Statistics about student loan debt make for frightening headlines, and it’s no wonder — there are some pretty big numbers being thrown around in 2019:
- Average student loan debt
- Private student loan debt
- Average student loan debt for recent graduates
- Average debt by school type
- Average student loan debt by age group
- Share of student loan debt by age group
- Extreme student loan debt
- Average student loan monthly payment
- Trends in student borrowing
- Growth in total student loan debt
- Average family student loan debt
If you’re looking for statistics on average student loan debt, keep in mind that there are many ways to analyze the numbers.
If you’re concerned about the impact that student loan debt has on a society as a whole, you might be most interested in statistics for the entire universe of borrowers, including growth in total student loan debt, the average student loan debt, or the average student loan monthly payment.
If you’re headed off to college to earn a bachelor’s degree, you might be more interested the average student loan debt for recent graduates. You might also be interested in seeing breakdowns of average debt by school type — public, private and for-profit.
And if you’re looking for context around those numbers, check out the final section, “Trends in student borrowing.” Believe it or not, annual student loan borrowing peaked in 2010-2011, and has declined for seven years in a row.
What is the average student loan debt?
According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, as of Sept. 30, 2018:
- Average student loan debt: $33,310
- Total student loan debt: $1.44 trillion
- Number of student loan borrowers: 42.9 million
Analysis: Note that these statistics are for all student loan borrowers, not just recent graduates. They are for federal student loans only, and exclude borrowing from private lenders. But private loans account for less than 10% of outstanding student loan debt, and most private borrowers also hold federal student loan debt.
Private student loan debt
According to data collected by MeasureOne, a consortium of lenders, as of Sept. 30, 2018:
- Private student loan debt: $119.3 billion
- Private loans as a share of total student loan debt: 7.6%
- Share of all private student loans made to undergraduates: 88.5%
- Share of all private student loans made to graduate students: 11.5%
Analysis: MeasureOne’s data shows that 92.4% of private student loans made to undergraduates for the 2018-2019 academic year were cosigned, compared to 63.4% of grad school loans. Click here for statistics on average interest rates for private and federal student loans.
Average student loan debt for recent graduates
According to an annual survey of thousands of colleges by the College Board, two-thirds of students who earned a four-year degree in 2017 borrowed for college. Among those who borrowed to get a bachelor’s degree:
- Average student loan debt, recent graduates: $28,500
Department of Education statistics show that graduate students have considerably more debt at graduation:
- Average student loan debt, graduate school: $84,300
- Average debt for recent law or medical school graduates: $186,600
For more details, see our companion piece, “Average Grad School Debt in the U.S.”
Average debt by school type
The average amount of debt taken on to earn a degree can vary significantly by school type. Data from the College Board and the Department of Education shows that average debt for recent graduates is:
- Public colleges and universities: $26,900
- Private nonprofit schools: $32,600
- Private for-profit schools: $39,900
Analysis: The chart above shows that 2017 graduates who borrowed to get their bachelor’s degree from nonprofit schools (public and private) took on $28,500 in debt, on average, up 24% from 2003 after adjusting for inflation.
The College Board’s estimates for average student loan debt at graduation are similar to those reported by the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), which uses data collected from colleges by Peterson’s Undergraduate Financial Aid Survey.
The College Board and TICAS don’t track debt taken on by students at for-profit schools. But according to a Department of Education survey of 2016 graduates, 83.1% of students earning bachelor’s degrees from private, for-profit schools borrowed to get their degree, taking on $39,900 in debt, on average.
If you’re curious about average debt for graduates of a particular school, you can use tools like College Scorecard.[ Jump to top ]
Average student loan debt by age group
- 24 and younger: $14,753
- 25 to 34: $32,553
- 35 to 49: $38,593
- 50 to 61: $37,828
- 62 and older: $34,316
Analysis: While student loan debt is often thought of as a problem disproportionately affecting millennials, most student loan debt (57.1%) is held by borrowers 35 and older. The chart above shows that borrowers 35 to 61 tend to have the highest loan balances.
Although borrowers 24 and younger have the lowest average loan balances ($14,753) of any age group, many are still enrolled in school and taking out additional loans. The chart below shows that borrowers 24 and younger hold less than 10% of total student loan debt.
