What Is the Average Student Loan Debt After College?

By Kayla McCormack · June 15, 2023 · 7 minute read

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What Is the Average Student Loan Debt After College?

According to data from The College Board, college graduates from the class of 2021 graduated with an average of $29,100 in student loan debt. The amount of student loan debt a person takes on can vary based on factors like the type of school they attended, whether or not they pursued an advanced degree, and whether they received any scholarships or not. Read on for more information on average student loan amounts.

Average Student Loan Debt After College

As of March 2023, the total amount of student loan debt was approximately $1.78 trillion , and according to EducationData.org, there are 45.3 million borrowers in the country.

That means there are a lot of us trying to understand and navigate the student loan landscape. How much are we borrowing? And what can we do to decrease the amount we owe?

As earlier mentioned, The College Board found that cumulative debt levels upon graduation — meaning the debt students had accumulated over the four years of undergrad — was $29,100 per borrower for those graduating in 2021 (the latest stats available). And in 2020 – 2021, 54% of graduates carried student loan debt.

How Average Student Loan Debt Has Changed in the Last 10+ Years

It’s no secret that college is expensive and has only gotten more expensive in the last 10 years. According to data compiled by U.S. News, the cost of attending college with in-state tuition at public national universities increased by nearly 175% from 2002 to 2022.

Over roughly that same period of time (from 2010 to 2020), total outstanding student loan debt grew from $845 billion to $1.7 trillion in order to cover those costs. Though as of the third quarter of 2022, the total outstanding federal student loan debt is $1.6 trillion. This student loan debt crisis is taking a financial toll on graduating students, potentially affecting their credit and home-buying prospects.

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Average Student Loan Debt

There is good news, though: the growth of student loan debt is starting to decline. The average cumulative student debt was $29,900 for 2011 graduates (with bachelor’s degrees) and $32,100 for 2016 bachelor’s degree recipients. For the undergraduate class of 2021, the average was $29,100.

Public vs Private Four-Year Schools Student Loan Debt

The College Board’s annual survey of trends in student aid found that 2021 graduates of public four-year institutions had an average college debt of $21,400, compared to private, non-profit school borrowers, who graduated with an average debt of $22,600.

It should be noted that numbers for for-profit schools are harder to come by, but what is true across analyses is that students at for-profit schools take out more in student loans and default at higher rates.

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Undergraduate vs Graduate Student Debt

Let’s look at this from a different angle. How does undergrad debt compare to grad school debt? The College Board’s annual survey of student aid trends found that on average, undergraduates took out $3,780 in federal loans in the 2021-2022 school year. That same year, graduate students took out $17,680 in federal loans.

If you are planning to get an advanced degree, prepare for a potential mortgage-sized debt load. As an example, over half of people with law degrees have at least $150,000 in student loan debt according to the American Bar Association’s 2021 Law School Student Loan Debt survey.

The Average Student Loan Debt for Borrowers Under 25

There are about 6.9 million people under the age of 24 with student loan debt. As a group, they owe just over $101 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Q3 2022 report .

Average College Debt by State

When we look at the average student loan debt broken down by school and region, it also becomes clear there is a range of highs and lows across the country. The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) puts together a comprehensive report on national student debt, using numbers self-reported to college guide publisher Peterson’s from thousands of colleges and universities.

The numbers reported by schools vary but it does allow for a geographic look at the average student loan debt by state.

According to EducationData.org’s report (updated in April 2022) , the highest debt states (including Washington DC) in 2021, the last year for reported numbers, were Washington DC ($54,945), Maryland ($42,861), Georgia ($41,639), Virginia ($39,165), and Florida ($38,459). The states (including Puerto Rico) where college graduates had the lowest average debt were South Dakota ($30,954), Iowa ($30,464), North Dakota ($28,604), and Puerto Rico ($28,242).

Average Student Loan Payment

A borrower’s monthly student loan payment can vary quite a bit depending on the amount of debt they carry and the type of payment plan they have selected. According to data from the Federal Reserve, typical payments for student loans can range from $200 to $299. Though, as noted, your monthly payments may be more or less depending on factors like your loan amount and payment plan.

How Long It Takes to Pay Off Student Loans

But even as the growth of new student loan debt is slowing, there continue to be outstanding student loan amounts that haven’t yet been paid off — which helps to explain why the total loan balances are hitting record highs.

If you have a federal loan when you graduate, you can choose a repayment plan. The default option is the Standard Repayment plan, which is 10 years of fixed monthly payments.

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There are a few other options that extend the repayment term or allow you to repay on an income-driven plan. Many graduates take longer than 10 years to pay back their loans, and about a third of borrowers have gone into student loan default in the past 20 years, according to survey data from The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Though, it’s worth noting that the U.S. Department of Education announced in April 2022 that it would eliminate the negative consequences for those with defaulted student loans as a part of the student loan pause that began due to Covid-19 and was extended by the Biden-Harris administration.

There isn’t a lot of data on exactly how long it takes students to pay off their student loans, partially because it varies based on how big your loan amount is and partially because some numbers count consolidation as loan repayment — when in reality you’ve taken out a new loan with different terms.

The U.S. Department of Education lists the maximum repayment timelines for Direct Consolidation loans, which for borrowers holding between $20,000 and $40,000 in student loan debt is 20 years. Direct Consolidation loans allow borrowers to consolidate their federal loans into a single loan.

Recommended: Student Loan Options: What is Refinancing vs. Consolidation?

But it is worth noting: the sooner you pay off your loan, the more you save in the long run because you aren’t accruing interest for as long. Part of the reason so many students struggle to make payments is that their student loan payments are large in comparison to their incomes.

The interest rate can be a big factor in that. While interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and set annually by the government, interest rates on private student loans are based on a number of factors and are updated as needed. Use SoFi’s student loan calculator to figure out how your monthly payments could change at different interest rates.

Refinancing Student Loans With SoFi

Those looking for options to manage student loan payments might consider student loan refinancing. This process involves borrowing a new loan from a private lender. Lenders review applicant credit history and earning potential (among other financial factors) to determine the new loan terms, with a new, hopefully, lower interest rate.

Borrowers who refinance student loans with a private lender may also be able to adjust their repayment term. Extending the term could lower monthly payments but may end up making the loan more expensive over the life of the loan.

Those who want to continue to take advantage of federal loan benefits like income-based repayment may not want to refinance with a private lender, because all federal student loan benefits are lost when a federal student loan is refinanced.

It takes just a few minutes to get a quote to see what refinancing with SoFi could do for your student loans. The application is entirely online and there are no fees.

Learn more about refinancing your student loans with SoFi.


Is $50,000 a lot of student debt?

Yes, $50,000 is a lot of student loan debt. According to data from The College Board, the average amount of debt a 2021 graduate carried was $29,100.

How many people have student loan debt in the US?

In the U.S. as of Q3 2022, there are approximately 42.8 million people who have student loan debt, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

What is the average someone pays a month for student loans?

The average someone pays per month for student loans will vary based on factors like the total loan amount and the repayment plan they have selected.

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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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