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The 2021 Student Loan Debt Statistics Almanac

Andrew Zoeller
student loan debt statistics
student loan debt statistics

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With student loan debt rapidly increasing every year, it should be no surprise that student loan forgiveness has become such a popular topic in public policy debates. The current total student loan debt is nearly $1.6 trillion, the average student loan debt is $29,650, and these figures show little sign of slowing down.

The vast majority of student loan debt is comprised of federal loans, which are issued and managed by the government. A smaller amount is issued and managed by private lenders, such as banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions.

To help the public better understand some of the most critical elements, Purefy has compiled this Almanac of student loan debt statistics. We hope this will help students, parents, and graduates understand how important it is to make careful decisions when choosing a path towards higher education.

The following data have been collected from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of Education, except where otherwise noted.

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Total Student Loan Debt

  • The total U.S. student loan debt for federal loans is $1.598 trillion.
  • About 7.5 million borrowers took out federal student loans in the 2018-2019 school year.
  • The average student loan debt is $29,650.
  • The average student loan debt increased by an average of 4% per year between 1996 and 2012.
  • 69% of bachelors degree students graduate with student debt.
  • 83% of graduates from for-profit colleges had student loans. For-profit grads left school with an average student loan debt of $39,900. (source: TICAS.org)
  • 6% of federal student loan borrowers owe over $100,000 in outstanding debt

Federal Student Loan Debt by Loan Type

As of April 30, 2019:

  • Stafford Subsidized Loans: 29.7 million borrowers have $276.8 billion in outstanding debt
  • Stafford Unsubsidized Loans: 28.8 million borrowers have $490.9 billion in outstanding debt
  • Stafford Loans (Combined): 33.3 million borrowers have $767.7 billion in outstanding debt
  • Grad PLUS Loans: 1.5 million borrowers have $71.3 billion in outstanding debt
  • Parent PLUS Loans: 3.6 million borrowers have $89.8 billion in outstanding debt
  • Perkins Loans: 2.2 million borrowers have $6.9 billion in outstanding debt
  • Consolidation Loans: 11.8 million borrowers have $515.6 billion in outstanding debt

Overall Student Loan Debt by Loan Type

Of the $105.5 billion in student loan dollars issued in 2017-2018:

  • 20% were for federal Subsidized Loans
  • 46% were for federal Unsubsidized Loans
  • 12% were for Parent PLUS Loans
  • 10% were for Graduate PLUS Loans
  • 11% were for nonfederal loans (state, institution, or private student loans)

Source: collegeboard.org

Federal Student Loan Debt by Borrower Age

As of April 30, 2019:

  • There are 8.4 million borrowers aged 24 and younger, with $120.1 billion in outstanding debt
  • There are 15.2 million borrowers aged 25 to 34, with $494.2 billion in outstanding debt
  • There are 14.1 million borrowers aged 35 to 49, with $548.4 billion in outstanding debt
  • There are 5.9 million borrowers aged 50 to 61, with $224.1 billion in outstanding debt
  • There are 1.9 million borrowers aged 62 and older, with $67.8 billion in outstanding debt

Average Student Loan Debt by Age (Federal Student Loans) 

Age Average Outstanding Federal Student Loan Debt
24 and younger $14,298
25-34 $32,513
35-49 $38,894
50-61 $37,983
62 and older $35,684

Federal Student Loan Debt by Repayment Status (Direct Loans Only) 

Repayment Status Recipients (in millions) Dollars Outstanding (in billions)
In-School 7.2 $130.1
Grace Period 1.2 $24.7
Repayment 18.6 $665.2
Deferment 3.4 $110.4
Forbearance 2.7 $118.7
Default 5.2 $105.8
Other* 0.2 $8.4

*Includes loans that are in non-defaulted bankruptcy and in a disability status.

Federal Student Loan Debt by Repayment Plan 

Repayment Plan Recipients (in millions) Dollars Outstanding (in billions)
Level:
10 years or less
11.4 $219.9
Level:
>10 years
1.72 $78.2
Graduated:
10 years or less
3.11 $88.3
Graduated:
>10 years
0.32 $15.8
Income-Contingent Repayment 0.68 $30.9
Income-Based Repayment 2.82 $169.8
Pay As You Earn
(PAYE)
1.31 $85.3
Revised Pay As You Earn
(REPAYE)
2.56 $144.8
Alternative 1.08 $36.6
Other* Data unavailable $24.8

*Includes loans not currently listed on a repayment plan

Federal Student Loan Debt by Delinquency Status (Direct Loans Only) 

