.

Stats on Graduate Student Loans

Undergraduate students aren’t the only ones who need to borrow for college. Here’s what we know about graduate student loan debt:viii

  • As of 2017 Q4, 1.2 million graduate students had borrowed federal Grad PLUS loans, totaling $59.7
  • In 2012, borrowers owed an average college debt of $57,600 in combined undergraduate/graduate loans.
  • One in ten borrowers in 2012 owed $153,000 or more in combined undergraduate/graduate loans.

Graduate student debt tended to vary according to the kind of degree that was pursued. Take a look at average student loan debt by select graduate programs:vii

DegreeCombined Undergraduate/Graduate Debt (2012)Share of All Graduate Degrees Conferred (2012)
Master of Education$50,87916%
Master of Science$50,40018%
Master of Arts$58,5398%
Medicine and Health Sciences$161,7725%

Understand Your Own Student Loan Debt

Now that you have a better idea of the national student debt picture, it’s time to examine your own current and future college debt. Will your total fall above or below the average? It’s important to be a smart borrower and understand all your potential options before choosing a student loan. Use our LoanFinder to find and compare loans that may be the ideal fit for your higher education needs.