Student Loan Debt by Year

Student loan debt has almost tripled over 15 years. Federal student debt has grown by over 8.5 times since 1995.

Published August 12, 2022

Student Loan Debt by Year
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by triloks / E+ / Getty Images


Data Summary

  • In the past 15 years, the total U.S. student loan debt balance has almost tripled, from $545 billion in 2007 to almost $1.75 trillion today.[1]
  • Over the past 10 years, the debt balance has increased 66%.Footnote [1]
  • Federal student loan debt more than tripled in the past 15 years, growing 211%.[2]
  • Private student loan debt almost doubled, growing 92%.Footnote [1], Footnote [2]
  • The average student loan debt at graduation increased by almost 70% between 2004-2019.[3]
  • While total student debt continues to grow each year, its growth rate has slowed significantly in the recent past.

Student loan debt is at an all-time high. Federal student debt alone has grown roughly 756% since 1995.Footnote [2], [4] Over the past 15 years, the total student loan debt balance has even outpaced the rising cost of college.

Several factors have influenced the student debt balance over time, from college enrollment patterns to rising tuition to economic forces. Currently, the Biden administration is considering policies that could reduce debt for many.

Keep reading to find statistics about student loan debt over the years plus historical average student loan amounts.

Total Student Loan Debt by Year

  • The total U.S. student loan debt balance has almost tripled in the past 15 years.
  • In 2007, Americans owed about $545 billion.
  • As of March 2022, the total student debt balance is almost $1.75 trillion.

The chart below includes student loan debt for federal and private student loans.

Source: Data Download: Consumer Credit Outstanding - All, The Federal Reserve. See footnote [5]

When Did Student Loan Debt Get So High?

Student loan borrowing increased the most in the 2007-09 recession. This period saw the highest number of new borrowers and the fastest increase in the average amount borrowed. However, differences exist between federal and private student loan borrowing over time.

Since 2010, the federal student loan balance growth rate has generally slowed, aided by the fact that fewer people are enrolling in college. The federal student debt balance shrunk by about $4 billion in the first half of 2022, after the federal government instituted 0% interest and paused student loan repayment from March 2020 through August 2022.

In contrast, private student loan debt has fluctuated. In March 2022, the private student loan balance was up 15% from the end of 2021 — the highest year-over-year growth since 2009. It's possible that the pandemic-related economic downturn kept people from paying private lenders, causing debt to mount.

Sources: Federal Student Loan Portfolio, Data Download: Consumer Credit Outstanding - All, The Federal Reserve. See footnote [5]

Did You Know...

What Happens to Student Loan Borrowing During a Recession?

During a recession, more people may return to school instead of entering the workforce, which can increase student loan borrowing. However, in the long-term, recessions can influence the birth rate. Lower birth rates in turn translate into lower college enrollment 18-20 years later, which can decrease student loan borrowing overall.

Average Student Loan Debt by Year

Average Amount Borrowed Over Time

2007-09 saw the highest increase in the average amount of federal student loan dollars loaned to borrowers, including undergraduates, graduate students, and parents.

Source: Congressional Budget Office, using data from the Department of Education's National Student Loan Data System

Average Debt at Graduation Over Time

The following data comes from a sample of over 13,000 U.S. colleges:Footnote [3]

  • In the 15 years between 2004-2019, the average student loan debt at graduation increased by almost 70% at public and private four-year institutions.
  • By 2019, the average student loan debt at graduation was $27,539 at public and $33,389 at private four-year schools.

Source: College Insight. Custom Import July 2022

Federal vs. Private Student Loan Debt Over Time

Federal Student Loan Debt by Year

  • From 1995 to March 2022, the total federal student loan debt has grown roughly 750% — from $187 billion to over $1.6 trillion.Footnote [2], Footnote [4]
  • Just as with overall student loan debt, the total federal student loan debt has more than tripled in the past 15 years.Footnote [2]
  • Over the past 10 years, it's grown roughly 71%, from close to $950 billion in 2012 to about $1.6 trillion in the second quarter of 2022.Footnote [2]

Private Student Loan Debt by Year

  • Private student loan debt is smaller, and it's grown slower than federal student loan debt.
  • It has almost doubled in the past 15 years, from about $73.5 billion in 2007 to over $141 billion in 2022.Footnote [1], Footnote [2]
  • Private student loan debt has grown 33% in the past 10 years.Footnote [1], Footnote [2]

Sources: Federal Student Loan Portfolio, Data Download: Consumer Credit Outstanding - All, The Federal Reserve. See footnote [5]

Graduate vs. Undergraduate Federal Student Loan Debt

  • Every year from 1995-2017, federal student debt taken out by graduate students grew faster than student debt taken out by undergraduates.Footnote [4]
  • In that period, graduate student federal loan debt increased over 11% per year on average. Undergraduate debt increased about 8% per year on average.
  • Graduate and undergraduate student loan debt grew the most in 2009.

