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US Higher Education Statistics

Student Loan Debt Statistics

Student Loan Debt Statistics

The higher education institutions in America are continuously growing in enrollment numbers. Around 90 million American students have a degree in higher education, and the number is constantly growing. The loan debt of current students is increasing along with the loan debt payments of previous college graduates.

  • The American students’ loan debt, both private and state, has reached $1.73 trillion in total.
  • The total federal student loan debt amounts to around $1.59 trillion, with 42.9 million borrowers.
  • Alongside the attendance, the student loan borrowing rate increased with more than 8 million borrowers in 2021.

Student Loan Debt Statistics by Debt Size

The loan debt size of American students starts below $5,000 and increases depending on the circumstances of the time of the loan and after. The debt size grows significantly — in percentage — every year.

  • The average debt size depends on the number of borrowers that received the loan at the same time.
  • The number of borrowers with less than $5,000 in debt size each in the first quarter of 2020 was 8.4 million, with $21.8 billion in total. In comparison, during the same period of 2020, the number of borrowers with more than $200,000 in debt size was 0.8 million with $245.8 billion in total with a 165.2% difference.
  • In the second quarter of 2020, 7.7 million borrowers each had less than $5,000 in debt size. The total amount of debt size for borrowers with less than 5K was $19.6 billion.
  • By the third quarter of 2020, 7.4 million borrowers had a debt size of $19.4 in total, with less than $5,000 debt each.
  • 7.9 million students had a debt size of at least $5,000 each —federal student loans— by the fourth quarter of 2020.
  • By 2021, the number of federal student loan borrowers increased by more than 1.2%, with almost 8 million in the first quarter with each borrower in $5,000 or less in debt.
  • 7.4 million borrowers had a debt size of $54.5 billion in total federal student loans —with $5,000 to $10,000 each— in the first quarter of 2021. In the second quarter of 2021, 7.5 million borrowers had the same debt size amount of $54.4 billion —with $5,000 to $10,000 each— in federal student loans.
  • By the third quarter of 2021, with the latest data gathered, 9.4 million borrowers had a debt size of $10,000 to $20,000 each, amounting to $135,8 billion in total.
  • The highest value of the federal student loan debt surpasses $200.000 per person, with 0.9 million borrowers in the last two years.

According to data gathered in the last two years, the largest amount of debt size per person was 100K to 200K of student loan debt, summing up to a total of $324.8 billion in 2021 and a total of $317.2 billion in 2020.

Debt Size 2020 (Final Quarter) Dollars Outstanding (Billions) Borrowers (Millions)
Less than 5K $20.7 7.9
5K to 10K $54.6 7.4
10K to 20K $133.1 9.2
20K to 40K $272.3 9.6
40K to 60K $205.8 4.2
60K to 80K $177.0 2.6
80K to 100K $123.2 1.4
100K to 200K $317.2 2.3
200K+ $263.1 0.9

Student Loan Debt Demographics

A large portion of the American population has student loan debt — years after graduation. The total student loan debt in America depends on many factors. The amount of debt size changes across different age groups, genders, nationalities, degrees, ethnicity, etc.

  • According to federal loans, the student loan debt is measured in two groups: undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • The average debt size for bachelor’s degree borrowers is $29,000.
  • In comparison, the average loan amount for graduate school debts is approximately $71,000.

Below you will find the loan debt demographics grouped by different characteristics:

Student Loan Debt by Age

According to research on federal student loan debts, the age group with the highest number of loans is usually between 25 and 35. The number of student borrowers in debt younger than 34 has increased up to around 22.5 million people.

  • In comparison to young borrowers, around 2.4 million borrowers belong to the age group of 62 years and older.
  • Borrowers younger than 24 have dropped in number—between 2017 and 2021— from 8.7 to 7.5 million borrowers in federal student loan debt.
  • As of March of 2021, the debt size of borrowers younger than 24 is $113.7 billion, compared to the same period last year with a debt size of $120.2 billion in total federal student loan debt —with a difference of 55.5%.
  • Borrowers in the 25 to 34 age group have a total debt size of $500.6 billion gathered in federal student loans by the second quarter of 2021.