Delinquency Status Recipients (in millions) Dollars Outstanding (in billions)
Current (not delinquent) 15.71 $574.9
31-90 Days Delinquent 1.27 $39.1
91-180 Days Delinquent 0.87 $24.2
181-270 Days Delinquent 0.61 $15.3
271-360 Days Delinquent 0.41 $9.9
In Collections 0.07 $1.6

Student Loan Repayment Statistics 

  • 20% of individuals with student loan debt from their own education were behind on their payments in 2017. This figure increased 1% year-over-year in both 2017 and 2016.
  • Looking at those under the age of 30, first-generation college students are four times as likely to be behind on payments than children of a parent who holds at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Those who left school without a degree are most likely to be behind on payments.
  • Individuals with higher debt levels are more likely to be current on their student loan payments. Only 13% of those with $100,000 or more in in debt were behind on their payments in 2017. Higher student debt levels are associated with higher levels of education, and in turn, increased job security/income.
  • 23% of borrowers who attended a for-profit college are behind on their student loan payments. Only 9% of borrowers who attended a public college and 6% of borrowers who attended a non-profit college are behind.
  • 29% of federal student loan borrowers are in income-driven repayment plans.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Statistics (2017-2018 Application Cycle)

  • About 19 million people applied for federal student aid using the FAFSA.
  • 61% of FAFSA applicants were female.
  • 48% of FAFSA applicants were first generation college students (neither parent completed a college degree).
  • 53% of FAFSA applicants were independent (not financially dependent on a parent or other individual).

Private Student Loan Debt Statistics

  • About 15% of graduates’ debt is made up of private student loans. (source: TICAS.org)
  • 5% of undergraduates took out private student loans in the 2015-2016 school year.
  • 53% of private student loan borrowers borrowed less than the annual maximum for federal loans.
  • 11% of private student loan borrowers did not apply for federal financial aid at all.
  • Students attending higher-priced schools are more likely to use private student loans. (source: TICAS.org)
  • The average private student loan size in 2015-2016 was $8,700, for borrowers that used them (source: collegeboard.org).

States with the Highest Average Student Loan Debt 

State Average Student
Loan Debt
Connecticut $38,510
Pennsylvania $36,854
Rhode Island $36,250
New Hampshire $34,415
Delaware $34,144
New Jersey $32,247
Massachusetts $32,065
Alabama $31,899
Minnesota $31,734
Maine $31,364

Source: TICAS.org

Student Loan Default Rates and Delinquency Rates 

  • 17% of federal student loan borrowers are in default, representing 11% of outstanding federal student loan dollars.
  • Over 1 million federal student loan borrowers per year have entered default since 2015.
  • The federal government had over $163 billion in defaulted loans assigned to private collections agencies at the end of September 2018.
  • 8% of borrowers who began student loan repayment between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2017 have defaulted on their federal student loans
  • 24% of all Direct Loan borrowers were in default or were delinquent at the end of 2018.
  • In 2018, over 1 million Direct Loan borrowers entered default.
  • Borrowers who attended for-profit colleges are almost twice as likely to be delinquent on their federal loans than borrowers who attended public or non-profit colleges.
  • Borrowers who did not complete their degree program are more than twice as likely to be delinquent on their federal loans than those who completed their degree.
  • Borrowers enrolled in federal Income-Driven Repayment plans are four times less likely to have a 91+ day delinquency than borrowers enrolled in the standard 10-year repayment plan.
  • 51% of borrowers who default on federal student loans have a dependent child. Only 26% of borrowers who have not defaulted had a dependent child. (source: TICAS.org)

States with the Ten Worst Default Rates 

State Borrower Default Rate*
West Virginia 17.70%
New Mexico 16.20%
Nevada 15.30%
Kentucky 14.30%
Indiana 14.20%
Mississippi 14.10%
Arizona 13.10%
Alabama 12.90%
South Dakota 12.90%
Oregon 12.80%

*For borrowers who entered repayment between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2017.

Student Loan Debt and Homeownership 

  • A Federal Reserve study found that a $1,000 increase in student loan debt causes a 1%-2% drop in the homeownership rate for borrowers during their late 20s and early 30s.
  • The increase in student loan debt between 2005 and 2014 reduced the homeownership rate among young adults by 2%.

