The State of Student Loan Debt (2021)December 3, 2021
Updated June 15, 2022
If you have a high student loan balance, you’re not alone. The Federal Reserve reported that Americans currently owe $1.7 trillion in student loans, an increase of nearly 102% over the past 10 years.
Part of the reason for the steep amount of debt is the rising cost of college. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the consumer price index for college tuition and fees increased by 63% over 10 years, while the cost of all other items increased by just 21%.
The amount of debt you will graduate with depends on many factors, including where you go to college, your residency, what financial aid you qualify for, and how much money you can contribute from your savings or income.
Fortunately, if you’re one of the roughly 1.24 million Americans paying down student loan debt, there is light at the end of the tunnel. In this blog, we’ll share tips for student loan borrowers to help empower your repayment journey.
Here are a few student loan debt statistics that offer a snapshot of the average college debt situation in the United States:
- Number of College Graduates With Student Loan Debt: 62% of graduates from four-year public and private universities left school with student loan debt — approximately 1.24 million people.
- Average Student Loan Balance: $38,792
- Average Loan Balance by Borrower Type:
- Undergraduate Student: $28,500
- Graduate Students: $65,000
- Parent Borrowers: $28,777 (Parent PLUS Loans only; this number doesn’t include private parent loans)
- Average Federal Student Loan Debt Per Borrower:
- Undergraduate: $27,400
- Graduate: $25,600
- Average Private Student Loan Balance Per Borrower: $18,550
- Number of People With Outstanding Student Loans: 165.2 million
- Average Time to Repay Loans: 21.1 years
Learn More: How Student Loan Debt Affects the Economy
Average Federal Student Loan Debt & Statistics
The vast majority of student loan borrowers — approximately 92% — use federal loans to pay for school. Federal loans tend to have low interest rates and multiple repayment options, and loans for undergraduate students don’t require credit checks or have minimum income requirements. Here are a few statistics according to National Center for Education Statistics and the Department of Education:
- Percentage of Undergraduate Students With Federal Student Loans: Approximately 33% of undergraduate students
- Average Annual Amount Borrowed: $6,630
- Average Interest Rate: 5.096%
- Average Origination Fee: 2.114%
Federal Student Loan Debt by Type of Student Loan
There are currently four types of student loans issued by the federal government:
- Direct Subsidized: For undergraduate students that need significant financial assistance
- Direct Unsubsidized: For undergraduate and graduate students
- Direct PLUS: For graduate students and parents borrowing on behalf of their undergraduate children
- Direct Consolidation Loan: For borrowers that want to consolidate multiple student loans into a single loan
Here are a few important data points about each type of loan according to the Department of Education:
|Loan Type||Number of Borrowers||Total Outstanding||Average Balance Per Borrower|
|Direct Subsidized||29.6 million||$289.8 billion||$9,790|
|Direct Unsubsidized||29.4 million||$552.7 billion||$18,799|
|GRAD Plus||1.5 million||$86.3 billion||$57,533|
|Parent PLUS||3.6 million||$103.6 billion||$28,777|
|Direct Consolidation||11.4 million||$554.7 billion||$48,658|
Average Private Student Loan Debt & Statistics
Federal loans for undergraduate students have both annual and aggregate caps, so students that reach the federal student loan borrowing limit have to find alternative sources of funding. And some students may be ineligible for federal aid due to their residency status or other factors. Private student loans can cover the remaining cost, helping them finish their education.
Private student loans make up just a small part of all student loan debt. In fact, private loans account for just 8% of outstanding loans.
- Total Private Student Loan Debt: $64.87 billion
- Undergraduate Private Student Loan Debt: 88.50% of outstanding balance
- Graduate Private Student Loan Debt: 11.50% of outstanding balance
Average Student Loan Debt by Year
The amount of student loan debt has grown rapidly over the past few decades, and there are signs of those increases slowing. Over the past five years, the average balance increased by 32.6%.
|Average Student Loan Balance||$38,792||$35,620||$33,672||31,844||$29,249|
Student Loan Debt by Type of Educational Institution
Student debt totals also vary based on the type of educational institution you choose to attend. Here are the averages based on the latest information from the National Center for Education Statistics.
|Public Non-Profit||Private Non-Profit||Private For-Profit|
|Average Student Loan Balance||$27,082||$32,239||$49,940|
Student Loan Debt by Age
Depending on your age, you may have had more time to pay down student loans – or acquire new ones. Here is the average outstanding student debt amount by age, according to data from the Department of Education.
|Up to 24||25 – 34||35 – 49||50 – 61||62+|
|Outstanding Student Debt (in Billions)||$115.50||$500.50||$601.70||$262.20||$86.80|
Student Loan Debt by Sex or Gender Identity
Studies show that women take out more student loans than men, but both are heavily impacted by student loan debt. Investopedia lists the following average debt breakdowns by sex and age, according to 2017 data:
Average Student Debt for Women:
- Black: $37,558
- White: $31,346
- Hispanic/Latinx: $27,029
- Asian: $25,252
Average Student Debt for Men:
- Black: $35,665
- White: $29,862
- Hispanic/Latinx: $27,452
- Asian: $25,507
According to 2021 data from UCLA, members of the LGBTQ+ community are also financially affected by student loans. Research shows that a higher percentage of transgender adults report having student loan debt than cisgender adults.
