Borrowers in the U.S owe $1.67 trillion in total student loan debt.
For borrowers with federal student loans, the average student loan debt in America is $36,520 according to the most recent data from June 2020 according to the Department of Education.
Out of the total student debt, $1.56 trillion is federal loans and $138.57 billion is private loans.
Student loans have surpassed all other forms of debt in the U.S. aside from housing debt.
You’d expect mortgages to be the top form of debt, but when it comes to student loans, they’re a close second, surpassing credit card debt, auto loan debt, and other consumer debt. Getting a four year Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree and pursuing higher education can be costly.
Given the prevalence of student loan debt and the emergence of student loan forgiveness programs, we’re breaking down the average student loan debt as well as other student loan debt statistics for you to help you understand the student debt landscape.
Average student loan debt facts
Looking at student loan debt statistics can give context to the student loan crisis and the financial reality for college graduates — many undergrads with a Bachelor’s degree and graduates with a graduate degree. You’ll learn how many people have student loan debt, how many are falling behind on student loan payments and more. Here are some of the overall statistics about student loan debt worth noting:
Average Student Loan Debt Facts
As of September 2020
Federal student loan borrowers:
Average federal student loan debt:
Total student loan debt (private + federal):
Student loan delinquency rate:
Graduates with student loan debt:
Average student loan debt for class of 2019:
Total student debt in the US stands at $1.67 trillion, as of June 30, 2020.
This stat comes from adding the latest stats on federal and private student loan debt together.
Keep in mind this does not include borrowing from family or friends. Anecdotally, from our experience advising thousands of borrowers, this is a significant funding source for higher education.
Of course, the same borrower can owe federal and private student debt, so we cannot add the number of federal and private student loan borrowers in the same way.
TICAS, a nonprofit with years of experience in reporting student loan statistics, published that nearly two-thirds of the class of 2019 owed student debt. They owed an average of $28,950.
Once more recent data becomes available we will update these numbers for the class of 2020.
Student loan statistics by state
We calculated the average federal student loan debt for each state.
- State with the highest average student loan debt: Maryland, $42,669
- State with the lowest average student loan debt: North Dakota, $29,232
How many six-figure borrowers exist in each state?
Another way to look at the severity of the student loan crisis is to see what proportion of student loan borrowers owe more than $100,000 in student debt. Here’s the data below.
Student loan forgiveness
There are various different student loan forgiveness programs for federal student loan borrowers, such as:
- Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan forgiveness
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness
- Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
These programs are still relatively new, and 2018-2019 was the first year that the original cohort of borrowers who pursued Public Service Loan Forgiveness was eligible for student loan forgiveness.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the recent data (as of August 2020).
Average Student Loan Forgiveness Facts
As of September 2020
Number of applications for PSLF:
Individual borrowers who submitted applications for PSLF:
Applications that have completed processing:
Applications approved by PSLF servicer:
Borrowers who had loans discharged:
PSLF applications rejected:
Total balance discharged through PSLF:
If you want to go this route, be sure to complete your Employment Certification Form each year and see if your employer and type of loans qualify for PSLF.
PSLF application denial reasons
Much has been made of the 95%+ rejection rate for PSLF.
Here are the reasons why borrowers applying for PSLF have not been approved as of Dec 2019.
These three reasons account for 95% of all PSLF rejections.
When borrowers do not have enough qualifying student loan payments, they probably had non qualifying FFEL loans during some of their 10 year repayment period.
Borrowers often fail to get signatures from employers or date their application correctly.
Finally, borrowers sometimes apply with no eligible loans (i.e. loans under the FFEL program issued prior to 2010).
If you address these three rejection reasons, it’s likely your application will be approved.
TEPSLF application denial reasons
Congress passed the Temporary Extended Public Service Loan Forgiveness (TEPSLF) program to try to fix the problems borrowers were having with the PSLF program.
Naturally, the TEPSLF process initially has been more complex than PSLF because you first must apply for PSLF, get denied, and then apply for TEPSLF.
The U.S. Department of Education is simplifying this process currently. Here are the reasons borrowers get denied for the Temporary Expanded PSLF.
Student loan default and delinquency
According to the New York Federal Reserve, 6.5% of student loans were in default or 90+ days delinquent as of the 3rd quarter of 2020.
This number is down significantly from the previous data of 11.1% due to the CARES Act, which was signed on March 27, 2020, changing reporting status requirements for forbearances.
Though there are billions of dollars in default, the numbers are skewed heavily toward a lower debt demographic. You would think that borrowers with a higher student loan balance may be more at risk for default, but that’s not the case.
Student loan default by debt size
As of December 2019, the U.S. Department of Education’s data reveals delinquency rate statistics by debt size for Direct Student Loans.
This is the most recent data available. Because of the CARES Act, the reporting of delinquency information has been temporarily suspended.
Direct Student Loans in Default (in Billions)
Number of Borrowers in Default (in Thousands)
$5k to $10k
$10k to $20k
$20k to 40k
$40k to $60k
$60k to $80k
$80k to $100k
$100k to $120k
Source: Student Loan Planner calculations based on U.S. Department of Education data
You’ll notice the total number of borrowers in default is just over 3 million. That does not include FFEL defaulted debt and private student debt.