Student Loan Debt and Rural/Urban Migration Patterns 

  • People with student loan debt are less likely to remain in rural areas than people without student loan debt.
  • Individuals with higher levels of student loan debt are the most likely to migrate out of rural areas.
  • Rural student loan borrowers who move to metro areas tend to pay down their student loans faster and are less likely to become delinquent that those who stay in rural areas.
  • Rural student borrowers who move to metro areas are more likely to have a mortgage than those who stay in rural areas.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Statistics

  • 62% of employers of PSLF participants are government, and 38% are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, based on approvals of Employment Certification Forms.
  • The total student loan balance for borrowers who have submitted PSLF employer certification forms is $97.9 billion.
  • 73,554 borrowers submitted PSLF applications as of 3/31/2019.
  • 864, or 1.17% of all PSLF applications have been approved as of 3/31/2019.
  • 53% of applications were rejected due to not meeting the —qualifying payment” requirement.
  • 25% of applications were rejected due to missing information on the application.
  • Only 4% of applications were rejected due to employer-related issues.
  • About $31 million in student loans have been discharged under Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Statistics

  • $383.3 million in FFEL and Direct Loans were discharged in fiscal year 2018 under Teacher Loan Forgiveness, for 45 thousand borrowers.
  • Since fiscal year 2009, 331.4 thousand borrowers have had $2.8 billion in FFEL and Direct Loans discharged under Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

Student Aid Statistics

  • In 2017-2018, undergraduate students received an average of $14,790 in financial aid.
  • The average undergraduate student in received $8,970 in grants in 2017-2018.
  • The average graduate student received nearly 4 times as much in federal student loans than the average undergraduate student in 2017-2018.

Source: collegeboard.org

Average Tuition and Fees by School Type in 2018-2019

  • $3660 for in-district students at public two-year schools
  • $10,230 for in-state students at public four-year schools
  • $26,290 for out-of-state students at public four-year schools
  • $35,830 for private non-profit four year schools

Source: collegeboard.org

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Ascent Rate Disclosure

Ascent’s undergraduate and graduate student loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills or DR Bank, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Ts&Cs.

Rates are effective as of 12/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized back account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: www.AscentStudentLoans.com/Rates.

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SoFi Rate Disclosure

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Fixed rates range from 4.49% APR to 8.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 5.09% APR to 8.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.

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Earnest Rate Disclosure

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Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 5.44% APR to 9.99% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.97% APR to 9.99% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account.

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Earnest Rate Disclosure

Rates displayed include the 0.25% Auto Pay discount. You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment from a checking or savings account. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 4.67% APR to 16.15% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.64% APR to 16.45% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan origination loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

Nine-month grace period is not available for borrowers who choose our Principal and Interest Repayment plan while in school.

Earnest clients may skip one payment every 12 months. Your first request to skip a payment can be made once you’ve made at least 6 months of consecutive on-time payments, and your loan is in good standing. The interest accrued during the skipped month will result in an increase in your remaining minimum payment. The final payoff date on your loan will be extended by the length of the skipped payment periods. Please be aware that a skipped payment does count toward the forbearance limits. Please note that skipping a payment is not guaranteed and is at Earnest’s discretion. Your monthly payment and total loan cost may increase as a result of postponing your payment and extending your term.

Loan Eligibility criteria: Eligible students must: 1) For college Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors, attend, or be enrolled to attend, a Title IV school full-time. For college Seniors and Graduate students, attend, or be enrolled to attend, a Title IV school at least half-time; and 2) be pursuing a Bachelor’s or Graduate degree. Earnest private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information, self-certification of loan amount, and school certification.

Responsible borrowing tip: Explore all scholarship, grant and federal options before applying for a private loan.

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ELFI Rate Disclosure

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Education Loan Finance is a nationwide student loan debt consolidation and refinance program offered by Tennessee based SouthEast Bank. ELFI is designed to assist borrowers through consolidating and refinancing loans into one single loan that effectively lowers your cost of education debt and/or makes repayment very simple. Subject to credit approval. See Terms & Conditions. Interest rates current as of 10/13/2023. The interest rate and monthly payment for a variable rate loan may increase after closing, but will never exceed 9.95% APR. Interest rates may be different from the rates shown above and will be based on the term of your loan, your financial history, and other factors, including your cosigner’s (if any) financial history. For example, a 10-year loan with a fixed rate of 6% would have 120 payments of $11.00 per $1,000 borrowed. Rates are subject to change.

ELFI Rate Disclosure

Education Loan Finance is a nationwide student loan provider offered by Tennessee based SouthEast Bank. ELFI is designed to assist students financially with receiving their education. Subject to credit approval. See Terms & Conditions. Interest rates current as of 12/11/2023. Variable interest rates may increase after closing but will never exceed 18.00%. Interest rates may also differ from the rates shown above. The term of your loan, financial history, and other factors, including your cosigner’s (if any) financial history can affect the interest rate. For example, a 10-year loan with a fixed rate of 7% would have 120 payments of $11.61 per $1,000 borrowed. Rates are subject to change.

College Ave Rate Disclosure

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. If a payment is returned, you will lose this benefit. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Minimum loan amount $1,000, as certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive.
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 1/1/2024. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

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