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

student loan debt

Borrowing for college is a fact of life for many students. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2019, the average student loan debt burden shows that U.S. students owe over $1.5 trillion in outstanding college debt. Per the NCES, in 2018–19, some 43% of first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students were awarded loan aid, a 7% point decrease from 2010–11 (50% ). Between 2010–11 and 2018–19, the average annual student loan amount for these students decreased by 5%, from $7,700 to $7,300 (in constant 2019–20 dollars). So where do you fit into the picture?

General Student Loan Facts and FAQs

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one-third of adults under age 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.

How Many College Students Are in Debt?

According to a 2018 report by the Federal Reserve, over 44 million U.S. students have college debt.

What is the Average Student Loan Debt?

The average loan debt for a bachelor’s degree among the class of 2019 was $28,950, according to the most recent data available from The Institute for College Access & Success. 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 the most recent data says that students between the ages of 20 and 30 paid an average of $393 per month in 2016. Studentaid.gov breaks it down a bit further: for example, on a $10,000 Direct Unsubsidized Loan with a 6.8% interest rate, the amount of interest that accrues per day is $1.86 (find out how interest is calculated). If you are in a deferment for six months and you do not pay off the interest as it accrues, the loan will accrue interest totaling $340.

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 Loans

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!

According to the Federal Reserve, in 2018, Americans owed more than $1.53 trillion in student loan debt. The standard repayment timetable for federal loans is often 10 years per StudentAid.gov, but research shows it actually takes four-year degree holders an average of 19.7 years to pay off their loans.

More Stats on Federal Student Aid (2017-18)

  • In 2017, the overwhelming majority (81%) of outstanding student loan debt is owed to the federal government per The Institute for College Access & Success. The remaining 19% is owed to private banks.
  • Per StudentAid.gov, over three-quarters of all federal loans are direct loans.
  • In 2017, about $1.05 trillion of Americans’ student loan debt is in the form of direct loans per StudentAid.gov. That’s a steep increase from five years ago when the total was $508.7 billion.
Loan TypeTotal Dollars Outstanding (B)Number of Borrowers (M)
Direct Loans$1,053.533.0
FFEL Loans$305.814.9
Perkin Loans$7.62.5
Total$1,366.942.6
SOURCE: National Student Loan Data System, U.S. Department of Education

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Stats

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**
144,80978,615739,719
*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 (2017)

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:

  • Private student loans make up 7.89% of the total outstanding U.S. student loans, according to MeasureOne.
  • The total outstanding private student loan debt is $136.31 billion.
  • According to EducationData.org, 88.5% of that balance is for undergraduate loans while 11.5% is for graduate student loans.

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:

  • As of 2017 Q4, 1.2 million graduate students had borrowed federal Grad PLUS loans, totaling $59.7 billion.

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 in 2012 according to New America Federal Education Budget Project:

DegreeAverage Debt Amount for Common Graduate Degree Percentage of Graduate Degrees Sought
MBA$42,00011%
Master of Education$50,87916%
Master of Science$50,40018%
Master of Arts$58,5398%
Law$140,6164%
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.

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