Generally, borrowers start repaying the student loan debt after graduation thus resulting in the age group of 25-34 to have the highest amount of student loan debt.

Student Loan Debt by Race or Ethnicity

The ethnic background of the student loan borrowers has a significant role in the number of loans borrowed. Considering the history of the American population, those who attend college come from high-income households. In comparison, some minority ethnic groups are more reluctant to continue their higher education.

Here is a table listing the 2016 student loan debt statistics according to race and ethnicity:

White Black and African American Hispanic/Latin Asian
Average Number of Borrowers (In Percentage) 37.9% 51.5% 39.3% 24.4%
Average Loan Debt $26,550 $30,000 $23,550 $27,400

Student Loan Debt by Sex or Gender

Aside from the differences in origin as an essential demographic group, statistics show that there is also a big gap between genders in federal student loan debt. In the US, women borrowers make up most of the total average of $1.54 trillion – in student loan debt.

  • In 2016–2017, the number of women who had federal loan debts for undergraduate students was approximately 28,100.
  • In comparison, in 2016-2017 — at the undergraduate level — men borrowers had an average debt size of $1,500 less than women.
  • In graduate school, the number of borrowers in women and men dropped by more than 50% in 2016–2017.
  • In 2016–2017, women at the graduate level had a debt size of more than $25,000.
  • Statistics show a lower amount of student loan debt after 12 months of graduation for men borrowers at the graduate level, with around $26,000 in total student loan debt.

The latest US student loan debt statistics show that women borrowers have a higher amount of student loan debt than men.

Federal Student Loan Debt Statistics

Student loan borrowers in the US usually find that getting a loan from the federal government is the easiest way to afford higher education studies. Students can start repaying the loans only after they graduate, leave school, or transfer for different reasons.

  • To get a federal student loan, the student must first apply through the official FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and continue from there.
  • From 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2019, federal student loan debt size in America increased from $516 billion to $1,510.3 billion.
  • Student loans borrowed directly from the U.S. Department of Education are higher than Perkins Loans, with a lower interest rate.
  • In 2007, 28.3 million student loan borrowers had a debt size of $516 billion in total federal student loans.
  • From 2012 to 2016, the number of borrowers in debt increased from 22.8 to 31.5 million with an amount of debt from $488.3 billion to $949.1 billion in direct loans. In the same years, under FFEL loans, the number of borrowers in debt decreased from 22.4 million to 16.4 million —from $451.7 billion to $335.2 billion.
  • In 2017, with the data gathered from the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, 33 million borrowers had a debt size of $1,053.5 in direct loans.
  • By the final quarter of 2017, 14.9 million borrowers had a debt size of $305.8 billion in FFEL loans.
  • In the first quarter of 2021, the loan debt was $1,565.2 billion, with 42.9 million borrowers in debt.
  • By the second quarter of 2021, the total federal student loan debt size was $1,591.8 billion, with 42.9 million borrowers in debt.
  • By the third quarter of 2021, the total federal student loan debt size reached $1,591.1 billion, with 42.8 million borrowers in debt.

Getting a federal student loan to finance higher education studies is the most common method of paying for college among students in the US.

*The latest data gathered is until the third quarter of 2021.
Federal year Direct Loan Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Total
Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions)
2007 $106.8 7.0 $401.9 22.6
2008 $122.5 7.7 $446.5 23.7
2009 $154.9 9.2 $493.3 25.0
2010 $224.5 14.4 $516.7 25.1
2011 $350.1 19.4 $489.8 23.8
2012 $488.3 22.8 $451.7 22.4
2013 $609.1 25.6 $423.0 20.9
2014 $726.6 27.9 $395.0 19.4
2015 $840.7 29.9 $363.6 17.9
2016 $949.1 31.5 $335.2 16.4
2017 $1,053.5 33.0 $305.8 14.9
2018 $1,150.3 34.2 $281.8 13.5
2019 $1,242.6 35.1 $261.6 12.1
2020 $1,315.2 35.9 $245.9 11.0
2021* $1,352.7 36.3 $234.1 10.3

Private Student Loan Debt Statistics

The private student loan debt rates vary, depending on the background and current situation of the borrower and the lender. The borrower usually chooses a private lender, which in most cases is their preferred private bank. Depending on the market, the bank can decide whether the borrower is an appropriate candidate to receive the student loan.

