What Is the Average Length of Time to Pay Off Student Loans?

By Kayla McCormack · September 26, 2022 · 7 minute read

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What Is the Average Length of Time to Pay Off Student Loans?

Whether you’ve just graduated from college or you’ve been making payments for years, your student loan debt can seem endless. When you take out a federal student loan, the Standard Repayment Plan is 10 years. But, the average student borrower takes 20 years to pay off their loans, according to the Education Data Initiative.

And not all loans are treated equally. Your major, amount borrowed, loan type, and chosen career path can all influence how much you could end up paying back. But before you panic, know that there are steps you can take to help reduce your student loan debt.

How Long Are Student Loan Terms

How long it takes to pay off student loans can vary based on a few different factors. There is a specific selection of student loan terms available for federal student loan borrowers. The Standard Repayment Plan spans 10 years but borrowers can change their repayment plan at any time, without incurring any fees.

The terms on private student loans are set by the individual lender. Terms are set at the time the loan is borrowed. To adjust the terms of a private student loan, the borrower will generally need to refinance the loan. Check in directly with the private student loan lender.

Federal Student Loan Terms

While most federal student loans use the standard, 10-year repayment plan, other loans have different options. (And both Direct Consolidation Loans and FFEL Consolidation Loans offer 10- to 30-year repayment terms.)

Here are the repayment plans that the U.S. The Department of Education has set up for federal loans.

•   Standard Repayment Plan: up to 10 years

•   Graduated Repayment Plan: up to 10 years

•   Extended Repayment Plan: up to 25 years

•   Income-Driven Repayment Plans, including:

◦   Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan: up to 20 years

◦   Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan: 20 or 25 years

◦   Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: 20 or 25 years

◦   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: 25 years

Income-driven repayment plans — PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, and ICR — forgive any outstanding balances if they aren’t completed by the end of the term. (Though you may have to pay taxes on the forgiven balance.)

Private Student Loan Terms

For those who’ve taken out private student loans to pay for school, the payment plan may differ from those with federal loans. Some private lenders have terms that are 10 years like their federal counterparts. Other lenders cap terms at 20 or 25 years.

The repayment timeline for private loans varies — for some private loans, you might have to start paying it back while you’re still in school. And they might have fixed or variable interest rates. Because of this, it’s hard to specifically gauge how long it takes the average person to pay off their private student loans.

Paying Off Your Student Loans Sooner

There are plenty of smart ways to pay off student loans. Most important is that you make your payments on-time each month. But, strategies like making overpayments can help you accelerate your pay-off timeline. Regardless of the type of loan you have, there are steps you can take to help get rid of your student debt sooner than you originally thought.

Paying More Than the Minimum

Paying the minimum might be what you can afford right now. But if you come into some extra cash — whether through a bonus at work, a gift from a relative, or your tax refund — you can use this money toward your student loan balance.

Cutting away at your debt when possible may help shorten the length of your repayment.

Want to pay your student loans off fast?
Understand how student loan
refinancing can help.

Refinancing your Loans

While consolidating your federal student loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan is an option for some, those with private student loans may want to consider refinancing instead.

Refinancing your student loans means a private lender pays off your student loans for you and then you pay back your lender with a new loan, new interest rate, and new terms. Ideally, your interest rate would be lower, which could save you money on interest over the life of the loan.

Refinancing allows you to combine all your loans, private and federal, into one for more streamlined payments. But if the interest rate offered isn’t lower than what you’re currently paying, or there are more fees, you might want to keep your options open.

And keep in mind that when you refinance, you’ll lose your federal loan benefits like income-based repayment plans or forbearance. If you’d like to continue taking advantage of those benefits, refinancing might not be for you right now. Ultimately, refinancing should be helpful, not cause more stress or create more debt.

Choosing Another Payment Plan

As mentioned, federal student loan borrowers can change their repayment plan at any time. Calculating your student loan payment is easy with tools like SoFi’s student loan calculator. These calculators can help estimate how much you’ll be paying each month on your student loans. Once you get an estimate, you can more easily decide if you want to choose a new payment plan or stick with your current payment plan or switch to another.

Income-driven repayment plans are one option that allows borrowers to lower their monthly payments, though generally, this results in an extended loan term with increased interest costs. Continue reading for more details on the income-driven repayment plans available for federal student loans.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Income-driven repayment plans use your discretionary income and family size to determine how much you pay on a monthly basis. This can be helpful for those in entry-level, lower-paying positions, as they could pay less monthly early on.

As your financial situation improves, your monthly payment minimum increases in turn (and vice versa). Remember that income-based repayment plans often have longer terms, which could mean you end up paying more interest over the life of your loans. Three types of income-driven repayments include PAYE, REPAYE, and ICR plans.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan

On the PAYE Plan, loan repayment takes place over 20 years. Payments are 10% of your discretionary income, but never more than what you would pay on the standard 10-year repayment plan.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan

Borrowers on the REPAYE Plan will pay 10% of their discretionary income toward student loan payments. Repayment terms are 20 years for students paying off loans exclusively from undergraduate studies. Borrowers with graduate degrees will repay over a period of 25 years.

Recommended: REPAYE vs PAYE

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan

The loan repayment terms for the ICR Plans is 25 years. Loan payments can be either 20% of your discretionary income or the value of what you’d pay on a fixed payment repayment plan over 12 years — whichever is lesser in value.

Exploring Your Employee Benefits

Your job might be able to help you with your student loan debt. Some employers offer matching contributions on your student loans up to a certain amount, similar to a 401(k).

Negotiating a Raise

Between your minimum payments, monthly expenses, and other financial obligations, your budget may be stretched as thin as it can go. If your employee review is coming up, this might be an opportunity to talk to your supervisor about a raise.

While there are many strategies, and you’ll know your boss/employer best, examples of things to mention during your review include your recent accomplishments, your dedication and loyalty to the company, and your willingness to go above and beyond.

If you’re coming up short on achievements, you might start keeping tabs on them and prepare to bring them to your boss in a few months. Your first job out of college probably won’t be your last, so a new job with a higher salary, especially if the one you’re currently in lacks growth opportunities, might be better for you.

Refinance Your Student Loans With SoFi

You can refinance student loans to (hopefully) secure a lower interest rate which could reduce the amount of money you’ll owe over the life of the loan. It’s also possible to adjust your repayment term — though keep in mind that extending your term may result in lower payments but may increase your interest costs over the life of the loan.

Refinancing at SoFi is easy — it takes a few minutes to fill out a simple, online application. Qualifying borrowers can secure competitive interest rates and there are no fees. Plus, as a SoFi member you’ll gain access to other benefits like career coaching.

Interested in refinancing your student loans? With SoFi, you might qualify for a more competitive interest rate, and applying is quick, easy, and all online.

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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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