Share of student loan debt by age group
- 24 and younger: 8.7%
- 25 to 34: 34.2%
- 35 to 49: 37.4%
- 50 to 61: 15.2%
- 62 and older: 4.5%
Analysis: The chart above shows that borrowers ages 35 to 49 hold the largest share of federal student loan debt. While the share of student loan debt held by those 24 and younger might seem small, keep in mind that many aren’t done borrowing.
Borrowers 62 and older hold the smallest share of debt, but the 1.9 million people in this age group owe $65.2 billion. That’s largely a reflection of the growing popularity of federal PLUS loans that parents take out to fund their children’s educations.[ Jump to top ]
Extreme student loan debt
The chart below shows that among federal student loan borrowers:
- Share who owe less than $40,000: 77%
- Number of borrowers who owe $100,000 or more: 2.7 million
- Percentage of all student loan debt held by those who owe $100,000 or more: 33.7%
Analysis: While only a small fraction of borrowers (6%) owe $100,000 or more, that group owes a disproportionate amount of total student loan debt: $486.8 billion. That’s about one-third of all outstanding federal student loan debt.
Most of these borrowers racked that debt up while attending grad school. See our companion piece on grad school debt.
Most federal student loan borrowers (77%) owe less than $40,000, which is more typical of “Average student loan debt for recent graduates.”
Average student loan monthly payment
According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances:
- Average monthly student loan payment: $393
- Median student loan payment: $222
Analysis: The average monthly payment for student loan borrowers depends not only on the amount they owe, but their interest rate and how many years they will take to repay their debt.
Although the standard repayment term for federal student loans is 10 years, extended and income-driven repayment plans allow borrowers to stretch out their payments for as long as 20 or 25 years. Although these repayment plans can ease the burden of monthly student loan payments, they can also dramatically increase total repayment costs.
Not everyone with student loans is making monthly payments. Some are still enrolled in school, and others have been granted deferment or forbearance. Still others are in default. The Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances found that 38% of borrowers with student loans had one or more loans in deferment.
Trends in student borrowing
News headlines can leave us with the impression that student loan debt is growing rapidly, threatening to reach crisis levels, and that more students than ever are deep in debt. But too often there’s not enough context provided with these numbers.
Population growth and inflation, for example, can explain some of the increase in total student loan debt. If you take inflation into account:
- Annual student loan borrowing peaked in 2010-11 at $127.7 billion
- Borrowing has declined for seven years in a row, to $105.5 billion during the 2017-18 academic year
And while 2.7 million people owe $100,000 or more in student loan debt, most are high earners with graduate degrees who are paying back their loans. The borrowers who are most likely to struggle to repay their loans typically have much smaller levels of debt.
- Borrowers who owe less than $10,000: represent two-thirds of defaults that occur in the first three years of repayment
- Borrowers with more than $40,000 in student loan debt: account for 4% of defaults
That’s because many students who take out smaller loans don’t finish their degrees or obtain degrees that don’t do much to boost their earning potential (for more, see companion piece on student loan default statistics).
Growth in total student loan debt
This is one of the scariest student loan debt statistics out there:
- Total federal and private student loan debt: $1.57 trillion
- Increase from 2006: 226%
- Annual growth rate: more than 10%
Analysis: There are several reasons this chart looks so ominous. Although growth in borrowing by individuals has slowed, the cumulative number of people going to college (and paying back loans) keeps going up.[ Jump to top ]
Average family student loan debt
- Average family student loan debt in 2016: $34,200
- Average family student loan debt in 1989: $5,400
Analysis: The Federal Reserve’s long-running Survey of Consumer Finances, which is conducted every three years, provides some good insights into family student loan debt, which includes all borrowers in a household.
After adjusting for inflation, families owed $10,100 in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1989, so the real increase is closer to three times than six.
Percentage of families with student loans
The Survey of Consumer Finances also shows that it’s much more common for families to have educational debt today than it was a generation ago:
- Percentage of families reporting educational debt in 2016: 22.4%
- Percentage of families with educational debt in 1989: 8.9%
To help you get a better grasp of the numbers, we’ve provided the sources for all the statistics we cite to help anyone from journalists to students.
All of the charts in this article are free for you to share or embed on your own website, blog, or research paper.Jump to top ]