  • Students can apply for private loans when federal loans do not suffice for the entire study program.
  • In comparison to federal student loans, private lenders do not offer the possibility of loan forgiveness.
  • Given that the student cannot pay their private loan debt, the lender— banks, individual lenders, online loans— can withdraw money from the student’s paycheck every month.
  • By the third quarter of 2020, the US’s total private student loan debt attained an average of $138.50 billion.
  • From 2016 – 20, private student loan borrowers had a debt size of $14,000 each. The total debt size of all borrowers was $13,780.4 billion.
  • A significant difference in private student loan debt size is seen within two decades from 2000 to 2018. In the late 1999s and early 2000s, the private student loan debt size was around $36.1 billion. By 2017–2018, the private student loan debt size reached $11.6 billion in total student loans.
  • Research shows that students who applied to universities with a higher tuition fee were more prone to get a private loan as opposed to a federal student loan.
  • The private loans usually require a second signer, called a co-signer, a family member willing to share the legally binding student loan debt contract.

Student loan borrowers in the US who are planning to have financial security in the future, or are applying to costly colleges are most prone to get private loans.

Student Loan Debt Assistance Programs

Companies with student employees usually tend to contribute to financial assistance, such as student loan debt. Grouped with other equally important issues that need financial employee recognition, student loan debt is not always a priority for the companies that offer these arrangements.

  • According to the latest data, the percentage of companies that are currently offering student loan debt assistance is at 17%; 31% do plan to offer this financial aid in the future.
  • A significant percentage of 48% are never planning on offering student loan debt assistance. A small percentage of employers (4%) have yet to make a decision.
  • Financial planning education, seminars, and/or webinars have received the most attention from employers, with 55% of them offering financial benefits; 32% are planning to offer the benefits in the future.
  • In total, 48% of employers are currently offering or planning to offer student loan debt assistance.
  • 39% of employers who are currently offering student loan debt assistance include the plan of 401(k) contributions to employees’ student loan debt payments; 38% of the employers are planning on offering it in the near future (1-2 years). The rest of the employers are not planning on offering, however, 9% of them are interested and the other 10% are not. The 4% left has not made a decision.

Federal vs. Private Student Loan Debt Difference

The difference between federal and private student loans is that federal loans are provided by the US government, whereas private lenders include banks, private creditors, or other financial institutions. Federal loans allow students to find other repayment options compared to private loans that are more strict in terms of repayment and interest rates.

Federal Fiscal Year Federal Student Loan Debt in Billions Private Student Loan Debt in Billions Total Federal and Private Student Loan Debt in Billions
2014 $1,129.8 $91.8 $1,221.6
2015 $1,212.4 $99.7 $1,312.1
2016 $1,292.2 $102.3 $1,394.5
2017 $1,366.9 $113.2 $1,480.1
2018 $1,439.2 $11.6 $1,450.8
2019 $1,510.3 $13.1 $1,523.4
2020 $1,566.3 $138.5 $1,704.8
2021 $1,591.1 $136.1 $1,727.2

Student Loan Debt and COVID-19

The drastic increase of student loans in 2021, with an average of $1.57 trillion in total, is more evident with the latest pandemic situation of COVID-19. Considering the economic difficulties that arose within the year, graduates have faced many hardships in student loan debt repayment. Many factors have contributed to the additional debt in 2021.

