Student loan borrowers in the United States owe a collective $1.6 trillion in federal and private student loan debt as of March 31, 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Here are key student loan debt statistics to know: How much borrowers owe, the types of loans they have and how they're repaying them.
Average student loan debt
Sixty-two percent of the class of 2019 graduated with student debt, according to the most recent data available from The Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit organization that works to improve higher education access and affordability. Among these graduates, the average student loan debt was $28,950.
The average U.S. household with student debt owes $57,520, according to NerdWallet’s 2020 household debt study.
Here's what average student loan debt by type:
$19,928: Associate Degree Nursing (ADN)
$23,711: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
$47,321: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
» MORE: Student loan payment calculator
Who has student loan debt?
Forty-three million Americans have student loan debt — that's one in 8 Americans (12.9%), according to an analysis of May 2021 census data.
Those ages 25-to-34 are the most likely to hold student loan debt, but the greatest amount is owed by those 35 to 49 — more than $600 billion, federal data shows.
Among all borrowers, women typically borrow more for college compared with men (and attain more degrees), according to 2020 data by the American Association of University Women. And Black students borrow more often and greater amounts compared with all other races and ethnicities, according to federal data.
Learn more about the characteristics of student loan borrowers here.
Total federal student loan debt
Most student loans — about 92%, according to a July 2021 report by MeasureOne, an academic data firm — are owned by the U.S. Department of Education.
Total federal student loan borrowers: 42.9 million.
Total outstanding federal student loan debt: $1.59 trillion.
Total private student loan debt
Private student loans make up 7.89% of the total outstanding U.S. student loans, according to MeasureOne.
Total outstanding private student loan debt: $136.31 billion.
Total Parent PLUS loan debt
Parents have one federal student loan option to help pay for their children's education: parent PLUS loans.
Total parent PLUS debt: $103.6 billion
Total parent PLUS borrowers: 3.6 million borrowers
Parent PLUS loan debt increased 42% from 2007-08 to 2017-18, according to federal loan data analyzed by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Average parent PLUS loan debt: $16,452
Expected college debt for a 2021 high school grad
A 2021 high school graduate could expect to borrow $38,147 for their bachelor’s degree, according to a May 2021 NerdWallet analysis of National Center for Education Statistics data. Around 45% of high school graduates are expected to enroll in college, NerdWallet found. Among those students, around 45% are expected to take on student debt over an average five years to attain a bachelor's degree.
Student loan repayment status
Federal student loans
If borrowers can't make payments, they can postpone them through deferment or forbearance. Interest typically accrues during these periods, but borrowers with subsidized loans don't owe the interest that accrues during deferment.
The number of borrowers in forbearance spiked in 2020 due to the student loan relief offered by the government. The Office of Federal Student Aid has also temporarily suspended delinquency and default data.
Federal loan borrowers in school: 6.4 million
Federal borrowers in grace period: 1.2 million
Federal loan borrowers in repayment: 500,000
Federal loan borrowers in deferment: 3.3 million
Federal loan borrowers with loans in forbearance: 23.2 million
Federal loan borrowers in default: 5.3 million
» MORE: Deferment vs. forbearance
Private student loans
Borrowers can also postpone private student loan payments via deferment or forbearance, but interest always accrues regardless of whether the borrower is making payments.
Percentage of outstanding private loan balance in deferment: 19.48%.
Percentage of outstanding private loan balance in forbearance: 3.12%.
Percentage of private loans in repayment that are 90+ days past due: 0.73%.
» MORE: Student loan payoff calculator
Student loan forgiveness
Applications approved for federal student loan forgiveness:
Public Service Loan Forgiveness : 8,429 approved among 391,333 applications — 2.1% approval. Total discharges processed included 5,467 for PSLF and 2,962 for Temporary Expanded PSLF. (Source: Federal student loan forgiveness data: April 2021. This data includes Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness.)
Income driven repayment forgiveness: 32 borrowers (Source: Federal data obtained by the National Consumer Law Center and Student Borrower Protection Center).
Borrower defense to repayment: 94,784 approved among 362,454 applications — 26% approval (Source: Federal student loan forgiveness data: April. 30, 2021).
Student loan default
Student loan default happens after a period of missed payments. Most federal student loans enter default after roughly 270 days (or nine months) past due. Private student loans typically enter default after three missed payments (typically three months), but it can happen as soon as after one missed payment.
Below are the most recent cohort default rates among student loan borrowers who default within the next couple of years after entering repayment.
• Public non-profit colleges: 9.3%
• Private non-profit colleges: 6.7%
• Private for-profit schools: 14.7%
• Foreign schools: 2.9%
• Total default rate: 9.7%
Source: Federal Student Aid Sept. 2020
Income-driven repayment use
Federal income-driven repayment plans cap monthly payments at 10% to 20% of discretionary income and forgive the balance remaining after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan.
Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
» MORE: Discretionary income calculator
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, is required to be eligible for grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans.
Percentage of 2018 high school graduates who did not complete the FAFSA: 37%.
Average amount each Pell Grant-eligible graduate left on the table by not completing the FAFSA: $3,908.
Total amount the class of 2018 left on the table by not completing the FAFSA: $2.6 billion.
» MORE: NerdWallet Guide to FAFSA