Average Nursing Student Debt: How Much Debt Do Nurses Have?

Registered nurses finish school with an average debt of $19,928 or $23,711, depending on their degree.

Ryan LaneJuly 15, 2020
Average Nursing Student Debt: How Much Debt Do Nurses Have-story
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The average nursing student debt depends on the type of program you attend:

  • Associate Degree Nursing (ADN): $19,928 average debt.

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): $23,711 average debt.

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): $47,321 average debt.

Average monthly student loan payments are $196 for ADN RNs and $234 for BSN RNs. Nurses with an MSN face monthly bills of $544, on average.

These average debt levels and payment amounts are based on an analysis of December 2019 federal student aid data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

What is the average nursing student debt?

More than 70% of students use nursing student loans to help pay for their education, based on data from the National Student Nurses' Association. The average you’ll owe post-graduation will be a byproduct of how many years you spend in school.

You can become a registered nurse by earning a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN degree. Shorter programs result in less student debt on average, but ADNs can still end up with large balances: The National Student Nurses' Association found small percentages of ADN RNs and BSN RNs with as much as $80,000 in student debt.

Graduate nursing students expect to finish school with a median debt between $40,000 and $54,999, according to a 2017 report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. This aligns with the $47,321 average nursing student debt found via College Scorecard data.

But MSN students can expect to owe much more if they attend a top-tier institution. For example, students in Duke University’s MSN program finish school with an average debt of $74,781. At Johns Hopkins University, average MSN debt is $80,545.

How to pay off nursing school debt

Depending on your salary as a nurse, you may be stuck with your debt for a long time. A 2019 survey by medical industry website Medscape found that 20% of nurses older than 55 still have student loans. These tips can help you pay off school debt:

  • Investigate forgiveness programs. Multiple student loan forgiveness programs for nurses are available that can eliminate part or all of your remaining nursing school debt. To be eligible for most of these programs, you’ll need to work for a public service employer, in a critical shortage area or both.

  • Find the right repayment plan. There are multiple student loan repayment options. The standard plan — 120 payments over 10 years — is best if you can afford your loan payments. If your debt is stretching you a little too thin, an income-driven plan can offer a more manageable monthly bill.

  • Pay loans off faster. If you’re comfortable with the standard plan, consider making extra payments to get rid of your nursing school debt faster. You could even refinance with a private lender — especially if you have higher interest graduate school loans — provided you don’t need income-driven plans and won’t qualify for forgiveness.

If you’re still in the planning stages of your education, be sure to review scholarships for nurses. You won’t have to repay this money, and it will decrease the amount you have to borrow.

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