Student Loan Debt Statistics & Facts

21.06.2021
Milena

College debt is one of the most serious financial issues Americans have been struggling with for the past two decades. Student loan debt statistics show that in 2021, Americans owe over $1.7 trillion. Even with all the financial aid, grants, and sponsorships, student debt continues to grow every year.

What is the average college debt in the United States? How many Americans leave college with loan debt? What are the states that struggle with college loan debt the most? Discover these and many other shocking stats and facts about US student loan debt.

Student Loan Debt Statistics (Editor’s Choice)

  • The student debt total in the United States reached $1.7 trillion.
  • The US student loan debt grows by $2,858 every second.
  • 44.7 million Americans owe money for their college education.
  • More than half of American students need to take out loans to pay for a college education.
  • 54% of White Americans managed to pay off their college debt.
  • 31% of African Americans and 33% of Hispanic Americans carried no student debt in 2019.
  • 36% of Americans believe their education is more costly than beneficial.
  • The average college loan debt in the United States in 2021 is $37,172.

Shocking Student Loan Debt Stats

1. Total student debt in the USA was $1.4 trillion in 2019.

Official figures record constant growth of the debt over the years. For comparison, in 2018, it was $1.33 trillion, and in 2017 it was $1.28 trillion. In the period 2016-2014, the annual college debt was $1.17 trillion, $1.13 trillion, and $1.06 trillion, respectively. The latest student loan data set the 2021 student loan total at $1.7 trillion.

Only mortgage debt in the US is higher at $10.39 trillion. Official credit card debt stats show a total amount owed under $1 trillion, i.e., $0.95 trillion. The situation is similar to the personal loan debt figures, which set the total amount owed by Americans at $0.32 trillion.

(Forbes, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, WalletHub, Experian)

Total US Student Loan Debt by Year

2. Every second in the United States, $2,858 in education debt is acquired.

Among the most shocking student loan debt facts is the rapid growth of the amounts owed. Those increase by almost $3,000 every second. So, it comes as no surprise that some early projections set the total debt owed by students at $2 trillion by 2022.

(Debt)

3. 44.7 million Americans carry education debt in 2021.

The number of people with college education loan debt hasn’t changed significantly over the past few quarters. Throughout 2019, the figure ranged between 42.2 and 43.0 million. The last time the number of borrowers was under 42 million was in Q3 of 2016. Student Aid student loan statistics reveal that a total of 41.5 million carried college debt during those four months.

(Student Aid)

4. In 2017, the average student debt among Americans was $37,172.

Here, there’s been an improvement compared to the average college student debt in 2019. Namely, the average amount owed in 2019 was lower, at $35,359. Still, as the student loan stats show, this improvement didn’t affect the total amount owed, which is soaring.

(Debt)

5. The average in-state college tuition cost is about $9,410.

By contrast, the private school average tuition is much higher at $32,410. Those planning to attend a public 4-year in-state state college should expect tuition of about $10,230. Public 4-year out-of-state colleges have a higher average of approximately $26,290.

(Debt)

6. Over 50% of American students need to borrow money to pay for their education.

According to official student loan statistics, 54% of Americans who want to attend college must borrow money to cover education costs. In the past, this figure was lower by 11%. Namely, 43% of Americans who’ve completed their studies needed to borrow money to pay for them. Most of the borrowers (94%) take student loans, while 31% used other options like home equity lines or credit cards.

(Investopedia)

7. In 2016, the median student loan debt in the US for all borrowers was about $17,000.

Pew Research Center highlights in its student loan facts that the median student loan debt varies significantly depending on the education level. For example, the median college debt among Americans that have less than a bachelor’s degree is $10,000. Those with one meanwhile carry a median debt of $25,000. Finally, the median debt recorded among Americans with a postgraduate degree is significantly higher at $45,000.

(Pew Research Center)

8. In 2019, almost half of Americans with college loan debt had paid off their loans.

More precisely, 47% of people who carried education debt had managed to pay it off completely, according to the Federal Reserve’s student loan debt stats. 9% and 44% were behind on their payments or were still paying off college loans, respectively.

When focusing on education type, those who attended private not-for-profit colleges were in the best situation. In this category, 28% paid off their debt, 65% had current payments, and 7% were behind on their payments. About 27% of students from public education and 15% of those who attended private for-profit colleges managed to pay off student loans. Approximately 24% of Americans at private for-profit colleges were behind on their payments in 2019.

(U.S. Federal Reserve)

9. The average monthly student loan payments in 2019 were between $200 and $299.

The official US student loan debt statistics show that Americans paid $200-$299 towards their debt in both 2018 and 2019. This amount is similar to the monthly average of $200-$300 reported by the Federal Reserve in 2017. In all the years mentioned above, almost 30% of the borrowers weren’t required to make student loan payments.

