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34 Useful Facts About the Average Student Loan Debt

Every year, thousands of young people go to college, embarking on what society views as the start of adult life. To some, college is a right and something on their “to do” list that just has to be ticked off. 

Yet to others, college represents a ticket to a well-paid career and/or a necessary step on the ladder toward increasing their earning potential average student loan debt.

Which means that:

On the whole, college is a vital part of most people’s lives, something that can essentially be viewed as a priority.

But the problem is:

Despite college being such a valued institution, it is also one that can be expensive for most people. So, they have to rely on loans in order to pay for their education. 

In some cases, according to average student loan debt by year stats, students do not get to finish college and have to enter the job market without a degree. Yet even in these instances, they still have to pay off any debt they incurred for their time in college.

We will now share with you some of the alarming statistics that will provide you with an overview of the pros and cons of taking loans for college. We will also look at the state of student debt in the US, providing you with enough information to make informed decisions on the current climate of student debt in the US in 2020.

Let’s dive in!

Top Student Debt Statistics (Editor’s Choice)

  • Studies from the start of 2019 show that 5.7 million student loan borrowers are actually in default.
  • Over 96% of student debt is linked to loans that are Federal, not private.
  • The end of 2019 saw over 24% of student loan borrowers falling behind on their payments.
  • Most student debt resides within the 35-45 age bracket, with borrowers who fall into this category having a combined debt of $589 billion dollars
  • Female students tend to have the highest amount of outstanding debt, with 75% of outstanding debts being held by female individuals. A combined total of over $932 billion
  • An average of $29,477 was the amount most students had in Q4 2019.
  • According to the average college debt, the highest student debt balance in 2019. belonged to the state of Connecticut, with $38,588 per student.

Student Loan Stats: A General Overview

1. At the start of 2020, the national student loan debt was over $1.48 trillion.


Starting the year off with this amount of debt will no doubt impact average college debt. In turn, this is something that will surely affect lending rates and criteria, stock prices, and the general financial health of the country.

2. The average student debt amount is $37,889.


With this amount of debt being incurred so early in a student’s life, and factoring in interest rates, most students will graduate and enter the job market with heavy debts. In effect, this will weaken their financial status, increasing US student loan debt, and putting a strain on the US economy.

3. A total of $1.7 trillion was expended by Federal student loans.

(NBC News)

This investment of the Federal budget seems like an admirable idea to educate America’s future workforce. However, this investment comes at a heavy price. 

This trillion-dollar money spend will no doubt be balanced out by increases in student loan interest rates, housing loan criteria becoming more stringent, and education at high school level suffering from budget cuts.

4. Students in US colleges in 2019 were paying up to $350 per month toward their loans.

(Millennial Money Man)

The student loan debt statistics show that the average US college student in college is having to shelve out a tidy sum each month, just to keep up with their repayments.

Without a doubt, this puts pressure on many students, a pressure that will most probably have them working more than a few part-time jobs just to make ends meet. 

As a result, most students will get lower grades due to stress and physical exhaustion. Alternatively, they’ll drop-out of college and enter the full-time job market in order to pay for the loan that they took. This, in turn, will add to the student loan debt crisis.

5. The number of student loans taken in the US is 44.2 million.

(Research Gate)

This figure is alarming, as every year there is a growing number of students going to college, adding to total student loan debt

What’s more:

These students are taking loans to do so, which means that the number of student loans has no chance of decreasing but will instead rise in multiples of thousands.

6. A total of 4 states had successful students who had state loans.

(Wells Fargo)

The US student loan debt shows that four out of five 2016 graduates with state loan debt attended schools in just four states: Texas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, which awarded only 14% of bachelor’s degrees.

7. The average tuition fees in 2019 were $10,440.

(Online Colleges)

In 2019, the average price for tuition at a four-year college was just over $10. Keep in mind, though, that out-of-state students and international students have to pay considerably more. 

8. Most two-year institutions charged an average of $3,789.

(Wallet Hub)

The average tuition price at a US public two-year institution was $3,789. These are mostly community colleges, which cater to in-state, socially deprived students who can’t afford the higher fees four-year universities charge.

Interesting Statistics About Interest Rates

The average student loan payment interest rates in the US have been rising steadily for different types of student loans.

