How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans?

The average student loan payoff time depends on the loan amount and monthly payment. Timelines for federal student loans range from 10-25 years.

Published August 26, 2022

Edited by Jordan Stewart-Rozema, Ph.D.
Fact-checked by Marley Hall
How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans?
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Jeffrey Coolidge / Stone / Getty Images


Data Summary

  • Student loans can take 5-20 years or longer to repay.
  • One-third (14.4 million) of federal student loan borrowers are on a 10-year repayment plan.[1]
  • Four percent (1.8 million) of federal loan borrowers are on an extended repayment plan, which lasts up to 25 years.Footnote [1]
  • Over half of federal student loan borrowers are over 35.[2]
  • The average bachelor's degree-holder takes 5 years and 5 months to pay off their debt if they spend 10% of their income on loan repayment.
  • It would take the average master's degree-completer 6-10 years to pay off their student debt.
  • Student loan debt, median income, and average loan payoff time varies by race and gender.[3]
  • It takes the average male professional degree-holder about 20 years to pay off his student loan debt compared to 67.5 years for female degree-holders.

Most borrowers are on the standard 10-year plan to repay their federal student loan debt. But that doesn't mean they're able to meet these terms. More than 23 million people over 35 owe some federal student loan debt.

The average time to pay off student loans depends on a borrower's loan amount, interest rate, and how much they can afford to pay each month.

This guide explains the average student loan payoff time and covers typical repayment periods for federal and private student loans.

Average Student Loan Payoff Time

It takes 10 years to pay off student loan debt on the standard federal loan repayment plan. However, some undergraduate borrowers may be able to pay off student loans faster by making larger payments.

Time to Repay Average Student Loan Debt for Bachelor's Degree-Holders
Monthly Payment Time to Repay Average Student Loan Debt
$300 9 years, 2 months
10% of monthly income 5 years, 5 months
20% of monthly income 2 years, 7 months

Behind the Numbers

In the table above and the sections below, we used the following data:

  • Bachelor's degree-completers' average debt at graduation in 2020 dollars overall and by race and gender.[4], [5]
  • 25- to 34-year-old bachelor's degree-holders' median incomes in 2020 overall and by race and gender.Footnote [3]
  • The average federal interest rate for undergraduate student loans over the past 10 years: 4.13%.[6]
  • Graduate degree-completers' average debt at graduation in 2020 constant dollars[7] and median income by degree level and gender.[8]
  • The average federal interest rate for graduate student loans over the past 10 years: 6.36%.Footnote [6]
    • The figures do not include private loan debt.
    • Average graduate student loan payoff times do not include borrowers' debt from their undergraduate studies.

Average Student Loan Payoff Time by Gender and Race

Women and Black students are more likely to take out federal loans and borrow higher amounts on average than male and white students, respectively.[9] Additionally, income inequality — which includes the gender pay gap and racial wealth gap — impacts borrowers' ability to pay off loans. As such, average student loan payoff times vary by gender and race.

Assuming that borrowers can pay 10% of their monthly income against their student loan debt:

  • It would take the average female bachelor's degree-holder one year and five months longer than the average male to repay their student loans.
  • It would take the average Black bachelor's degree-holder almost twice as long as the average white borrower to repay their student loans.

Average Student Loan Payoff Time for Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees typically cost more than undergraduate degrees. So, graduate students tend to borrow more and can take longer to pay off their loans. While higher degrees correlate with higher earnings,[10] graduate degree-holders can still take longer than undergraduate degree-holders to pay off their debt.

The chart below shows student loan debt repayment timelines for the average graduate degree-holder who pays 10% of their monthly income.

Federal Student Loan Repayment

The standard federal student loan repayment plan divides monthly payments over 10 years.[11] However, borrowers have options. Borrowers with multiple federal student loans can consolidate loans and make payments over 10-30 years. In addition, the government offers income-driven repayment plans allowing borrowers to make smaller payments over a longer period.