  • The Trump government claimed to give student loan borrowers a break from the interest rates during the pandemic.
  • According to the decision of the US Department of Education, amid the pandemic, student loan borrowers can start repaying the debt after COVID-19.
  • Out of the total 42.9 million borrowers with federal student loan debt, only around 4.2 million are currently repaying them.
  • The US federal government paused federal student loans for the majority of the borrowers during the pandemic.
  • From the first quarter of 2020 until the fourth quarter, the forbearance of direct loan debt increased by 615.7% because of the pandemic.
  • The number of direct loan borrowers with forbearance loans increased by approx. 722% from 2.7 million in the first quarter of 2020 to 22.2 million by the second quarter of 2020.
  • The Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) also increased in forbearance loans from the first quarter of 2020 to the fourth quarter by 168.57% —$21.0 billion to $56.4 billion.
  • The FFEL federal loan type borrowers increased in number as well. By the first and second quarters of 2020, the number of borrowers in forbearance debt was 0.8 million borrowers. By the fourth quarter, the number of borrowers increased to 3.3 million people.
  • Considering the pandemic is currently still active, the forbearance loans keep rising in borrower debt size.

Due to the situation and financial hardships brought by COVID-19, the government has paused the majority of student loans and the rest have gone under forbearance.

Student Debt Relief Under CARES Eligibility

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or otherwise known as the CARES Act, was enacted at the beginning of March 2020. The US government focused on providing help to people who got the worst economic hit because of COVID-19.

  • Out of the total lending amount —of $2.2 trillion— Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) received around $14 billion.
  • The CARES Act’s primary purpose was to pause the federal student loans until September of 2020 temporarily.
  • Donald Trump, the president of the United States at the time, extended the temporary pause until December 2020.
  • The federal student loan debt pause under the CARES Act was extended twice by the education secretary and later by the next president, Joe Biden. The first extension lasted until January 2021, whereas the second extension was valid until September 2021.
  • The final decision of the US Department of Education was the pause on federal student loan payments for the period between March 2020 until January 2022.
  • Within this period, there will also be a postponement of the interest rates of the federal student loans.
  • Private student loan borrowers are not eligible for the CARES Act payment coverage.
  • The federal student loan types eligible for the CARES Act include the Direct Loans, a partial Federal Perkins Loan, and the Federal Family Education Loans.
  • The CARES Act allows students to avoid applying for the forbearance loan, as its purpose is to pause the payment of federal student loans for six months.
  • The CARES Act includes 95% of the federal student loan borrowers.
  • Students who drop out of school as a factor of COVID-19 do not have to repay the total amount of federal student loans as part of the CARES Act waiver.

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), the US government issued the CARES Act as a method of postponing or pausing federal student loan debt payments.

Student Loan Forgiveness Statistics

Paying the federal student loan debt in the US has become the main concern for many borrowers. There is more than $1 trillion in student debt, both federal and private, as the latest statistics for the second quarter of 2021 can reveal. If lucky enough, one can escape the debt payment by applying for loan forgiveness programs.

  • The US Education Department launched the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to cancel the federal loan debt of those who work in the public sector.
  • PSLF was created in 2007 to encourage graduates to apply for jobs included in the public service sector.
  • According to the Education Department, from 2007 until late 2020, statistics show that only around 5,500 federal student loan borrowers benefited from the forgiveness program.
  • The main requirement to qualify for debt forgiveness is to pay ten years’ worth of debt, and the federal government will completely forgive the rest.
  • By October 2022, the federal government will enable debt forgiveness to all borrowers who have worked the last 10 years in the public sector.
  • This arrangement results in more than 22,000 borrowers getting their student loans forgiven.
  • The number of borrowers who benefit from the forgiveness program can increase to about 27,000 if they provide evidence of previous payments.
  • According to the US Education Department, the total loan debt forgiveness will reach approximately 550,000 borrowers.
  • The ongoing number of PSLF borrowers who have registered employment in the public sector has amounted to an average of 1,250,373.
  • The total amount of money received by the borrowers mentioned above is an average of $123.22 billion.
  • The average amount for each borrower with eligible employment amounts to approximately $99,032.
  • Around 5,467 borrowers benefited from the PSLF discharge, according to the student aid government statistics in the first and second quarters of 2021.
  • The total amount of forgiven loans under the PSLF is $452,691,032.
  • The average sum of money that was canceled for borrowers under the PSLF is around $82,804.