Below, we’ve presented an overview of the market fluctuations:

Type of Loan:

Direct Subsidized Loans (Undergraduate)

Yearly Fluctuation:

2019 – 2020 = 4.53%

2018 – 2019 = 5.05%

2017 – 2018 = 4.45%

2016 – 2017 = 3.76%


Type of Loan:

Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Undergraduate)

Yearly Fluctuation:

2019 – 2020 = 4.53%

2018 – 2019 = 5.05%

2017 – 2018 = 4.45%

2016 – 2017 = 3.76%


Type of Loan:

Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Undergraduate)

Yearly Fluctuation:

2019 – 2020 = 6.08%

2018 – 2019 = 6.60%

2017 – 2018 = 6%

2016 – 2017 = 5.31%


Type of Loan:

Direct PLUS Loans (Graduate and Parents)

Yearly Fluctuation:

2019 – 2020 = 7.08%

2018 – 2019 = 7.60%

2017 – 2018 = 7%

2016 – 2017 = 6.31%

This rise in interest rates means:

The student loan balance and monthly payments of loan repayments will rise by around 2.8%, over a 10-year repayment term.

Type of Loan:

Federal Stafford (Undergraduate)

Loan Repayment Increase:



Type of Loan:

Federal Stafford (Graduate)

Loan Repayment Increase:



Type of Loan:

Federal Parent PLUS

Loan Repayment Increase:



Type of Loan:

Federal Grad PLUS

Loan Repayment Increase:


The student loan trends show interest rates are increasing on a uniform basis, something which will no doubt ensure costs will rise exponentially, too.

In turn, this has led to an increase in default statistics:

9. One million defaults are made each year.

(Financial Times)

This is huge!

The student loan debt statistics show that over one million student loan borrowers default each year in the US.

10. Over 40% of borrowers are set to default on their student loan payments.


Analysts predict that four in ten students who took out college loans will default by 2023.

Graduate School Debt

Graduate school programs are adding more and more to the average student loan debt accrued by young Americans. The loss of value pertaining to bachelor’s degrees is forcing students to take graduate programs.

Which is leading to:

An increase in overall debt across all US states, which in turn is exerting financial pressure on an already thinly stretched economy.

11. According to student debt statistics, over 40% of all student debt is held by those in graduate programs.

(New York Times)

According to student loan statistics, over 40% of all student debt in the US is held by people in grad school. Which demonstrates the financial cost and economic strain that is being generated by the funding of these courses.

12. Graduates borrowed over three times more in 2019 than they did in 2015.

(NBC News)

The latest studies show that graduates in 2015 borrowed on average a total of $5,465 per student. In contrast, the figure for 2019 was $19,373, showing a massive jump.

13. A master’s degree costs an average of $51,000.


As it’s a valuable resource to have on your resume, a master’s degree is something many students are striving to attain.

Though desirable, a masters degree can take anything from 2 to 5 years to complete, something that can result in costs exceeding $51,000

14. Some MBA’s can cost nearly $200,000.

(New York Times)

Student loan debt facts reveal that the MBA is one of the most expensive degrees.

An average MBA can cost $42,000 to complete.

Specialized MBA’s, such as a medical one, can cost up to $197,000, making the cost of education much higher than most people can expect or afford.

Average Student Loan Debt - graduation

Loan Holder Demographics: Debt Nation

Student loans automatically conjure up an image of young people in debt, but the truth is much more complex than that. Many college students are still trying to pay off their debts decades later.

Which indicates that:

Student loans can linger a lot longer than individuals anticipate and can follow someone well into their 40’s and beyond.

15. Reports show that 62% of student debt holders are older than 30 years of age.


As mentioned above, most people associate young people with average college student debt, student loans, and student debt. While a logical assumption, it is woefully inaccurate.

Of the entire total of students with debt, 38% are under the age of 30.

On the flip side, 62% of student debt holders are older than 30.

16. In 2019, 77% of black students took out Federal loans.

(Credit Guard)

According to studies on the average student loan debt, over three-quarters of black students were reported to have taken out Federal loans.

This figure is interesting, especially compared to the national average of all students, which was 60% in total.

17. Black students graduate with nearly $5000 more debt than the national average.


At the end of 2019, average monthly student loan payment analysts were surprised to find that black students seemed to graduate with larger debts than the national average.

Black students were graduating with an average of $29,344 worth of debt, while the national average was $25,640 per person.

18. Studies show that black households earn 23% less than the national average.

(Yale Global)

What’s worse:

The above figure is the same even when referring to people that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

19. 50% of black students have defaulted in their loans within the first 10 years of taking them out.

(American Bar Association)

Studies that analyze the average student loan debt by age and results of students that defaulted on their loan repayments in the first ten years of taking their loan showed the following:

An average of 21% of white students defaulted on their student loans.

An average of 36% of Hispanic students defaulted on their student loans.