Source: Congressional Budget Office, using data from the Department of Education's National Student Loan Data System

Number of Borrowers by Year

The highest number of federal student loan borrowers was 43.4 million at the end of 2021. Currently, 43 million people have federal student loan debt.

Source: Federal Student Loan Portfolio. See footnote [6]

New Borrowers Each Year

The number of new undergraduate students taking out federal loans grew the fastest between 2007-09. It peaked in 2011. The number of new graduate students and parent PLUS loan borrowers has generally increased over time.

Source: Congressional Budget Office, using data from the Department of Education's National Student Loan Data System

Student Loan Payment by Year

Average Monthly Student Loan Payment by Year

The average monthly payment for federal student loans has generally decreased over the past 15 years as the student loan interest rate has decreased.

The graph below shows the average monthly payment for federal student loans by year. To calculate the payment amounts, we started with the average federal student loan amount awarded annually to undergraduates.[7] We then applied the standard federal loan term — 10 years — and the set interest rate for each year. (Before 2006, federal student loans charged variable interest rates.[8]

Monthly payments in 2021 and 2022 are not recorded below. The government extended the student loan payment pause through August 2022.

Sources: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education

Income-Driven Loan Repayment Over Time

Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans can help lower-income borrowers afford student loans. Typically, payments for these plans are based on a percentage of the borrower's income. After 20-25 years of making payments, borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness.

In the past, IDR implementation flaws have prevented thousands of borrowers from loan forgiveness, even if they could be eligible.[9] But this spring, the Department of Education announced policy changes that could help millions of borrowers with IDR become eligible for loan forgiveness sooner.

Source: Federal Student Loan Portfolio by Repayment Plan. See footnotes [6], [10]

IDR's lower payments may help prevent borrowers from defaulting.Footnote [4] Unlike the total federal student debt balance, debt in IDR has generally grown at the same rate as the number of borrowers.

Source: Federal Student Loan Portfolio by Repayment Plan. See footnotes [6], [10]

Frequently Asked Questions About Student Loan Debt by Year

How has student loan debt increased over the years?

The total U.S. loan debt has nearly tripled in the past 15 years.Footnote [1] It's grown:

  • 196% in 15 years
  • 66% in 10 years
  • 17% in 5 years

It grew the fastest during the 2007-2009 recession, when it increased about 14% per year, on average.Footnote [1]

The average student loan amount at graduation has also increased. From 2004-2019, it grew almost 70%.Footnote [3]

How did student loan debt get so high?

Today, more borrowers are taking out larger loans. Between 2000-2010, college enrollment increased, and more people took out federal student loans.Footnote [7] Since 2000, borrowers have been taking out higher amounts, on average, to cover the rising cost of college.

How much do student loans increase each year?

The U.S. student loan debt balance increased by 0.8% since the end of 2021. The annual growth rate for student loan debt has slowed significantly in recent years. The past five years have seen an average increase in the total student loan debt balance of about 3.3% per year. The average annual rate of increase between 2007-2011 was about 13%.Footnote [1]



References

  1. Data Download: Consumer Credit Outstanding - All, The Federal Reserve. July 2022.
  2. Federal Student Loan Portfolio: Summary, Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education. Accessed July 2022.
  3. The Institute for College Access & Success. College Insight. Student debt and undergraduate financial aid data are licensed from Peterson's Undergraduate Financial Aid and Undergraduate Databases, ©️ 2020 Peterson's LLC, all rights reserved. All data may be reproduced, with attribution, subject to restrictions under this Creative Commons license. Custom data exported July 2022.
  4. The Volume and Repayment of Federal Student Loans: 1995 to 2017. Congressional Budget Office. November 2020.
  5. Note: Figures listed are from December of that year except for 2022, which is from the end of March 2022.
  6. Note: Figures for all years are from December of that year except for 2022, where the amount listed is from the end of June 2022.
  7. Table 331.20. First-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by participation and average amount awarded in financial aid programs, and control and level of institution: 2000-01 through 2019-20. National Center for Education Statistics. October 2021.
  8. Federal Interest Rates and Fees, Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education.
  9. Federal Student Aid: Education Needs to Take Steps to Ensure Eligible Loans Receive Income-Driven Repayment Forgiveness. U.S. Government Accountability Office.
  10. Note: Includes income-contingent, income-based, Pay as You Earn, and REPAYE plans.