Almost 80% of borrowers in default on a direct student loan owe less than $40,000. Over one third owe less than $10,000. Borrowers with higher balances (such as from graduate programs) clearly have better luck enrolling in an IDR plan.
It’s the borrowers who have smaller balances — those who may have associate’s degrees, have bachelor’s degrees or who have dropped out — that are more likely to default.
Borrowers with small balances and no degree are most likely to default
According to the New York Times, “Defaults are concentrated among the millions of students who drop out without a degree, and they tend to have smaller debts. That is where the serious problem with student debt is. Students who attended a two- or four-year college without earning a degree are struggling to find well-paying work to pay off the debt they accumulated.”
Additionally, graduate students may be more educated about the student loan process and pursue an IDR plan to avoid default. Borrowers who dropped out or did not complete a degree may not be as familiar with such options.
These default student loan debt statistics, however, are misleading and can give the wrong impression.
Graduate programs get a pass on default rate monitoring
The government focuses exclusively on default rates to punish schools and sometimes looks at the percent of students paying down principal within three years.
But the government doesn’t monitor the default rate for graduate school programs at all. Grad students are generally more informed about repayment options and often sign up for IDR, which can help them avoid default. But it skews the numbers to make grad schools look like great investments.
When we think of the student debt crisis and immediately correlate high student loan balances with high default rates, we’re running against data that proves otherwise.
Student loan default by length
Delinquency and default are often confused. There is a technical difference between the two: you only need to miss your due date and monthly payments to become delinquent, and you enter default status after 270 days.
Below we cover how many borrowers are in current repayment, including the student loan amount, then share the data related to delinquency and default at specific intervals.
The most recent data available is from March 31, 2020, because the reporting of delinquency information has been temporarily suspended due to the CARES Act.
The information and chart below are for Direct Loans as of March 31, 2020:
- Current Repayment: $622.9 billion
- Borrowers in current repayment: 16.20 million
Amount Delinquent (in Billions)
Number of Borrowers (in Thousands)
31 to 90
91 to 180
181 to 270
271 to 360
Sent to Collections
Source: U.S. Department of Education, “Federally Managed Portfolio By Delinquency Status”
Deferment and forbearance
Deferment and forbearance options can help federal student loan borrowers avoid delinquency and default by putting student loan payments on a temporary pause.
The information below is for Direct Loans as of December 31, 2019, because the CARES Act, which was signed on March 27, 2020, has resulted in loan borrowers in repayment being moved into a forbearance status unless they opted out.
Student Loan Deferment and Forbearance
As of September 2020
Student Debt in deferment:
Number of borrowers in deferment:
Student Debt in forbearance:
Number of borrowers in forbearance:
Source: U.S. Department of Education
Federal student loan data
Many different types of federal student loans make up the federal student loan portfolio. We’re going to do a deep dive into the specifics regarding all the various types of loans as well as how many student loan borrowers have those types of loans.
This information is from September 30, 2020, from the Federal Student Aid’s Loan Portfolio.
Direct Student Loans
- Outstanding Direct Loans: $ 1,315.2 billion
- Direct Loan borrowers: 35.9 million
FFEL Student Loans
- Outstanding FFEL Loans: $245.9 billion
- FFEL Loan borrowers: 11.0 million
While those numbers are the general sums for those federal student loan categories, here are even more specifics by each loan type.
Federal Loan Type
Dollars (in Billions)
Borrowers (in Millions)
Source: U.S. Department of Education, “Portfolio by Loan Type”
A good way to avoid delinquency and default — and to make loans more manageable is through one of the many IDR repayment plans.
Let’s take a look at the numbers as of September 30, 2020:
Federal Repayment Plan
Dollars (in Billions)
Borrowers (in Millions)
Pay As You Earn
Revised Pay As You Earn
Source: U.S. Department of Education, “Portfolio by Repayment Plan
Note that an additional 1.3 million student loan borrowers with $23.72 billion of student debt with a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan. While FFEL loans are federal loans and part of Federal Student Aid, we did not include them in the table above because they are not Direct Loans.
Private student loan data
When it comes to statistics, most of the numbers are related to federal student loans. But the private student loan market isn’t exactly small. There are a significant number of student loan borrowers and private student loans.
Overall, as of September 30, 2020, private student loans total $138.57 billion.
The following data is from the most recently available MeasureOne Private Student Loan Report:
Private student debt student loan balance by degree status
Private Student Debt Balance by Degree Status
As of September 2020
Private student loan percentage for undergraduates:
Private student loan percentage for graduate students:
Private student debt by repayment status
Private Student Debt by Repayment Status
As of June 2020
Private student loan in repayment:
Private student loan debt in deferment:
Private student loan debt in grace:
Private student loan debt in forbearance:
Student loan debt statistics
As you can see from these student loan debt statistics, student loan debt is a concern for many people. Who it affects and how it affects them, however, varies greatly depending on the context.
As loan borrowers, what are your thoughts about these stats? Do any jump out at you as concerning or surprising? Let us know in the comments.
Melanie Lockert contributed to reporting for this article.