Due to the high amount of federal student loan debt, in 2007 the US government launched the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) for borrowers who work in the public sector.

Student Debt Statistics by Loan Status

Depending on the student’s preference and background on their ability to borrow federal loans, the loan status can vary. Due to the impact of COVID-19 in all life aspects, higher education institutions have been influenced highly. In the statistics shown in the following sections, a drastic difference is seen between the pre-pandemic and the current situation.

  • The number of borrowers in forbearance and deferment has explicitly increased.
  • Repayment statistics show a decreased number of borrowers.

Student Loan Debt in Repayment Statistics

The student loan repayment time varies depending on the employment status after graduating and when they started paying the debt. The majority of the student loan debt gets paid within 30 years of working. The number of loans and the type of degree can also contribute to the time it takes to repay.

  • There are two types of student loan debt repayment plans in the US. One is a fixed repayment plan with more or less than ten years. The second plan of the repayment category includes graduated payments, which can increase every two years until the debt is completely repaid.
  • The graduated payment plan can be extended for more than ten years or can be over in a period of fewer than ten years.
  • According to the student aid government statistics, repayment portfolio changes depend on the federal student loan debt repayment plan.
Federal year Direct Loan Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Federally Managed
Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt  (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions)
2015 $397.1 14.3 $225.9 11.2 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 $478.6 15.7 $212.7 10.4 $44.98 3.45 $523.6 16.9
2017 $547.5 16.6 $188.4 9.2 $39.78 3.08 $587.3 17.7
2018 $623.7 17.8 $174.5 8.3 $37.5 2.87 $661.2 18.8
2019 $685.5 18.5 $157.2 7.2 $33.69 2.53 $719.2 19.3
2020 $14.7 0.4 $110.9 4.7 $0.57 0.06 $15.3 0.4
2021* $17.1 0.5 $106.0 4.3 $0.56 0.06 $17.7 0.5

Note: The repayment statistics provide information for the fourth quarter of each fiscal year.

*The 2021 repayment statistics provide information only for the second quarter of the fiscal year.

*Direct Loans and ED-Held Federal Family Education Loans repayment plans depend on the borrower’s choice on the federal student loan servicer (PHEAA, Great Lakes, Nelnet, Navient, Not-for-Profit Servicers).

  • The average amount of dollars borrowed by all servicers in 2021 is $3.5 billion.
  • The average number of borrowers by all servicers in 2021 is 0.5 million borrowers.

Student Loan Debt in Deferment Statistics

The US Department of Education offers the possibility of federal student loan debt payment postponements for borrowers with extreme circumstances such as financial hardships, military service, or school obligations. The deferment statistics include payment postponements for an indefinite period.

Federal year Direct Loan Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Federally Managed
Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions)
2015 $99.2 3.4 $27.7 1.4 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 $107.3 3.5 $20.5 1.4 $7.21 0.56 $114.5 3.7
2017 $114.4 3.6 $16.1 0.8 $5.78 0.45 $120.2 3.7
2018 $124.3 3.7 $13.3 0.7 $4.85 0.37 $129.1 3.8
2019 $128.4 3.6 $10.8 0.5 $3.94 0.30 $132.4 3.7
2020 $114 13.2 $8.6 0.4 $2.66 0.21 $117.1 3.2
2021* $120.0 3.3 $8.1 0.4 $2.54 0.20 $122.6 3.3

Note: The deferment statistics provide information for the fourth quarter of each fiscal year.

*The 2021 deferment statistics provide information only for the second quarter of the fiscal year.

Student Loan Debt in Forbearance Statistics

With the option of forbearance, federal student loan debt borrowers can benefit from the postponement of specific circumstances similar to the deferment group. Under forbearance, loan debt payments can also be reduced and suspended.