(U.S. Federal Reserve)

10. As of November 2020, only 6,493 out of 296,340 PSLF applications were approved.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program exists to help Americans deal with education debt. Still, student loan debt statistics show that the program is continuously failing applicants. Namely, out of almost 300,000 applications, 263,118 were deemed ineligible. Only 6,493 were approved, and 26,729 were pending processing. Qualifying payments (59%), missing information (26%), and no eligible loans (11%) were the most common reasons for rejecting PSLF applications.

The figures reveal a seemingly significant discharged balance for people whose PSLF applications were approved. These applications totaled $290,395,836. Still, this figure is a small fraction of the total student loan debt recorded in the latest college debt statistics. The average discharged balance per borrower was $76,906.

(Student Aid)

11. On average, the tuition costs in the public four-year sector have grown by 2.2% each year.

A study by the College Board places the tuition cost increase rate per year at 2.2%. This percentage applies to the period between 2009-2020. These higher education costs are considered one of the main reasons for the continually increasing student loan debt.

(College Board)

12. It takes between 10-30 years for American students to repay education debt.

Among the most shocking student loan facts is that it takes about ten years for people to repay loans under $7,500. According to Student Aid, if the amount borrowed is at least $60,000, then the projected repayment period is 30 years. In the Student Aid table, the rest of the repayment periods range between 12 and 25 years for $7,500-$60,000 amounts.

(Student Aid)

Average Student Loan Debt by Age 

13. Student loan debt is highest among Americans aged between 35 and 49.

The latest data for Q4 2020 show that college student debt reaches its peak among people aged 35-49, at an average of $601.7 billion. Student loan debt statistics reveal that the 25-34 age group ranks second with $500.5 billion. This figure is nearly half for those aged 50-61, whose average outstanding student debt is at $262.2 billion, while college debt averages $86.8 for those aged 62 and older.

(Student Aid)

14. The share of parent borrowers of student loans has jumped by 13% in the period from 2015-2019.

Reports by Experian show that the amount of money borrowed also jumped by 38% compared to 2015. In the period 2018-2019, the percentage of parent borrowers increased by 3%, and the amount borrowed by 7%. These college loan statistics show that student debt doesn’t affect students only but their parents, as well.

(Experian)

15. About 15% of American adults carry outstanding student loan debt.

Among all adults in the US, only 15% have this type of debt to worry about. The situation is more drastic, however, among Americans aged 18-29. Among them, around one-third (34%) owe money for paying off student loans. People at 60 or more have the lowest percentage, i.e., only 1%. College debt statistics for 2018 indicate that 22% and 7% of people aged 30-44 and 45-59 had student debt.

(Pew Research Center)

16. 36% of Americans with student debt believe the financial costs of their degree are larger than their economic benefits.

Among those who carry college loan debt, more than one-third (36%) find the education costs more significant than the benefits. About 14% of people think that the expenses are ‘much larger,’ while 23% find them ‘somewhat larger’. Approximately 17% of Americans that owe money for their college education find the costs in line with the benefits. Student debt statistics nevertheless show that the majority (46%) consider the benefits more substantial than the costs. Nearly a quarter (23%) see the financial benefits of their degree as ‘much larger’ than the economic costs.

(Pew Research Center)

Student Debt in America by Location

17. Alaska, Maryland, Virginia, and Wyoming are the states with the highest 1-year increase in college student debt.

Experian has categorized all US states by their highest 1-year increase of average student loan debt. Here, Alaska holds the throne with its average of $36,829 that represents a 1-year increase by 14%. Official US student loan debt statistics place Maryland right behind Alaska. Namely, the average in Maryland in 2020 was $45,906, which was higher by 12% y-o-y. The top four list is rounded up with Virginia and Wyoming, with a 1-year increase of 11% each. The average education debt in these two states was $41,270 and $32,977, respectively.

(Experian)

18. Alaska, Alabama, South Carolina, and Michigan are the states with the highest 5-year increase in debt for student loans.

As for the most significant 5-year (2015-2019) increase in average college debt, we have Alabama in the lead with its $35,674 average. Student debt statistics in the US show that this state noted a 30.9% 5-year jump in average education debt. South Carolina comes next with an average education debt of $36,552 and a 5-year increase by 30.1%. Michigan (29.0%) and Alaska (22.0%) are the two other states with the highest 5-year jump in the average debt of college graduates. Their respective average graduate student loan debt in 2019 was $35,307 and $32,096.

(Experian)

Student Loan Debt by State

19. New Mexico, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky are states with significant 5-year jumps in US student loan debt.

