Student Loan Debt Statistics

Nearly 44 million Americans share $1.63 trillion in federal student loan debt. Discover the average amount of debt and more student debt statistics in our guide.
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and data writer for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evaluati...
Updated on January 24, 2023
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Data Summary

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    At the end of 2022, the average federal student loan debt in the U.S. was $37,574.[1]
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    In 2017-2018, the average student loan debt for a four-year bachelor's degree was $26,190.[2]
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    At the end of 2022, the total federal student loan debt balance was just over $1.63 trillion.Note Reference [1]
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    The total student debt balance — including federal and private loans — was more than $1.76 trillion.[3]
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    Federal student loan debt has roughly tripled since 2007.Note Reference [1]
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    3 in 10 adults took on debt to pay for college.[4]
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    On average, women carry more student debt than men;[5] Black borrowers have higher student debt levels than borrowers of other races;[6] and people who attended for-profit colleges have higher student debt levels than those who attended public and nonprofit schools.[7]

A college degree is typically associated with higher earnings.[8] At the same time, the cost of college is rising, and Americans are taking on more student debt in the form of federal and private loans. Having debt may limit career options or delay other life goals.

When you have information about student loan debt, you can make decisions that benefit your long-term educational, career, and life goals. We've rounded up the latest data about the state of student loan debt in the U.S.

Average Student Loan Debt

According to the Department of Education, in 2022, the average student loan debt for federal loans was $37,574. That's approximately $1.63 trillion of outstanding debt divided by a total of 43.5 million borrowers.Note Reference [1] However, what individual borrowers owe varies considerably.

Average Student Loan Debt Statistics:

  • The Federal Reserve reports that the median student debt for all borrowers in 2021 was between $20,000 and $24,999.Note Reference [4] That means about half of student loan borrowers owe more than that, and half owe less.
  • The average student loan debt for a four-year bachelor's degree was $26,190 in 2017-2018, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).Note Reference [2]
  • The average federal student loan debt has more than doubled since 2007, from $18,233 in 2007 to $37,575 at the end of 2022.Note Reference [1]
  • Between 2010 and 2020 alone, the average federal student loan debt grew by about 40%.Note Reference [1] That's about the same growth rate as the total cost of college over the years in current dollars, not accounting for inflation.[9]

The Institute for College Access and Success measures the student loan debt of new bachelor's degree-completers from public or private nonprofit schools. These recent grads had an average student debt balance ranging from $18,344 in Utah to $39,928 in New Hampshire.[10]

Total Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt includes federal student loans and private student loans. It does not include other education-related debt, such as credit card debt, home equity loans, and other loans that students or their parents/guardians may use to pay for school.

Total Student Loan Debt Statistics

  • The federal student loan debt balance in the U.S. has almost tripled in the past 15 years.
  • As of September 2022, federal and private student loan debt in the U.S. surpassed $1.76 trillion.Note Reference [3]
  • Borrowers owed about $127.2 billion in private student loans at the end of September 2022.[11]
  • In the same period, Americans owed $1.6 trillion in federal student loans.Note Reference [1]
  • In 2021, 96% of those with outstanding education-related debt had taken on a student loan to pay for their own education.Note Reference [4]
  • By the end of 2022, student loan debt made up over one-third (34.8%) of non-housing debt, according to the Center for Microeconomic Data at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.[12]

Private vs. Federal Student Loan Debt

Banks, schools, state agencies, and other lending institutions may offer private student loans. Federal student loans come from the federal government.

Federal Student Loan Debt Statistics

Federal loans include subsidized loans — meaning the government pays all or part of your loan interest if you demonstrate financial need — and unsubsidized loans.

  • Federal student loans account for roughly 93% of all student loan debt.Note Reference [11]
  • In 2019-2020, nearly 52% of first-time, full-time students were awarded federal student loans.[13]
  • Interest rates for federal student loans disbursed between July 2021 and July 2022 are:[14]
    • 4.99% for undergraduates
    • 6.54% for graduate students using direct unsubsidized loans
    • 7.54% for parents and graduate students using direct PLUS loans
  • Beginning in March 2020, the government paused federal student loan repayment and instituted a 0% interest rate on federal student loan debt.
  • Federal student loan payments are scheduled to restart in July 2023.

Private Student Loan Debt Statistics

While private student loan debt comprises less than a tenth of all student debt, some trends are troubling. Private loan interest rates can be double to triple that of federal loans. Over half of students who rely on private loans are not taking full advantage of federal loans and almost a third don't take out any federal loans at all.Note Reference [10]

  • As of March 2022, private student loans accounted for just over 7% of student loan debt.Note Reference [11]
  • According to a 2021 report by MeasureOne, about 88.7% of private student loan debt was held by undergraduate studies. Graduate students held about 11.3% of private student loan debt.[15]
  • Fixed interest rates on private student loans can range between 3.7-14%.
  • Private student loan debt among current students and graduates grew 47% between March 2014 and March 2021.Note Reference [10]
  • In 2015-2016, 53% of undergrads using private student loans did not take out all the federal loan dollars available to them, and 30% of undergraduates with private student loans did not take out any federal loans at all.Note Reference [10]

Interest rates matter, especially as time passes. The chart below shows how interest on a $20,000 loan compounds if you were to skip payments with a 4% fixed interest rate (typical of some federal student loans) versus a 10% fixed interest rate (typical of some private loans).