  • With forbearance, students can avoid the risk of delinquency or default and keep the interest rate. With the temporary pause, borrowers can recover financially within a limited period.
  • In March 2020, with the CARES Act signed into law, borrowers repaying their debts were automatically transferred to a forbearance loan status unless they chose not to.
Federal year Direct Loan Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Federally Managed
Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt  (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions)
2015 $89.5 2.7 $36.7 1.5 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 $96.2 2.6 $29.3 1.2 $9.92 0.60 $106.1 2.7
2017 $112.5 2.9 $30.4 1.2 $9.82 0.59 $122.3 3.1
2018 $111.1 2.6 $23.3 0.9 $7.56 0.45 $118.6 2.7
2019 $122.9 2.8 $22.3 0.8 $7.23 0.42 $130.2 2.9
2020 $887.4 22.2 $56.4 3.1 $39.33 2.70 $926.7 23.0
2021* $938.3 23.2 $56.1 3.1 $38.97 2.65 $977.3 23.9

Note: The forbearance statistics provide information for the fourth quarter of each fiscal year.

*The 2021 forbearance statistics provide information for the second quarter of the fiscal year.

Student Loan Debt in Default Statistics

The complete failure to repay federal student loan debts results in default. The default statistics have increased the last two years, 2020–2021, because of COVID-19 and the economic hardships that come with it.

  • After the CARES Act was signed, the US Department of Education paused the gathering of delinquency and default statistics data.
  • The number of federal loans borrowers in default from 2019 until 2021 is more than 3 million.
  • According to the US Department of Education, borrowers with a bachelor’s degree are only more likely to get student loan defaults because of economic hardships.
Federal year Direct Loan Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Federally Managed
Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions)
2015 $50.8 3.3 $64.0 4.3 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 $67.5 4.0 $65.5 4.2 $31.69 2.70 $99.2 6.2
2017 $83.9 4.6 $65.0 4.0 $35.81 2.79 $119.7 6.7
2018 $101.4 5.1 $66.2 3.9 $38.89 2.82 $140.3 7.2
2019 $119.8 5.5 $67.4 3.8 $41.8 2.81 $161.3 7.6
2020 $122.2 5.5 $66.7 3.6 $42.5 2.77 $164.7 7.5
2021* $116.6 5.3 $65.7 3.6 $41.96 2.72 $158.5 7.3

Note: The cumulative default statistics provide information for the fourth quarter of each fiscal year.

*The 2021 default statistics provide information only for the second quarter of the fiscal year.

Student Loan Debt in Grace Period Statistics

Federal student loan borrowers who are no longer enrolled in school for different reasons enter six months called the grace period, allowing borrowers to pause the payments.

Federal year Direct Loan Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Federally Managed
Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions) Dollars in Debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in millions)
2015 $48.5 1.9 $1.3 0.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 $50.1 2.0 $0.7 0.0 $0.43 0.03 $50.5 2.0
2017 $48.4 1.9 $0.4 0.0 $0.22 0.02 $48.6 1.9
2018 $43.9 1.7 $0.2 0.0 $0.10 0.01 $44.0 1.7
2019 $45.2 1.8 $0.1 0.0 $0.06 0.00 $45.2 1.8
2020 $43.7 1.7 $0.1 0.0 $0.04 0.00 $43.7 1.7
2021* $22.3 1.2 $0.0 0.0 $0.02 0.00 $22.3 1.2

The grace period statistics provide information for the fourth quarter of each fiscal year.

*The 2021 grace period statistics provide information only for the second quarter of the fiscal year.

*The number of borrowers in debt under the FFEL and ED-Held field is less than a million each fiscal year.

Student Loan Debt by Delinquency Status

The loan account of the borrowers who skip a day of repaying the federal student loan debt goes into delinquency. After missing the due date, the delinquency status remains until repaid or goes into forbearance or deferment as a method of temporary repayment pause.

