How Many Americans Have Student Loan Debt?

About 1 in 8 (12.9%) people in the United States carry student loan debt.

Anna HelhoskiMay 20, 2021
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About 42.9 million Americans have federal student loans, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education. That means about 1 in 8 (12.9%) people in the United States carry student loan debt, per an analysis of census data.

Total outstanding student loan debt is $1.59 trillion, according to second quarter of 2021 data from the federal government. Private student loan debt comprises around 7.89% of that total, or around $1.728 billion, according to 2021 data from MeasureOne, a higher education data and analytics firm.

Here are some key stats about the 43 million Americans with student debt:

Who is the typical student loan borrower?

A typical student loan borrower, statistically, has left school with nearly $30,000 in debt. The average among the class of 2019 was $28,950, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About 25% went to graduate school, according to the Brookings Institution; the rest sought associate or bachelor’s degrees.

In general, women borrow more for college compared with men, and Black students borrow more compared with all other races and ethnicities.

Student debt is most common in the 25-to-34 age group, but the greatest amount of debt is owed by those 35 to 49 — more than $600 billion in undergraduate, graduate and parent loans, as well as payments stretched out by forbearance or income-driven repayment plans.

Student loan debt by age

The age group with the most federal student debt is 35- to 49-year-olds, with $601.7 billion. But the most borrowers are in the 25-to-34 age group. Here’s how student loan debt breaks down by age:

Age group

Millions of borrowers

Billions in debt

24 and younger

7.5

$113.7

25 to 34

14.9

$500.6

35 to 49

14.3

$613.0

50 to 61

6.3

$273.7

62 and older

2.4

$92.7

Studentaid.gov, Federal Student Loan Portfolio, Portfolio by Age, Q2 2021

Typical debt amounts by age group

Across all age groups, the typical amount of student debt for most borrowers is between $10,000 and $40,000. Those ages 35 to 49 are the group with the greatest amount of high debt ($200,000 and more). Here’s a more detailed picture of the typical amounts held by each group:

  • Among those 24 and younger, most (2.11 million) have between $10,000 and $20,000 of student debt.

  • Among 25- to 34-year-olds, most (3.56 million) have between $20,000 and $40,000 of student debt.

  • Among 35- to 49-year-olds, most (2.87 million) have between $20,000 and $40,000 of student debt.

  • Among 50- to 61-year-olds, most (1.16 million) have between $20,000 and $40,000 of student debt.

  • Among those age 62 and older, most (490,000) have less than $5,000 of debt.

Source: Studentaid.gov, Federal Student Loan Portfolio by Age and Debt Size, March 31, 2021

Student loan debt by race and gender

Asian and Hispanic student loan borrowers have the lowest debt loads compared with all other races and ethnicities, while Black student loan borrowers tend to hold the greatest average debt, federal data shows.

The average debt disparity is exacerbated even further for Black women, who carry higher average debt than women across all races and ethnicities, according to the American Association of University Women.

Here’s what average student debt looks like for men and women across race and ethnicity:

Race/ethnicity

Women

Men

Asian

$25,252

$25,507

Black

$37,558

$35,665

Hispanic or Latinx

$27,029

$27,452

White

$31,346

$29,862

American Association of University Women, "Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans in the Time of COVID," 2020 analysis of federal data

Women hold two-thirds of all outstanding loan debt compared with men, according to an analysis of federal data by the AAUW. There's little data available that includes gender-nonconforming student borrowers.

One of the primary reasons women hold more debt is because they earn the majority of degrees at all levels — from certificates to doctor’s degrees, according to federal data.

But carrying greater amounts of debt is a problem since women, by and large, tend to have less earning power than men: Women with bachelor’s degrees earn, on average, 74 cents on the dollar compared with men with that degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The largest average debt loads are held by women who attend for-profit four-year schools — about 44% more than women who attend public four-year institutions. Here’s what student debt totals for women look like across types of four-year institutions:

Type of institution

Mean debt borrowed by women

Public four-year

$29,611

Private nonprofit four-year

$32,086

For-profit four-year

$42,778

American Association of University Women, "Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans in the Time of COVID," 2020 analysis of federal data

Average student loan amounts by debt type

Debt type

Average debt

$28,950

$71,000

$16,452

$145,500

$66,300

$201,490

$292,169

$179,514

$19,928: Associate Degree Nursing (ADN)

$23,711: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

$47,321: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

$183,302

1. 2019 The Institute for College Access and Success 2. 2015-16 National Center for Education Statistics 3. 2017-18 Urban Institute 4. 2015-16 National Center for Education Statistics 5. 2015-16 National Center for Education Statistics 6. 2019 Association of American Medical Colleges 7. 2019 American Dental Education Association 8. 2020 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy 9. December 2019 federal student aid data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard 10. 2019 American Veterinary Medical Association

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