As of March 2022, there are about 43 million total federal student loan borrowers.[12]

Standard Student Loan Payoff Time for Federal Loans

  • 14.4 million federal student loan borrowers (about one-third of all borrowers) are on a repayment plan that lasts 10 years or less.Footnote [1]
  • Of those borrowers, 11.2 million make monthly payments of equal amounts, and 3.2 million make graduated payments. Graduated payments start lower and increase every two years.
  • As of June 2022, 25.5 million borrowers — almost 60% all federal student loan borrowers — were in forbearance, meaning they do not currently need to make student loan payments.[13] Before the pandemic, less than 3 million borrowers were in forbearance. The administrative student loan payment pause is scheduled to end December 31, 2022.
  • Borrowers do not need to begin making student loan payments until six months after leaving or completing their program.[14]
  • Six million current students and 1.2 million recent grads have not yet entered federal student loan repayment.Footnote [13]

Extended Repayment for Federal Loans

If you borrow more than $30,000 on a direct loan and have no other outstanding direct loan debt, you can qualify for extended repayment. Extended repayment lasts up to 25 years.[15]

1.8 million borrowers were in extended repayment in June 2022.Footnote [1]

Average Student Loan Payoff Time After Consolidation

Consolidating student loans can help create more manageable payments. Federal Direct Consolidation Loans last 10-30 years.

To determine your loan term, the government considers how much total debt you have, including debt you are consolidating and any other student loans, including private loans.

Direct Consolidation Loan Repayment Periods by Total Debt
Total Student Loan Debt Repayment Period
Less than $7,500 10 years
$7,500-$10,000 12 years
$10,000-$20,000 15 years
$20,000-$40,00 20 years
$40,000-$60,000 25 years
Greater than $60,000 30 years

Source: Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education

Average Student Loan Payoff Time for Income-Driven Repayment Plans

The government offers four income-driven repayment plans. For each, borrowers owe monthly payments based on a percentage of their discretionary income —i.e., what they make above a federally set threshold. The repayment periods for these plans vary. Generally, the repayment period is 20-25 years.

Income-Based Repayment: 20-25 Years

  • Borrowers must owe more than their annual discretionary income to qualify for this plan.
  • Borrowers pay 10-15% of their monthly discretionary income.
  • 3.5 million borrowers are on this plan.

Income-Contingent Repayment: 25 Years

  • Most federal loans, including consolidated loans, are eligible for this plan.
  • Borrowers pay 20% of their monthly discretionary income.
  • 790,000 borrowers are on this plan.

Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) Repayment: 20 Years

  • Only new borrowers qualify for this plan.
  • To qualify, borrowers must owe more than their annual discretionary income.
  • Borrowers pay 10% of their monthly discretionary income.
  • 1.5 million borrowers are on this plan.

Revised Pay-As-You-Earn (REPAYE) Repayment: 20-25 Years

  • Most federal loans — except loans made to parents — are eligible for this plan.
  • Borrowers pay 10% of their monthly discretionary income.
  • 3.4 million borrowers are on this plan.
Average Student Loan Payoff Time for Income-Driven Repayment Plans
Income-Driven Repayment Plan Repayment Period Payment Amount (% of Discretionary Income) Number of Borrowers
Income-Based Repayment 20-25 years 10-15% 3.5 million
Income-Contingent Repayment 25 years 20% 790,000
Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) 20 years 10% 1.5 million
Revised PAYE (REPAYE) 20-25 years 10% 3.4 million

Source: Federal Student Aid

Private Student Loan Repayment

The typical repayment period for a private student loan is 5-20 years. Private lenders assign different terms and interest rates depending on a borrower's credit, income, and other factors. Find a few scenarios below.

Repayment Period After Refinancing

If you're stuck in a high-interest loan, you may be able to lower your monthly payments or become debt-free faster by refinancing with a lower interest rate.

See how repayment periods change with a lower interest rate in the scenarios below.