In a separate category, Experian placed five states that have soaring increases in 5-year average college debt (2015-2019). Per student loan debt statistics, North Carolina had the highest average of $36,257 in 2019. The state’s 5-year increase was 33.9%. With average education debts of $35,478 and $35,016, Mississippi and Tennessee come next. Still, Mississippi recorded a more significant 5-year jump (36.0%) than Tennessee (31.8%).

New Mexico was the fourth state with the highest average ($33,610) in this category. Over five years, this average increased by 32.8%. Finally, Kentucky rounds up this list with an average debt after college of $32,174, per the college debt statistics. In the period 2015-2019, the average amount owed increased by 30.7%.

(Experian)

20. Washington, D.C. has the highest average amount of student loan debt of $60,651.

Maryland ranks second, with an average outstanding student debt of $45,906, followed by Georgia ($44,872). At $41,282, California ranks fourth, followed by Virginia ($41,270). Surprisingly, New York ranked sixth in 2020, with an average outstanding student debt balance of $41,044.

According to Experian’s student loan debt statistics, South Dakota is at the other end of the spectrum, boasting the lowest average education debt of $31,507. Iowa follows with $32,057, while Nebraska and Wyoming rank third and fourth, with an average outstanding student debt of $32,838 and $32,977, respectively, 

(Experian)

Student Loan Default Rate

21. Less than 5% of student loans were delinquent in the USA in 2019.

The number of delinquent student loans dropped by 6% in the period 2016-2019. Loans due 30-59 days past due date recorded a delinquency decrease of 46%. Also, the number of loan payments due 60-90 days past due delinquency decreased by 47%, as suggested by student loan statistics. College debt loans 90+ days past due noted a small drop (3%) in the delinquency rates.

(Experian)

22. 20% of Americans that carry debt for their own education are behind on their payments.

About 21% of those borrowers hold an associate degree, and 10% hold a bachelor’s degree. Americans with a graduate degree (6%) represent the lowest share of people who are behind on their payments. A look at the shocking student loan debt statistics reveals that students who failed to complete their studies are most likely to default. About 37% of Americans with less than an associate degree have late payments that lead to a lower credit score.

(U.S. Federal Reserve)

Average Debt After College by Race/Ethnicity

23. In 2019, 54% of White Americans had paid off their college loans.

Only 6% of them were behind on their payments, show the Federal Reserve student loan debt statistics. The remaining 40% of White Americans with education debt were making payments within the due dates. The situation is a bit different among white Americans aged 18-29. Namely, 7% of this group were behind their college debt payments in 2019. Almost three-fourths of them (74%) were still paying off student loans, while only 18% managed to pay it off. Still, they’re in a better position than African Americans and Hispanics.

(U.S. Federal Reserve)

24. Less than one-third of African Americans had no debt from student loans in 2019.

More precisely, only 31% of people from this race managed to pay off their education debt, show the student loan debt facts. This figure shows the significant difference between White Americans and African Americans when it comes to dealing with student loans. When focusing on the age group 18-29, however, the situation was similar. Approximately 28% of African Americans were behind their payments in 2019, while 61% were still paying education debt off. Only 8% of African Americans had no student loan debt in 2019. This figure was lower than both the percentages recorded among White and Hispanic Americans aged 18-29.

(U.S. Federal Reserve)

College Debt Payment Status by Race Ethnicity

25. In 2019, about 50% of Hispanics in the United States were paying their college loan payments on time.

The Federal Reserve student loan stats placed Hispanics in a similar position with African Americans rather than White Americans. Around 16% of all Hispanic Americans with debt associated with a college education were behind their payments in 2019. Among the remaining 83%, 50% were still dealing with student loans, while 33% paid their loans off.

As for Hispanics with education debt aged 18-29, they were behind White Americans and in a better position than African Americans. Stats show that in 2019, 15% of Hispanics from this age group were behind loan payments. Over two-thirds (69%) were still paying off college-related debt. Finally, the college loan statistics revealed that only 16% of Hispanics aged 18-29 paid off their debt associated with a college education.

(U.S. Federal Reserve)

Final Thoughts

Education costs are increasing by the year, causing a severe burden for American students. With the student loan debt total in the United States surpassing $1.5 trillion, the situation now is more serious than ever. Both students and their parents struggle to pay for a college education, which many consider more costly than beneficial.These shocking student loan debt statistics meanwhile show that Americans studying in private for-profit colleges carry the most debt and pay the largest average monthly payments. Also, these stats reveal that White Americans are in a better position with more than half having paid off their debt.

References: Forbes, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, WalletHub, Experian, Debt, Investopedia, Pew Research Center, U.S. Federal Reserve, U.S. Federal Reserve, Student Aid, College Board, Student Aid, Student Aid, Experian

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