Percentage of Cisgender and LGBTQ+ Adults with Federal Student Loans
- Cisgender Male: 27.9%
- Cisgender female: 35.9%
- Transgender: 51%
Student Loan Debt by Race or Ethnicity
According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt also varies by race and ethnicity. According to the latest data, here are the average student debt totals for 2019.
|Average Student Loan Balance||$40,170||$44,880||$30,890||$40,400|
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Statistics
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was launched in 2007. It was intended to encourage people to choose careers in public service by forgiving their loans after they worked 10 years full-time for qualifying employers — generally non-profits or government agencies.
The program has been confusing for many. Since the first borrowers became eligible for forgiveness in 2017, only 2.1% of program applicants have had their loans forgiven.
- Number of PSLF Applicants: 168,197
- Number of Applicants That Qualified for Loan Forgiveness: 3,458
Student Loan Default Statistics
When you miss your payments, your loans enter default. With federal student loans, default occurs after your payment is 270 days late. With private loans, you can enter default after just 90 days. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act went into place and suspended payments, so default information is from before March 13, 2021 — when the CARES Act went into effect.
- Percentage of Borrowers in Default: 20%
COVID-19 Impact on Student Loan Debt
The COVID-19 pandemic had a substantial impact on student loan borrowers. The CARES Act provided some relief for federal loan borrowers, but it did not apply to those with private student loans.
- Number of Federal Direct Loan Borrowers in COVID-19 Forbearance: 23 million
- Total Federal Loan Debt in COVID-19 Forbearance: $938 billion
Tips for Avoiding Student Loan Debt
While the majority of college graduates leave school with student loan debt, you may be able to cover the costs of college using other forms of financial aid.
- Work Over the Summer: During school breaks, consider getting a part-time job or picking up a side hustle. Working for a few months and stashing your earnings can help cover a significant portion of your college costs.
- Fill Out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid: Even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll qualify for financial aid, fill out the FAFSA. It’s what the federal government, states, schools, and some organizations use to determine your eligibility for all sorts of aid, including merit-based scholarships and grants.
- Search for External Scholarships and Grants: You can find gift aid on your own that is issued by companies and non-profit organizations. Use FastWeb and Scholarships.com to find and apply for scholarships and grants.
- Consider Work-Study Programs: Students that need financial assistance may be eligible for federal or state work-study programs. Working with the school’s department of financial assistance, you’ll get a job related to your major and use the income to pay for some of your education expenses.
- Reduce your College Expenses: You can decrease the need for student loans by lowering your college costs. Commute to school, rent an off-campus apartment, and prepare your own meals to save money.
Learn more: How to Avoid Student Loan Debt
Tips for Paying Off Student Loan Debt
Repaying student loan debt can be difficult, but it is possible. If you’re overwhelmed by your student loans, use the following tips to control your debt and pay off student loans faster:
- Find Your Loans: The first step in becoming debt-free is knowing how student loans work. Use the National Student Loan Data System and AnnualCreditReport.com to find out what loans are under your name, how much you owe, and who manages your loans.
- Create a Budget: Make a budget to ensure your income outpaces your spending, and look for areas where you can cut back to free up cash for debt repayment. You Need a Budget and Mint are excellent tools for recent grads and can help you track your spending.
- Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan: If you have federal loans and your payments are too high, contact your loan servicer and ask to enroll in an IDR plan. The plans base your payments on your discretionary income and an extended repayment term, potentially reducing your minimum payments.
- Find Out of Your Employer Will Help: Some employers offer student loan assistance as an employee benefit. Talk to your HR department to see if your company offers that option.
- Make Extra Payments: Look for additional cash that you can put toward your debt. Even an extra $10 or $20 per month can reduce your repayment term by several months and help you save on interest charges.
Save by Refinancing Your Student Loans
Student loan refinancing is another way to pay off your loans faster and save money. With refinancing, you’ll take out a new loan with a lender like ELFI to pay off your existing one.*
Depending on the lender’s student loan refinancing eligibility requirements, you could qualify for a lower interest rate and save thousands over the life of your loan. The benefits of student loan refinancing can be substantial, allowing you to become debt-free faster. Use ELFI’s student loan refinancing calculator to find out how much you can save.*