  • The delinquency status offers students three different periods to recover from the debt before completing federal loan default.
  • The 90 days delinquent status allows the borrower to start repaying the debt before the government credit organizations take over the loan account management.
  • After 270 days of being in delinquency, federal student loans turn into default.
  • The highest delinquency repayment rate under direct loan status was in 2019, with a debt size of $594 billion in current repayment.
  • In the same year, 15.7 million borrowers were in current repayment status in order to avoid the risk of entering the first stage of delinquency.
  • In the first two quarters of 2019 —within the 90 days of direct loans delinquency status— statistics showed an average of $39.9 billion in delinquency. Approximately 5.15 million borrowers shared this status.
  • By 2020, the 90 days direct loans delinquency status dropped drastically in the third and fourth quarters with a 0 delinquency rate and borrowers. This decrease was due to the CARES Act agreement.
  • By 2019, under the ED-Held Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL), a lower rate than under direct loans was presented for the delinquency repayment — an amount of $26.98 billion in debt size.
  • The number of borrowers grouped in the current repayment statistics under the ED-Held FFEL was 2.11 million in the same year.
  • In current delinquency repayment status under the federally managed loans, the number of borrowers in 2020 —0.41 million— repaid an amount of $14.6 billion in total debt.
  • In 2019, under the federally managed portfolio loans, delinquency status current repayment rates showed an amount of $621.7 billion outstanding. The number of recipients under this status was 16.34 million.

The number of borrowers under the delinquency status has dropped to 0 in 2020, due to the launch of the CARES Act.

Student Loan Debt Statistics by Loan Type

The US Department of Education is responsible for the federal student loans and their types depending on the borrower’s loan circumstances and the amount of loan they can borrow.

  • Stafford loans include both undergraduate and graduate borrowers, and they must start paying the debt after graduation.
  • Two types of Stafford loans are available to borrow: subsidized and unsubsidized loans. They differ on the borrower’s financial situation. Those in more financial need —usually the undergraduate students— get the subsidized version.
  • Other federal loans include the Stafford combined (both subsidized and unsubsidized), the Grad PLUS loans, Parent PLUS, Perkins loans, and Consolidation loans (combine multiple federal loans into one without cost).
  • An amount of 29.6 million borrowers received Stafford subsidized loans in the entire year of 2020. The total debt size was $285.7 billion.
  • On the other hand, 29.2 million borrowers had a debt size of $539.8 billion in Stafford unsubsidized loans in 2020.
  • By the second and latest quarter of 2021, 29.6 million recipients had a debt size of $289 billion Stafford subsidized loans.
  • In comparison —in the same year— 29.4 million borrowers had a debt size of $552.7 billion in Stafford unsubsidized loans.
  • The Stafford combined loans show a higher rate of borrowers in 2020–2021. In 2020, 33.4 million borrowers had a debt size of $825.5 billion.
  • By 2021, 33.6 million borrowers had a debt size of $842.5 billion in Stafford combined loans.
  • The amount of borrowers who got a Grad PLUS loan in 2021 is 1.5 million, with a debt size of $86.3 billion.
  • In 2021, 3.6 million borrowers had a debt size of $103.6 billion in Parent PLUS loans.
  • The Perkins loans statistics show an amount of 1.6 million borrowers who had a debt size of $4.7 billion by the second quarter of 2021.
  • Finally, in 2021 the amount of money in Consolidation loans is $554.7 billion, with 11.4 million borrowers in debt.

The federal loan type with the highest amount of student loan debt is Stafford combined loans with $842.5, according to the latest data gathered for 2021.

Student Loan Debt by Institution

After graduating from college, most US graduates go into long-term loan debt, either federal or private. The majority of students owe an average of $100,000 after they graduate, which they can start paying immediately according to their repayment plan. The loan debt and payment also vary depending on the institution that the borrower graduated from.

