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Once you’re a college graduate, you’ll have to start paying your student loans back. But how long does it take to pay off student loans? This can vary by which loan, servicer, and plan you choose.
How long to pay off student loans
When you agree to take out a federal student loan from the U.S. Department of Education, the standard repayment term is 10 years.
However, depending on the type of loan, your loan servicer, and which plan or loan terms you choose, the length of time will vary. If you take advantage of any income-driven repayment options, for example — like IBR, PAYE, or REPAYE — the amount of time could be longer.
Here are the typical student loan repayment terms for each type:
- Standard repayment: 10 years
- Income-driven repayment: Up to 25 years
- Private student loans: 5 to 20 years
- Consolidation and refinancing: 5 to 20 years
Standard repayment: 10 years
If you start paying back your federal student loans after your six-month grace period is up, you can expect to pay at least $50 a month for 10 years. Loans that qualify are:
- Direct Subsidized Loans
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans
- Direct PLUS Loans
- Direct Consolidation Loans
The Direct Consolidation Loan — which combines all your federal loans into one for a singular monthly payment — estimates repayment taking between 10 and 30 years.[ Jump to top ]
Income-driven repayment plans: Up to 25 years
If you qualify for an IDR plan, your monthly bill is calculated based on your income. The federal government offers four IDR plans:
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
For IDR plans, monthly payments are typically based on your income. If you have a low salary, your monthly payments will match that to be low as well. But keep in mind that repayment periods will last longer, too.
|Plan type||Monthly payment||Maximum repayment term|
|IBR||10% of your discretionary income||Up to 20 years for new loan borrowers after July 1, 2014
Up to 25 years if you’re not a new borrower by July 1, 2014
|ICR||20% of your discretionary income or what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted according to your income — whichever is less||Up to 25 years|
|PAYE||10% of your discretionary income||Up to 20 years|
|REPAYE||10% of your discretionary income||Up to 20 years for undergraduate loans
Up to 25 years if your loans paid for graduate courses
If you still haven’t paid off your loans at the end of the maximum repayment term — either 20 or 25 years — you could qualify to have the remaining balance forgiven. Unless your debt far exceeds your income, you may pay off your debt before then — after 12 or 17 years, for example.[ Jump to top ]
Private student loans: 5 to 20 years
Private student loan lenders are different from the federal government. You choose a repayment term when you take out the loan, based on how much you borrow and your expected monthly payment.
Some private loan lenders offer shorter loan terms, which means higher monthly student loan payments. While this might not seem ideal, a shorter loan term means you’ll pay less in interest over the life of the loan.[ Jump to top ]
Consolidation and refinancing: 5 to 20 years
Refinancing is like consolidation, but you take out a new loan to replace all your old loans. With that comes a new interest rate, loan terms, and a monthly payment.
Some of the best student loan refinancing lenders have loan terms anywhere from 5 years to 20 years. You can determine the best way to pay off your student debt based on your annual income, how fast you’d like to pay them off, and if your credit score allows you to get a lower interest rate.
If you can’t afford a high monthly student loan payment, refinancing might be a good option for you. But keep in mind that refinancing doesn’t guarantee a lower monthly payment or interest rate. Also, remember that refinancing means taking out a brand new loan. Check rates with different lenders to see if you should refinance your student loans before making a final decision.[ Jump to top ]
Paying off your student loans
While 10 years is a good estimate, your salary will dictate how much you’ll be able to pay back on a monthly basis. If you earn a high salary, you can pay extra money toward your student loan debt, which will help you pay them off sooner. If your salary is lower-than-average, make sure you’re at least making the regular, minimum monthly payment.
While standard repayment plans have a 10-year repayment schedule, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone. Whether you consolidate, have an income-driven repayment plan, or you refinance through a private lender, your loan terms aren’t so cut and dry. How long it takes you to pay off your student loans can vary widely depending on your financial situation.