An average of 50% of black students defaulted on their student loans.

20. Women account for two-thirds of student debt in the US.

(Financial Times)

Female students account for just over half, 53%, of undergraduates across the nation.

However, women still hold two-thirds of the national debt for student loans – a whopping $900 billion.

21. Women generally take longer with student loan repayment.


This ends up costing them more money in the long run, as the interest can quickly add up.

Some analysts argue that the reason for this delay is that, on average, they make 26% less than men do.

Debt Repayment: How Long Do Debts Linger

So, how long do most people take to pay off their debts? The short answer is – a long time.

But also:

The complex answer can range between anything from a long time, to under duress, all the way to never at all.

Below, we’ll share some statistics to give you an idea of how things are at present:

22. As it stands, over three million people have deferred on their Federal student loans.

(Research Gate)

The state of borrowing and repayments in the US is a very tense one.

Statistics on the average debt after college revealed that three million people have deferred on their Federal loans.

23. Over two million borrowers still have loans in forbearance.

(Vision Federal Credit Union)

Forbearance on a student loan is a situation where an individual is unable to make their repayments.

As such, the loan is put on hold, or forbearance.

However, it still accrues interest, which ultimately leaves the borrower in ever greater debt.

At present, over two million student loan borrowers have loans in forbearance, essentially trapping them in a net of debt. This shows the need for measures and programs to be implemented to show students how to manage your student loans.

24. Studies show that 10% of borrowers with student loans haven’t made a repayment on their debt in more than nine months.


At present, 4.7 million people with Federal student loans have them in default. That means 10% of borrowers have failed to make a repayment on their debt in over 9 months.

25. Students who leave college before finishing their degrees are two times more likely to default on their loans.

(Wells Fargo)

According to studies conducted by Wells Fargo on college debt statistics, students who leave college before completing their degree are considerably more likely to eventually default on their loans and neglect their repayments than students who graduated.

26. Over 50% of defaulted debts are on loans that are $10,000.


Studies from 2018 and 2019 show that over half of defaulted debts are on loans that amount to $10,000. This trend is damaging for the economy, as the average student loan debt for 2 year degree affects rates at their core and raises prices for the nation as a whole.

Forgive and Forget: The US Practice of Loan Forgiveness

Unlike many countries, the US offers some provisions for those who are unable to pay for the loan (in full or in part) they have taken out. This practice is called Loan Forgiveness and is primarily (though not exclusively) used by students.

Here’s why:

According to the average graduate student loan debt stats, students are usually young and financially inexperienced. 

What’s worse:

Very few parents are able to convey financial wisdom to their children due to communication breakdowns, the generation gap, and the ever-growing lack of attention span that younger generations seem to be afflicted with. 

Plus, a lot of these parents actually also lack any sense of financial wisdom. So, they’re clueless about how to educate their children and manage their finances.

This lack of financial knowledge, combined with short-term thinking and no understanding of the median student loan debt, has led to many young students being left in positions where they can’t pay for their loans.

There are a total of two Federal student loan forgiveness programs provided by the US Department of Education.

The first is:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness 

This scheme is intended for those who graduated and now have jobs. After a decade of on-time payments, the borrower is forgiven the remainder of their debt.

In theory, the average student loan debt masters say this program sounds good, but in practice, it is a long shot option for anyone in debt. This is because an average of 100 from every 30,000 applicants gets accepted into this program.

So, this program is almost like planning to win the lottery.

The second is:

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program 

This program aims to entice graduates to normally unwanted teaching positions by offering debt relief.

To reap the benefits, a teacher must work for five consecutive years in what is known as a low-income school.

After that, an amount between $5000 to $18,000 can be forgiven from the remainder of their outstanding loan. This makes for excellent student loans alternatives for those in a tough situation with their repayments.

This program is also a tough one to get into. That being said, it does have a higher rate of acceptance, with over 46,000 teachers receiving assistance from this program in 2019 alone.

Average Student Loan Debt - piggy bank

Student Debt Effects

Let’s face it:

The effects of student loan debt are far-reaching. They impact the economy as well as the hearts and minds of the American people.

Which leads us to the question of:

Is the American dream still achievable, and is college still a viable assistant to the realization of that dream?

The quick answer is:

Yes, the American dream is still available, and college can help you on that journey.

The long answer is:

See the stats below for a better overview of the intricacies of how the country is being affected by the current climate of student loans.

27. In 2019, nearly half of all students who graduated were in debt.

(Research Gate)

Data from studies related to the average student loan debt in America reflected that 48.9% of all students in the US graduated with high levels of debt.

