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. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average student borrower takes 20 years to pay off their loans. However, this timeline can vary based on factors such as the type of repayment plan and interest.
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. Continue reading to discover 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
◦ Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan: 10 or 25 years
◦ Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: 20 or 25 years
◦ Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: 25 years
Income-driven repayment plans — PAYE, SAVE, 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.)
💡 Quick Tip: Ready to refinance your student loan? With SoFi’s no-fee loans, you could save thousands.
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.
💡 Quick Tip: When refinancing a student loan, you may shorten or extend the loan term. Shortening your loan term may result in higher monthly payments but significantly less total interest paid. A longer loan term typically results in lower monthly payments but more total interest paid.
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, SAVE, 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.
SAVE (SAVE) Plan
Borrowers on the SAVE 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. Any outstanding balance remaining after the aforementioned time periods will be forgiven.
Recommended: Details about the new repayment plan, SAVE
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. Under the CARES Act, employers may pay up to $5,250 as tax-free student loan payments for employees through Dec. 31, 2025. Here are some employers who might help you pay your loans.
Refinance Your Student Loans With SoFi
You can refinance student loans to ideally 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.
Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.
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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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.