Student Loan Debt Statistics

Last updated: March 8th, 2024

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Student loan debt is a major financial burden for many Americans and a major topic of political conversation. With the average borrower in five figures of debt, there can be a significant impact on financial well-being, making it difficult to save for retirement, buy a home, or start a business.

Many factors have contributed to the rise in student loan debt, including the increasing cost of higher education, the availability of easy credit, and the lack of financial literacy among students and their families. While there are a number of proposals to address the student loan debt crisis, it is unclear what, if any, changes will be made in the near future.

In the meantime, borrowers who are struggling with student loan debt should explore all of their options for student loan repayment, including income-based repayment plans, deferment, forbearance, or even refinancing. With careful planning and budgeting, it is possible to repay student loan debt and achieve financial freedom.

1. 93.1% of all student loan debt is held by a federal servicer. 

Most borrowers will apply for financial aid through the federal government, using programs like FAFSA. Federal student loan debt tends to have lower interest rates and more opportunities for consolidation, as well as being impacted by things like changing laws surrounding student loan debt. However, in about 7% of cases, the debt is taken on through a private lender. This may mean the borrower didn’t qualify for federal loans, reached a limit on what they could take out, or had other reasons to seek private financing. 

Source: Education Data Initiative 

2. The total amount of student loan debt was $1.78 trillion in March 2023. 

According to the most recent consumer credit tally from the Federal Reserve, there are outstanding student loan debts totaling $1.78 trillion in 2023. This includes both federal and private student loan debt and all of the accumulated interest for these loans. About $146.9 billion of this represents the private student loan industry, while the rest is held by federal student loan borrowers. 

Source: Federal Reserve

3. The average household with student loan debt owes $58,238.

Not every household throughout the United States has any student loan debt, but of those that do, the average amount comes in at just over $58,000. The average individual owes about $30,000. This number varies greatly by types of degree, location, and demographic factors as well. For example, the average dental school debt sits at $301,000, while the average for a bachelor’s degree is $28,400, and an associate degree in nursing has an average of $21,000.

Source: Federal Reserve

4. One in five American adults has student loan debt.

Forty-five million adults in the United States have some amount of student loan debt. This accounts for 17.4% of the population or about one in five adults. Both federal and private loans are included in this figure.

Source: United States Census Bureau.

5. Those over 62 years old have the highest average student debt, and the average decreases with age. 

The group of Americans over 62 years old has an average of $49,375, followed by 50 to 61-year-olds at $$7,660. Those between 35 and 49 have an average of $44,441.67, 25 to 34 hold an average of $32,707.48, and those 24 and younger have $13,722.22 on average. This likely is because of accrued interest that can make loan balances grow over time rather than indicating that people are taking less student loan debt in recent years.

Source: Federal Student Aid: Federal Student Loan Portfolio

6. Younger age groups hold the highest amount of student loans, with those between 35 and 49 owing a combined $622 billion. 

While older groups tend to have a higher individual student loan debt balance, the number of borrowers is much lower than younger cohorts. This means that younger groups have larger combined balances – $110 billion for those under 24 and $500 billion for those from 25 to 34. The highest balance is among those 35 to 49, who owes $622 billion when combined. The group of those over 62, who have the highest average individual balance, have a combined total of $98 billion.

Source: Federal Student Aid 

7. Women take on student loan debt at a higher rate than other genders. 

71% of women owed student loan debt at the 12-month mark post-graduation. This is higher than 64% of men at the same time and 59% of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Women also hold higher amounts of debt, with an average of 37.% higher balances than their male counterparts at the same age. 

Source: National Center for Education Statistics 

8. 5% of loans were considered delinquent or in default in 2021. 

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic-based forbearance was in place, meaning most people did not have to pay back their loans at the time. 5% of loans were considered in delinquency or default due to previously required payments – it is expected that this number will be much higher when student loan payments resume. Student loan default can cause major financial issues if not addressed. 

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York 

9. Over $1 billion in student loans have been forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. 

The PSLF allows individuals who serve 10 years in public service positions to apply for student loan forgiveness so long as they meet a series of requirements. As of 2021, nearly 11,000 borrowers had successfully had their student loans forgiven, for a total of over $1 billion. The average applicant was able to discharge about $95,000 through this loan program. However, 98% of applications have been denied due to the applicant not meeting requirements like making 120 qualifying federal student loan payments. 

Source: Federal Student Aid 

10. People who attend private colleges are more likely to take on student debt than those who attend public colleges. 

Among those who attended a public college or university, 40% took on some amount of student loan debt. For those attending private colleges, the number is higher and varies by the type of institution. College students at for-profit private institutions borrowed money for tuition 59% of the time, and those at private non-profit colleges and universities 57% of the time. 

Source: Federal Reserve

11. Washington, D.C., has the highest average debt of any state or territory, while Utah has the lowest. 

Washington, District of Columbia, has an average student loan debt balance of nearly $55,000 and is followed closely by Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, and Florida. This can be attributed to the industries in these states and the type of degree they require, as well as the potential financial situation for residents. The five states with the lowest balances are Wyoming, Nevada, California, New Mexico, and Utah. 

Source: The Institute for College Access and Success 

12. Black Americans have the highest rate of student loan debt among racial and ethnicity groups.  

50% of all Black Americans have some level of student loan debt, compared to 44% for their white counterparts. Their balance is also higher, with an average of $9,800 per person vs $8,700. 37% of Hispanic and Latino individuals have debt, with an average of $7,000. These numbers are similar to patterns of overall and credit card debt between groups as well. 

13. The interest rate for student loans is between 4.9% and 7.54%.

Those applying for student loans can access various types of loans, depending on their level of education and other factors. Typical undergraduate student loans, known as direct loans, had an interest rate of 4.99% in 2020 and 2021 for subsidized loans. For those pursuing a master’s degree and unsubsidized loans, this was 6.54%. The higher rates were for parent PLUS loans and graduate students using PLUS loans, at 7.54%. Perkins loans also have a 5% interest rate. 

Source: Federal Student Aid 


What percentage of student loans are paid back?

According to the Federal Reserve, as of Q4 2022, 61.7% of student loan borrowers had made at least one payment on their loans in the past year. This means that 38.3% of borrowers were either in default or had not yet made a payment. About 29% of borrowers will have their balance forgiven.

How big is the student loan debt problem?

The total student loan debt in the United States is over $1.7 trillion, held by 20% of the population. This is the second-largest consumer debt category after mortgages. The average student loan borrower owes over $30,000.

What percent of students have no debt?

According to the College Board, about 22% of students who graduated from college in 2019 had no debt. This number has been increasing in recent years as more students are taking advantage of scholarships, grants, and work-study programs to help pay for college.

What is the average time it takes to pay back loans?

The average student loan borrower takes about 20 years to pay off their loans. However, this number can vary depending on the loan amount, the interest rate, and the repayment plan.

How can student loan debt affect people?

Student loan debt can have a significant impact on people’s lives. It can make it difficult to buy a home, start a business, or save for retirement. It can also lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

The crisis of student loan debt is a pressing and complex problem, with some questions hanging in the balance. But by understanding the issue and its causes, we can work toward solutions. 

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