Do you qualify for loan forgiveness or lower monthly payments?
CALL US TO FIND OUT! 800-820-8128

The Average Student Loan Debt In 2021

average student loan debt

More than half of the students in the U.S. now have to get a student loan to get a college education. And the average student loan debt is currently at $36,900. Overall, the total student debt totals $1.7 trillion, six times faster than the country’s economy. 

These massive student loans aren’t owed by students who recently graduated and included borrowers who have finished their degree program for a decade or more. 

The standard repayment schedule for federal loans is ten years. However, research shows that it takes a four-year degree holder 19.7 years on average to get rid of their loan debts. 

This guide will show you comprehensive student debt statistics in the U.S. currently: the trends, challenges, and a few hopeful indicators. 

The Average Student Loan Debt: Who Owns These Loans? 

Forty-three million students in the United States have loan debts. That means out of eight Americans; one has a student loan. People that are most likely to have a student loan debt ages from 25 to 34. But those who own the massive amount, over $600 billion, ranging from 35 to 49. 

Typically, women take out more loans for college than men, and Black students borrow regularly and in high amounts compared to other ethnicities and races. 

Total Federal Loan Debt 

According to MeasureOne, about 92% of the student loans are owned by the U.S. Education Department. The total number of federal loan borrowers is 42.9 million, with overall outstanding federal student debt of $1.59 trillion.  

Overall Private Student Loan Debt

 According to MeasureOne, out of the total outstanding student loans, private student loans amount to 7.89%. The overall outstanding private loan debt is $136.31 billion. 

Total Parent PLUS Loan 

The parent PLUS student loans give parents one federal loan option to assist their children’s education. From the student debt statistics, the overall parent PLUS loan debt is $103.6 billion, with 3.6 million borrowers. 

Average Student Loan Debt Vs. Auto Loans And Credit Cards 

In the previous decade, the overall student loan debt exceeded auto loan debt and credit card debt. In the third quarter of 2018, the United States owed $840 billion on their credit cards. Auto loans alone were $1.21 trillion.

Now, the student loan commitments are bigger than both.

average student loan debt

The Rising Cost Of Higher Education 

Student loans have increased in the past few decades due to the costs associated with higher education: fees, books, tuition, and housing. And these have ballooned rapidly than family incomes. 

Since 1971, the  College Board has monitored the price at private and public universities. And when they initially began, the average cost for attending a public university for one year was $1,410 ($8,730 in 2017). 

That was 15.6% of $9,027, the median household income, and it was manageable for most families without entering into debt. 

The scene quickly changed in 2018. Now, the average cost of attending a public university for one year is $21,370. That is 34.8% of $61,372 of the median household income. 

That’s part of the reason why 70% of students that come out of college with a bachelor’s degree have massive student loans. And why most of them opt for refinancing or loan consolidation

For every four U.S. adults, more than one faces a student loan crisis. People with active student loans in the United States are 44.7 million, and the majority are below 60. 

The most recent student debt statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that 171.3 million adults between the ages of 20 and 59 years in the U.S. That means it’s a challenge for 26% of younger people under 60 to pay off their student loans. 

Today, bachelor’s degree graduates have an average student loan debt of $37,172. 13 years ago, it was about $20,000. And the outstanding loans mean debt is $32,731

How Much Is An Average Student Loan Payment? 

The average student loan payment every month is $393. That means the average monthly student payment is almost 55% higher compared to a decade ago. Student loan payments have increased over two and half times quicker than the rate of inflation. 

If the standard $227 monthly bill loan borrowers got in 2005 had still been on the same level as the consumer price, the risen cost would have been only 22.9%, and that’s $279. Getting rid of your student loans is more difficult today than it was previously. 

However, you can still find effective strategies to reduce your interest rates and decrease your monthly payments. 

Average Student Loan Debt: Falling Into Delinquency 

It’s more challenging for students to meet their loan obligations. And as the balance increases, most borrowers keep falling on their payments. Now, student loans have the highest delinquency rates. 

In the third quarter of 2018, the student loans over the 90 day due date were 11.5%. In addition, mortgage and home equity lines of credit delinquency were much lower: 1.1% and 1.2%, respectively. 

average student loan debt

The reason why most borrowers can’t repay their student loans may, in part, be due to high interest rates. However, as more people opt for refinancing their private loans, it can lower their payments every month, thereby reducing delinquency rates. 

Average Student Loan Debt On Federal And Private Student Loans 

The federal government owes most of the outstanding loan debt. The 19% remaining belongs to the private banks. Historically, federal student loans were the first place students go to because it was easy to acquire a loan, and it also had reasonable interest rates. 

However, the market conditions have changed from the early 1990s until a recent date. And that has also caused the interest rate on the federal loans to shift. Now, more private lenders offer more alternatives and better customer service. 

Many students, after graduation, choose to get a better deal by refinancing their federal student loans with private lenders. 

Types Of Federal Student Loans 

Direct loans cover more than three-quarters of all federal student loans. The U.S Education Department directly offers direct loans, and it’s available to most students no matter the financial need. 

