Borrowers in the U.S owe $1.64 trillion of student loan debt. For borrowers with federal student loans, the average student loan debt in America is $35,397 according to the most recent data from December 2019 according to the Department of Education.
Student loans surpass 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.
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 many undergrad and graduate degree graduates. You’ll learn how many people have student loan debt, how many are falling behind on payments and more. Here are some of the overall statistics about student loan debt worth noting:
Data as of Dec. 31, 2019:
- Federal student loan borrowers: 42.8 million
- Average federal student loan debt: $35,397
- Total student loan debt (Private + Federal): $1.64 trillion
- Student loan delinquency rate: 11.1 percent
Data as of Dec. 31, 2018 (most recent available):
- Graduates with student loan debt: 65 percent
- Average student loan debt for class of 2018: $29,200
Total student debt in the US stands at $1.64 trillion, as of December 31, 2019.
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 non profit with years of experience in reporting student loan statistics, published that about two thirds of the class of 2018 owed student debt. They owed an average of $29,200.
Once more recent data becomes available we will update these numbers for the class of 2019.
Student Loan Statistics By State
We calculated the average federal student loan debt for each state.
Data as of Dec. 31, 2019:
- State with the highest average student loan debt: Maryland, $41,460
- State with the lowest average student loan debt: North Dakota, $27,677
Source: Department of Education
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 that data below.
Student loan forgiveness
There are various different student loan forgiveness programs for federal student loan borrowers, such as:
- Student loan forgiveness on income-driven repayment plans if there’s an outstanding balance after the repayment period
- 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 were eligible for student loan forgiveness.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the recent data (as of December 31, 2019).
- Number of applications for PSLF: 161,328
- Individual borrowers who submitted applications for PSLF: 126,817
- Applications that have completed processing: 151,337
- Applications approved by PSLF servicer: 2,246
- Borrowers who had loans discharged: 1,565
- PSLF applications rejected: 149,091
- Total balance discharged through PSLF: $99,184,903
Source: Federal Student Aid PSLF Report
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 99% rejection rate for PSLF.
Here’s 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 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 (ie loans under the FFEL program from before 2010).
If you address these three rejection reasons, you will likely not get denied.
TEPSLF Application Denial Reasons
Congress passed the TEPSLF program to try to fix the problems 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 Dept of Ed is simplifying this process currently. Here’s the reasons borrowers get denied for the Temporary Expanded PSLF.
Default and delinquency
According to the New York Federal Reserve, 10.9% of student loans were in default or 90+ days delinquent as of the 3rd quarter of 2019.
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 Dec. 2019, we used Department of Education data to reveal delinquency rate statistics by debt size for Direct Student Loans.
|Number of |
|< 5 K||$1,458||514|
|5K to 10K||$3,938||543|
|10K to 20K||$9,579||673|
|20K to 40K||$17,933||625|
|40K to 60K||$14,188||290|
|60K to 80K||$11,223||163|
|80K to 100K||$6,852||77|
|100K to 120K||$15,662||116|
Source: Dept of Ed and Student Loan Planner calculations
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 income driven repayment plans.
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 end up on an income-driven repayment plan to avoid default. Those who have 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 they don’t look at it for graduate school programs at all, and the grad students are informed enough to sign up for Income-Driven Repayment and not default, so it makes grad schools look like great investments.
So when we think of the student debt crisis and immediately correlate high balances with high default rates, we’re running against data that proves otherwise.
Student Loan Default by Length (in Days)
There is a technical difference between delinquency and default. In order to become delinquent, you miss your due date. You enter default 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 information and chart below is for Direct Loans as of December 31, 2019:
- Current Repayment: $637.8 billion
- Borrowers in current repayment: 16.58 million
|Number of |
|31 to 90||$40.0||1.25|
|91 to 180||$25.9||0.87|
|181 to 270||$13.9||0.52|
|271 to 360||$9.3||0.36|
|Sent to |
Source: 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 payments on a temporary pause.
The information below is for Direct Loans as of December 31, 2019.
- Student Debt in deferment: $115 billion
- Number of borrowers in deferment: 3.3 million
- Student Debt in forbearance: $124.1 billion
- Number of borrowers in forbearance: 2.7 million
Source: 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 borrowers have those types of loans.
This information is from December 31, 2019 from the Federal Student Aid’s Loan Portfolio.
Direct Student Loans
- Outstanding Direct Loans: $1,251.9 billion
- Direct Loan borrowers: 35.3 million
FFEL Student Loans
- Outstanding FFEL Loans: $257.2 billion
- FFEL Loan borrowers: 11.8 million
While those numbers are the general sums for those federal student loan categories, here are even more specifics by each loan type.
Source: Department of Education, “Portfolio by Loan Type” (12/31/19)
A good way to avoid delinquency and default — and to make loans more manageable is through income-driven repayment.
Let’s take a look at the numbers as of December 31, 2019.
Source: Department of Education, “Portfolio by Repayment Plan” (12/31/19)
Note that an additional 1.3 million borrowers with $23.65 billion of FFEL student debt use the IBR plan. We did not include them in the table above since this type of loan is federal but not Direct.
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 quite a number of private student loan borrowers and loans that are private.
Overall private student loans as of September 2019 total $66.16 billion.
This data is from the most recently available MeasureOne private student loan debt report:
Private student debt balance by degree status
- Private student loan percentage for undergraduates: 88.31%
- Private student loan percentage for graduate students: 11.69%
Private student debt by repayment status
- Private student loan in repayment: 73.44%
- Private student loan debt in deferment: 18.34%
- Private student loan debt in grace: 6.00%
- Private student loan debt in forbearance: 2.22%
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.
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.