Let's say you make all of your loan payments on time. The interest rate still makes a difference. If you repaid a $20,000 student loan over 10 years with a 4% fixed interest rate, you'd really pay about $24,300, including interest. If you had a 10% fixed interest rate, you'd end up spending over $31,700, including interest.

Who Has Student Loan Debt?

  • As of 2021, 30% of all adults have incurred education-related debt.Note Reference [4]
  • Of adults who went to college, over 40% went into debt for school.Note Reference [4]
  • 20% of adults who went to college still carry student debt.Note Reference [4]
  • By the end of 2022, 43.5 million people owed money on a federal student loan.Note Reference [1]

While many students take out student loans, debt amounts vary according to race/ethnicity, gender, and degree type, among other characteristics.

Student Loan Debt by Race and Ethnicity

The racial wealth gap creates inequities in higher education and perpetuates trends whereby Black students carry more debt. Researchers have even called student debt a new mechanism of wealth inequality.[16]

According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, as of 2019:Note Reference [6]

  • Almost one-third of Black adults (30.2%) had student loan debt, compared to
  • 1 in 5 white adults (20%)
  • 14% of Hispanic or Latino/a adults
  • About one-quarter of adults of other races (24.3%)

Additionally, Black borrowers' median student loan debt was $30,000. It's $23,000 for white borrowers, $17,600 for Hispanic borrowers, and $19,000 for borrowers of other races.Note Reference [6]

NCES data from 2015-2016 shows that Black degree recipients were more likely than other students to have borrowed federal loans to pay for college.[17] In 2021, Black and Latino/a borrowers were almost twice as likely to be behind on student loan payments compared to their white peers.Note Reference [4]

Several factors impact the Black student debt crisis in America, including generational wealth, first-generation student status, and workplace discrimination.

Student Loan Debt by Gender

Women have higher student debt levels than other genders. According to survey data collected by NCES in 2017:Note Reference [5]

  • 71% of women owed student loan debt 12 months after graduation compared to 64% of men and 59% of transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, and questioning graduates and those who are other or multiple genders.
  • Women had a median of $20,625 in student loan debt 12 months after graduation. That's 37.5% higher than men's median debt of $15,000.
Student Loan Debt by Gender
Self-Reported Sex or Gender Percentage of Group with Student Loans 12 Months After Graduation Median Amount of Student Loans 12 Months After Graduation
Male 64% $15,000
Female 71% $20,625
Transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, questioning, other, or multiple genders 59% $9,680-$20,320
Source: NCES[18]

Behind the Numbers

Transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming, and questioning graduates and those who are other or multiple genders represented about 1.25% of the survey respondents. Because of the small sample size, there's a larger standard error. That's why we included a range in the table above.

Student Loan Debt by Age

Today, fewer young people have federal student loan debt compared to previous years. But as students age, they're taking their debt with them through their forties and sometimes beyond.Note Reference [1]

  • About 80% of federal student loan borrowers are aged 25-49.
  • At the end of 2022, there were:
    • 7.3 million federal student loan borrowers with active balances under 25 years old
    • 15 million borrowers aged 25-34
    • 14.6 million borrowers aged 35-49
    • 6.5 million borrowers aged 50-61
    • 2.6 million borrowers 62 and older
  • Compared to the end of 2017, the number of borrowers under 25 years old has decreased by roughly 16%.
  • Meanwhile, the number of borrowers over 62 has almost doubled, from 1.7 million to 2.6 million borrowers.

Student Loan Debt by Degree Level

Graduate students are more likely to take out a federal student loan than students pursuing other degrees or certificates. Students also tend to borrow more for doctoral and professional degrees, less for bachelor's and master's degrees, and the least for associate degrees.

In 2021, among people between the ages of 18-29:Note Reference [4]

  • 58% of graduate degree-holders went into debt for their education.
  • 58% of bachelor's degree-holders incurred student debt.
  • 39% of associate degree-holders incurred student debt.
  • 37% of technical degree-holders or people who completed some college incurred student debt.

A report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that among borrowers who graduated in 2017-18 and 2018-19:[19]

  • Undergraduate certificate-holders took out a median of roughly $10,000.
  • Associate degree-holders took out a median of about $14,000 in student loan debt.
  • Bachelor's degree-holders borrowed a median of nearly $24,000.
  • Master's degree-holders borrowed a median of almost $43,000.
  • Doctoral degree-holders borrowed a median of about $81,000.
  • Professional degree-holders, such as those with law or medical school debt, borrowed a median of over $168,000.

Student Loan Debt by School Type

As of the end of 2022:Note Reference [1]

  • 25.6 million student loan debt borrowers had attended public colleges.
  • 14 million had attended private nonprofit colleges.
  • 12.4 million had attended private for-profit colleges.

People who went to private colleges were more likely to have borrowed for their education than those who attended public colleges.Note Reference [4]

  • 40% of public college attendees took on student loan debt.
  • 57% of private nonprofit college attendees borrowed.
  • 59% of private for-profit college attendees borrowed.

Graduates of for-profit colleges are more likely to have higher debt. Half of graduates (50.7%) of private for-profit schools borrowed $40,000 or more for school.Note Reference [7]

Additionally, people who have attended a for-profit college face more difficulty repaying student loans. As of 2021, 23% of borrowers under 40 who attended for-profit schools were behind on their student loan payments compared to 11% of public school graduates and 7% of graduates from private non-profit schools.Note Reference [4]