These levels were so high that analysts predicted approximately 30% of the students with debt would not be able to make loan repayments on a starting salary straight out of college. 

This would make them highly likely candidates to default or seek loan forgiveness programs in the future.

28. The retirement age is increasing from 66 in 2018 to 72 in 2020.


The retirement age is creeping up, according to analysts. The once just about manageable retirement age of 66 that existed in 2018 has now evolved to a bone-creaking 72 years.

This increase has sparked many fears among recent college graduates. As the average time it takes to pay off student loans increase, students fear they may never get to retire, let alone enjoy their golden years.

29. Students won’t be able to own their own house until they’re 36. 

(Yale Global)

Buying your own house used to be something normal. It was also something most people achieved within several years of getting a job after college.

But with the growing burden of student loans, buying your own house has become more of a distant dream than a reality. The growth of student loan debt has thrown a proverbial wrench into people’s plans to buy a house in their mid- to late-20’s.

The way the figures fall now: 

A graduate should have secured a competitively paid job right out of college in order to be able to pay off their student debt or get a handle on it. Only then would they be on track to buying their own house at 36 by providing a 20% downpayment.

State by State Loan Debt

The US as a country is swamped with student debt. However, it is important to understand the average student loan debt by state.

Closer analysis shows that:

Student loan debt is less a matter of opinion and more a daily reality for the average US student.

With that said:

Below we have some statistics to outline the debt situation in the US as it stands in each individual city and state.

30. Connecticut has the highest average loan debt in the US at $38,510.

(New York Times)

Of all the most debt-ridden states in the US, Connecticut is the one with the highest average loan debt per person.

With the average student loan debt for bachelor’s degree being exceeded in Connecticut, the Constitution State is nearly $9000 more expensive than the second the list. 

In case you’re curious:

This is Pennsylvania, where the corresponding figure stands at $30,189.

31. Students in Utah owe the least amount on average of $18,677.

(Credit Guard)

Students from the Mormon State owe the least amount on average, clocking in at $18,677 per student. The figure is $2000 dollars less than the second-ranked New Mexico, with a $21,237 average. Utah has average loans for college students statistics that are impressive.

32. Most graduates owe at least $28,560.

(NBC News)

This figure, which reports have termed as a conservative estimate, highlights the amount of debt that most US students accrue and end up paying for throughout the majority of their working life.

33. South Dakota and West Virginia have a 74% rate of students who leave school with debt.

(Credit Guard)

These states are two of the most debt-ridden in the whole of the US, highlighting clearly the different levels of student loan debt across the nation.

34. Utah has the lowest proportion of students with debt at 38%.

(Wells Fargo)

Reports on the average Millennial student loan debt show that Utah truly is a leader of the pack when it comes to US student and loan statistics. As well as having the record for the lowest average debt per graduate, Utah also has the lowest amount of students with debt at 40%.

Average Student Loan Debt - money

To Sum it All up

Clearly, the US has a tumultuous relationship with student loan debt.

The thing is:

Even though college can help with career progression and long term employability, potential students need to seriously weigh up the costs of student loans and calculate if they can actually afford them.

What’s more:

Colleges may also do well to reassess the tuition fees they charge. 

Can college in the US be viewed as a viable option? Yes.

But, as mentioned above, individuals are advised to do short and long term cost analysis in order to work out the affordability of course.


Q. What is the average student loan debt after four years of college?


Throughout the US, the student loan debt is $28,000 for graduates at public schools.

For private four-year schools, the average amount was $35,889

Q. Are student loans forgiven after 20 years?


As a rule of thumb, forgiveness based solutions based on 20 or 25 years of on-time payments are only available to Federal student loans. Private student loans do not qualify.

Q. What is a reasonable student loan payment?


The average student loan debt private college reports show that to seek out a reasonably priced loan, it’s useful for the borrower to find a loan they can repay in a reasonable amount of time.

Although “reasonable” can be viewed as a very subjective term, the general measuring stick to work this out would be to choose a loan with a repayment plan that you can:

  1. Manage easily
  2. Allows you to pay off the loan within 10 years of graduation

By following the above guidelines, finding a suitable loan can become a lot simpler and easier.

Q. What percent of students are in debt?


The majority of US graduates are in debt.

At present, the average student loan debt is at 70% for college students who have large amounts of debt.

Q. What percentage of students pay back their loan?


Not many loans are actually being repaid.

2019 showed that 56% of outstanding Federal loan debt was being repaid.

The remaining 44% was either in default or on hold and accruing interest.


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