  • Both public and private education institutions can be grouped in the non-profit sector.
  • The average private college graduate can earn around $50,000 after the first year of graduation.
  • The loan distribution by institutions is arranged through different loan types and the duration of the degree — public four-year, two-year, private non-profit, and private for-profit.
  • 16% of undergraduate students during 2015–2016, enrolled in a for-profit 4-year institution, had no student loan debt.
  • Moreover, in the public four-year sector, 37% of undergraduate students had zero student loan debt.
  • Undergraduate students enrolled in for-profit four-year colleges showed the highest debt in 2015–2016, with an average debt of more than $40,000 with 30% borrowers.
  • In 2018–2019 the public sector loaned an average of $41.6 billion, whereas the for-profit institutions loaned an average of $9.6 billion.

The student loan debt in the US varies depending on the institution type and the length of studies. The public higher education sector is generally ranked higher than the private sector when it comes to the student loan debt size.

Student Loan Debt by Educational Level

The number of borrowers and student loan debt between undergraduate and (post)graduate borrowers differs distinctively in the sector of education.

Year Number of Undergraduate Students Number of Graduate Students Amount Borrowed by Undergraduate Students Amount Borrowed by Graduate Students
2015–2016 7,131 1,439 $47,046 $26,633
2016–2017 6,781 1,445 $44,546 $27,025
2017–2018 6,502 1,447 $42,558 $27,120
2018–2019 6,202 1,449 $40,504 $27,231
2019–2020 5,950 1,433 $39,165 $27,300
2020–2021 5,367 1,454 $34,715 $27,338

Data Analysis

  • In 2015–2016, the number of undergraduate student borrowers was 79.82% more than that of graduate students.
  • In 2016–2017, there were 4.91% fewer undergraduate student borrowers than in 2015–2016.
  • Throughout the years 2015–2021, undergraduates borrowed more money than graduate students. In percentage terms, the average calculated decrease in the amount borrowed is 34.87%.
  • The number of graduate student borrowers throughout 2015–2021 stays consistent within the years with a difference of 10 to 20 borrowers (not in chronological order).
  • The largest amount borrowed by undergraduate students is in 2017–2018, with an average of $42,558 each.
  • On the other hand, the largest amount borrowed by graduate students in the same year sums up to $27,338, which is a difference of 43.55% compared to undergraduate students.

There is a significant dissimilarity in the number of borrowers and amount borrowed between undergraduate and graduate students in the US over the last half decade.

Effects of Loan Debt on Students

The amount of debt that most US students go into after college puts most of them in economic hardships. The consistency of debt payments varies on many factors: the time it takes to get a job, the monthly income of the borrowers, and other unpredictable circumstances.

  • More than 50% of jobs in America require a postsecondary education degree as part of the recruitment process.
  • As a result of student loan repayment difficulties, a small percentage of graduates could buy homes from 2015 and beyond.
  • Student loan debt repayments are harder for those without a diploma (who never graduated) because of no stable income.
  • More than 10 million people will be unemployed in 2021 in America, with student loan debt of over $20,000 each.
  • Many students claimed that they could not save for retirement because of the loan debt payment obligation.
  • A survey done with 533 Americans paying student loan debt for the last five years showed their concerns about other living expenses they cannot pay due to debt.
  • The highest percentage of 44% voted that they have given up on traveling to pay their student loans.

Due to the economic burden that comes as a result of student loan debts, a concerning number of Americans are facing financial problems in their everyday expenses.

Impact of Debt Cancellation

The student loan debt in America impacts the US economy directly because of the current $1.73 trillion (federal and private) and its potential to grow further. This amount of money includes only around 43% of the student population that attended higher education.

  • Student-debt cancellation could potentially positively impact the economy because borrowers would have more money to spend on things other than paying off student loans.
  • Because of student loan debt, 1 in 10 Americans cannot buy a car, thus impacting the automotive industry.
  • Since 1996, there has been a significant percentage decrease in entrepreneurship because of a lack of monetary means to assist start-ups.
  • The increasing cost of college has directly impacted the number of student loan debt borrowers, resulting in a large amount of loan debt.
  • Statistics show a 33% increase in college costs from 2008 to 2019.