FFEL is indirect loans which mean certified institutions offer them, but the government guarantees them. Perkins Loans are need-based loans of up to a maximum of $5,500 annually for undergraduate students with low household incomes. The universities issue this type of loan.

It’s easy to get federal student loans, but most have low yearly limits, and the interest rates can be huge. However, if you have multiple federal student loans, you can consolidate them to streamline your finances and get a lower interest rate. 

Out Of 10 Direct Loans, About 4 Are On Hold

About $1.05 trillion of student loan debt comes from direct loans. That’s an incredible increase from about five years ago when $508.7 billion was the total. Currently, 52% of direct loan debt is in repayment. 

Those in default are about 8% because the borrower hasn’t made any payments in the last nine months or more. The 40% remaining is on hold for different reasons: 

  • Forbearance  – 11%
  • Deferment – 11%
  • Students still enrolled in school – 13%
  • Grace period – 5%
  • Other -1%

Deferment and forbearance help numerous borrowers postpone their payments if they go through economic hardship like unemployment or medical issues. 

Other circumstances include serving in the military or are continuing your studies through residency, postgraduate or fellowship study. The primary difference between them is that forbearance accrues interest while deferment doesn’t. 

The current breakdown is quite a considerable change when compared to the third quarter of 2013. It includes: 

  • 42% of the federal loans were in repayment 
  • 8% was in forbearance
  • 5% was in default,
  • Students in college held 24% 
  • 13% was in deferment 
  • 1% was categorized as “other.”

Average Student Loan Debt: Who Handles Your Federal Loans? 

Loan borrowers don’t make their loan payments directly to the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, what happens is the loan servicers act as the middlemen, handling different relevant activities such as:

  • Billing
  • Processing and monitoring of payments
  • Dealing with requests for forbearance and deferment 
  • Assisting borrowers to change their payment plans 
  • Certifying student borrowers for loan forgiveness

Four loan servicers handle most of the federal FFEL and direct loans. The biggest of these services is FedLoan Servicing (also called AES-PHEAA), which holds 31%. The others include: 

  • Navient with 21%,
  • Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation with 23%,
  • Nelnet with 17%.

As for the remaining loans, numerous non-profit loan servicers handle them. The chart below shows the student loans status managed by each corporation. 

The major servicers manage the billions worth of student loans on behalf of the federal government. However, the non-profit servicers have the lowest loan repayments, with a total of 49%. And the lowest rate of student loans held in forbearance is 4%. 

The forbearance and repayment rates of the four major loan servicers include: 

  • Great Lakes: forbearance 11%, repayment 60%
  • Navient: forbearance 12%, repayment 65%, 
  • Nelnet: forbearance 8%, repayment 61%
  • AES-PHEAA forbearance 13%, repayment 67% 

Despite The Average Student Loan Debt, Americans Still Choose Higher Education 

Higher education has been seen as the ticket to job satisfaction and affluence. As a result, the earnings for degree holders have steadily increased over the past years. And according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, college graduates have a higher chance of becoming homeowners. 

Among all the United States students aged 25 and older, 58.9% have enrolled in college for some time. Also, about 32.5% have received a bachelor’s degree or higher. Thus, there’s a higher chance that younger Americans will prioritize college compared to the previous generations. 

From the student debt statistics of people aged 65 and older (that’s the baby boomers and silent generations), 50% have spent some time in school. And 27% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Among the people aged 25 to 34, 65% have enrolled in school for some time, and 36% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

The Most Popular Graduate Degrees In The U.S. 

The Most Popular Graduate Degrees In The U.S. 

Even though many young people gravitate towards medicine and law in graduate school, potential lawyers make 4% and aspiring doctors just a total of 5%. However, when it comes to the master’s programs, the degrees most people sought after are: 

  • Business and administration – 11$%
  • Education – 16%
  • Science 18%

Around a quarter of graduate students plan for a doctorate, with 23% planning to earn a Ph.D.

Which Graduate Degrees Do Most Students Borrow For?

Medical degrees take a long time to earn and also cost more compared to other graduate degrees. Doctors come out of training with an average student loan debt of $161,772. The second are lawyers with an average student loan debt of $140,616. 

Educators follow up with an average debt of $50,879 in student loan debt. The least cost of attending school is the MBAs with an average student loan debt of $42,000. 

Most of the news stories about student loans seem severe, concentrating on the higher cost of education. But aside from all the student debt statistics, there is some good news too. Regardless of the higher price, over two-thirds of U.S. high school students decide to go to college. 

Enrolment was high in 2011 and has decreased over the years, but more than 19 million students registered for classes at schools that offer degrees in fall 2016. 

Enrollment has decreased at for-profit institutions, and undergraduate enrollment also reduced at public four-year schools, which are broadly seen as better value. 


With all the outlined average student loan debt in this guide, what should be your next step? If you have student loans, there are several things you need to do to get rid of your student debt. First, you have to find out if refinancing your loans is the right thing for you to do. If you get any chance and have a stable income, it’s best to pay off your student loans early. However, if you don’t know how to proceed, call us at 800-820-8128 for a free consultation. We’ll gladly help you make an informed decision and get out of debt once and for all.