Average Repayment Period for a $15,000 Student Loan

Average Repayment Period for a Student Loan: $15,000
Payment Amount Payoff Time - 7% Interest Payoff Time - 5.85% Interest
$150 12 years, 7 months 11 years, 6 months
$250 6 years, 3 months 6 years
$350 4 years, 2 months 4 years, 1 month
$450 3 years, 2 months 3 years, 1 month

Average Repayment Period for a $20,000 Student Loan

Average Repayment Period for a Student Loan: $20,000
Payment Amount Payoff Time - 7% Interest Payoff Time - 5.85% Interest
$150 21 years, 7 months 18 years
$250 9 years, 1 month 8 years, 6 months
$350 5 years, 10 months 5 years, 8 months
$450 4 years, 4 months 4 years, 3 months

Average Repayment Period for a $50,000 Student Loan

Average Repayment Period for a Student Loan: $50,000
Payment Amount Payoff Time - 7% Interest Payoff Time - 5.85% Interest
$150 Impossible to pay off. Interest is higher than the monthly payment. Impossible to pay off. Interest is higher than the monthly payment.
$250 Impossible to pay off. Interest is higher than the monthly payment. 63 years, 3 months
$350 25 years, 9 months 20 years, 6 months
$450 15 years 13 years, 5 months
$550 10 years, 10 months 10 years, 1 month
$650 8 years, 7 months 8 years, 1 month

Behind the Numbers

  • We sampled six private lenders and found an average fixed interest rate of 7% and an average refinance rate of 5.85%.
  • Keep in mind that some private lenders offer loans with variable interest rates, meaning that the interest rate and your payment may change monthly. The repayment period will not change.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Long It Takes to Pay Off Student Loans

How long does it take to pay off student loans?

The standard student loan payoff time for federal student loans is 10 years. However, repayment time depends on the loan amount and how much you can pay a month.

A bachelor's degree-holder with the average amount of federal loan debt would need to pay at least $280 a month to pay off their loan in 10 years or less.

When does student loan repayment start?

In August, the Biden administration announced that the federal student loan payment pause will end December 31, 2022. Student loan payments for federal loans have been on pause since March 2020.

When do you have to start paying student loans?

Typically, student loan borrowers begin repaying their federal student loans six months after leaving or completing their program,14 though federal loan payments are currently paused until December 31, 2022.

Some private lenders offer deferment to current students and a six-month grace period after graduation. But this varies, so check with your loan provider.



References

  1. Federal Student Loan Portfolio: Federally Managed Portfolio By Repayment Plan, Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education. Accessed August 2022.
  2. Federal Student Loan Portfolio: By Age. Federal Student Aid. Accessed August 2022.
  3. Table 502.30. Median annual earnings of full-time year-round workers 25 to 34 years old and full-time year-round workers as a percentage of the labor force, by sex, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment: Selected years, 1995 through 2020. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). October 2021.
  4. Table 331.95. Percentage of undergraduate degree/certificate completers who ever received federal loans and parent PLUS loans and average cumulative loan amount, by degree level, selected student characteristics, and institution control: 2017-18. NCES. February 2022.
  5. Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), calculated to 2020 constant dollars.
  6. Federal Interest Rates and Fees, Federal Student Aid.
  7. Table 332.45. Percentage of graduate degree completers with student loan debt and average cumulative amount owed, by level of education funded and graduate degree type, institution control, and degree program: Selected years, 1999-2000 through 2015-16. NCES August 2020.
  8. Table 502.20 Median annual earnings, number, and percentage of full-time year-round workers age 25 and over, by highest level of educational attainment and sex: Selected years, 1990 through 2020. NCES. October 2021.
  9. Fast Facts: Student Debt, NCES. July 2020.
  10. Education Pays, 2021. BLS. May 2022.
  11. Standard Plan. Federal Student Aid.
  12. Federal Student Loan Portfolio: Summary, Federal Student Aid. Accessed August 2022.
  13. Federal Student Loan Portfolio: By Loan Status, Federal Student Aid. Accessed August 2022.
  14. Student Loan Repayment. Federal Student Aid.
  15. Extended Plan. Federal Student Aid.