2017 Student Loan Debt Statistics

Loans, Student Loans
Determining the Best Way to Do Taxes

We’ve compiled the statistics you need to know about student loan debt below, including average student loan debt, total outstanding student debt and federal student loan default rates.

Average student loan debt for the class of 2015

National student loan debt

Federal student loan debt

Private student loan debt

Default rates for federal student loans

Repayment rates for federal student loans

Income-driven repayment plan participation

Student loan refinancing

Student loan debt relief companies

Average student loan debt for the class of 2015

  • Average student loan debt of 2015 graduates with a bachelor’s degree from a public or private nonprofit college who had student loan debt: $30,100.
  • Percentage of 2015 graduates with a bachelor’s degree from a public or private nonprofit college that had student loan debt: 68%.

Source: The Institute for College Access and Success, October 2016

[Back to top]

National student loan debt

  • Total outstanding federal and private student loans: $1.4 trillion.

Source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, September 2016

  • Number of people with federal or private student loan debt: 44.2 million.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2015

[Back to top]

Federal student loan debt

  • Total outstanding federal student loan debt: $1.29 trillion.
    • Direct loans: $949.1 billion.
    • Federal Family Education Loans: $335.2 billion.
    • Perkins Loans: $7.9 billion.
  • Number of people with federal student loan debt: 42.3 million.*
    • Direct loans: 31.5 million.
    • Federal Family Education Loans: 16.4 million.
    • Perkins Loans: 2.7 million.

*Totals may not equal the sum of direct loans, FFEL and Perkins Loans due to rounding and timing.

Loan status of outstanding federal direct and Federal Family Education Loans

 Direct loans (billions)Federal Family Education Loans (billions)
In-school$142.5$1.3
Grace period$50.1$0.7
Repayment$478.6$212.7
Deferment$107.3$20.5
Forbearance$96.2$29.3
Default$67.5$65.5
Other$6.9$5.3

Source: Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid, September 2016

[Back to top]

Private student loan debt

In addition to federal student loans, borrowers can take out private student loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders. Private loans lack many benefits that come with federal loans, including income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. NerdWallet recommends that borrowers exhaust all of their federal loan options before taking on private debt.

  • Percentage of total outstanding student loan debt that is private debt: 7.5%.
  • Total outstanding private student loan debt amount: $102 billion.

Source: MeasureOne Private Student Loan Report, December 2016

[Back to top]

Federal student loan default

Most federal student loans that go into default do so after the borrower doesn’t make a payment for 270 days. The three-year cohort default rate measures the percentage of borrowers who enter repayment in a fiscal year and default within three years.

Source: Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid, September 2016

[Back to top]

Student loan repayment rates

Repayment rate measures the percentage of borrowers who are not in default and are actively paying down their student loan balance. Unlike the default rate, it excludes borrowers whose loans are in deferment or forbearance.

“Repayment rates more accurately reflect the borrowing behavior of students than default rates,” according to a 2015 report from the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Source: Center for American Progress analysis of Department of Education College Scorecard data, September 2015

[Back to top]

Income-driven repayment plans

Federal student loan borrowers may be able to make payments on an income-driven repayment plan. These plans cap borrowers’ payments at a percentage of their income and offer loan forgiveness after the borrower makes on-time payments for 20 or 25 years.

  • Percentage of direct loan borrowers on an income-driven plan: 24%.

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office, November 2016

Income-driven repayment plan participation: Federal direct loans

Repayment planNumber of federal direct loan borrowers (millions)Outstanding federal direct loan dollars (billions)
Income-contingent repayment0.60$24
Income-based repayment3.07$173.1
Pay As You Earn1.02$46.7
Revised Pay As You Earn0.89$43.6
Total5.58$287.4

Source: Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid, September 2016

[Back to top]

Student loan refinancing

Student loan refinancing is a way to save money by trading your existing student loans for a new, lower-rate private student loan.

  • Outstanding federal and private student loan dollars eligible to be refinanced: $211 billion.
    • $147 billion in federal student loans.
    • $64 billion in private student loans.

Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research, March 2015

[Back to top]

Student loan debt relief companies

Student debt relief companies charge fees to help borrowers sign up for free federal student loan services including consolidation, income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs. A survey of more than 6,000 respondents conducted by NerdWallet and the nonprofit advocacy group Student Debt Crisis revealed the following about these companies:

  • Percentage of survey respondents who have paid for debt relief services: 9%.
  • Average amount that each respondent who paid for debt relief services paid: $613.
  • Percentage of survey respondents who have seen advertisements for student debt relief companies: 60%.
  • Percentage of survey respondents who have been contacted directly by a student debt relief company: 44%.

Source: NerdWallet and Student Debt Crisis, July 2016

[Back to top]

Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: teddy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel.