Key takeaways

  • Federal student loan payments resumed on October 1, 2023, after a three-year pause, while interest resumed a month before in September.
  • Some borrowers are choosing to defer their student loan payments even more, while they figure out how to fit the added expense into their budgets.
  • Income-driven repayment, forbearance and public service loan forgiveness programs are some options borrowers can explore to tackle payment affordability issues.

More than half of Americans (56 percent) agree that the cost of higher education has gotten out of hand. This is probably the reason why many have had to rely on student loans over the years to bridge the financial gap when other forms of aid fall short.

As of today, more than 43 million Americans hold federal student loans, with a collective balance exceeding $1.7 trillion. With federal student loan payments resuming, many Americans are still struggling to fit this bill into their monthly budgets. Luckily, there are some options available that can make payments more manageable.

Key student loan debt statistics

Student loan debt is a national crisis that affects millions of Americans. Though the Department of Education has led efforts to tackle this issue in recent years, rising education costs make it hard for many to afford college without loans.

  • In June, 43.6 million Americans held federal student loan debt, with an average balance of $38,000 per borrower.
  • In total, the U.S. has a collective balance of over $1.7 trillion in student loans.
  • Student loans are the second-largest type of consumer-generated debt behind mortgages, accounting for 9 percent of the nation’s consumer debt.
  • 54 percent of college undergraduates finish college with student loan debt.
  • The average college student borrows $29,100 in loans to pay for their degrees.
  • More than 2 in 5 Americans (44%) think students aren’t educated enough about the financial implications borrowing has before taking out loans.

How much student loan debt is there?

Student loan debt is the second largest form of consumer lending debt in the U.S., affecting more than 43 million Americans. But as college costs continue to increase, so does general concern about college affordability and the need for loans to fill in the blanks.

According to Bankrate, nearly half of student loan borrowers think the cost of higher education is too high, with over a third (34 percent) saying students aren’t fully aware of the negative consequences borrowing can have before taking out loans.

But while 32 percent of Americans feel that student loan debt is a national crisis, 30 percent say that — despite not knowing enough about loans at the time of borrowing — borrowers should still repay their debt in full.

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Keep in mind: Students may take out loans for reasons outside of paying for tuition. Student loans can be used to cover living expenses, books and course materials, transportation and more.

The U.S. student debt crisis

Data from the Federal Reserve shows that the total outstanding student loan debt has increased by roughly 52 percent since 2013.

Year Total outstanding student debt (in millions)
2013 $1,145,550.75
2014 $1,235,751.47
2015 $1,320,248.14
2016 $1,405,332.16
2017 $1,488,895.48
2018 $1,566,903.43
2019 $1,637,880.71
2020 $1,693,860.24
2021 $1,733,415.18
2022 $1,764,067.41
2023 (YTD) $1,737,181.66

Source: The Federal Reserve

Student debt is the second largest form of consumer debt, accounting for nine percent of the nation’s household debt as of the third quarter of 2023.

Student loan debt and the end of the repayment pause

On June 30, 2023, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden Administration’s one-time student loan forgiveness plan, which would’ve canceled up to $20,000 in federal student loans to borrowers who met the specified criteria.

The Supreme Court’s ruling also meant the end of the three-year administrative forbearance on federal student loan payments. A decision that has been met with mixed feelings.

On one hand, close to a third of Americans (31 percent) believe that the federal government hasn’t provided enough financial support to borrowers, while 17 percent think that the government has done “too much” to assist borrowers.

Student loan debt and the CARES Act

The CARES Act was implemented as a way to alleviate the financial strain of the pandemic. One of the provisions was a pause on federal student loan payments, which expired on October 1, 2023.

“Before the pandemic, tens of millions of borrowers and their families were crushed by overwhelming and unmanageable student loan balances,” Ella Azoulay, research and policy analyst at the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) says.

“While the student debt crisis is known to be a barrier preventing borrowers from achieving financial stability and other milestones, such as homeownership, the payment pause helped borrowers improve their credit and get out of default,” she adds.

Still, struggling borrowers aren’t completely out of luck. The Department of Education has implemented a 12-month “on-ramp” transition, which will prevent servicers from reporting missed payments to the credit bureaus or placing borrowers who miss payments on default until September 30, 2024.

Student loan repayment plans

While mass loan forgiveness isn’t on the cards, there are some repayment options that can help you keep your accounts current and make payments affordable.

Key terms

Fixed payment repayment plans
These include the Standard Repayment, Graduated Repayment and the Extended Repayment plans. They are repaid in 10 to 30 years, depending on the plan, and your monthly bill is based on your outstanding balance, repayment term and interest rate.
Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans
These include the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment, Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plans. With these, your payments are based on factors such as your income and family size and can be as low as $0.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF)
With PSLF, you can get the remainder of your federal student loan balance forgiven after making 120 qualifying payments. To qualify for this program, you must work full-time at an eligible not-for-profit organization or be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local or tribal government agency and be enrolled in an IDR plan.

Individual student loan debt statistics

Here’s how student loan debt in the U.S. impacts individual borrowers.

  • 24% of millennials have student loan debt.
  • About 64 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s degree from a four-year public institution have student loan debt.
  • 34 percent of borrowers owed $10,000 or less in federal student loans, and 79 percent owed $40,000 or less.
  • The average in-state student at a four-year public institution spends $26,027 for one academic year. The average private university student spends $55,840.
  • The average student borrower takes 20 years to repay their student loan debt.

Student debt and mental health

Forty-seven percent of Americans who say their mental health has been negatively impacted by financial concerns name debt as the primary culprit. Just like any other kind of debt, student loans can have a significant impact on a borrower’s mental health, increasing anxiety and stress.

According to a survey by ELVTR, 54 percent of respondents reported mental health issues related to student debt, including the following:

  • 56 percent reported experiencing anxiety.
  • 32 percent had depression.
  • 20 percent experienced sleeping problems.
  • 17 percent reported panic attacks.

Additionally, 10 percent of respondents said they had other mental health issues not listed above.

Federal student loan debt statistics

Federal student loans are offered by the U.S. Department of Education rather than private lenders. They’re a good first choice for any student considering student loans, and they comprise more than 90 percent of the U.S. student debt portfolio.

Student loan debt by loan type

All new loans originated by the federal government are part of the Direct Loan program: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, grad PLUS loans, parent PLUS loans and Direct Consolidation Loans. Because of this, Direct Loans make up the greatest portion of the federal student loan portfolio. However, there are still borrowers who are paying off older Perkins or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans.

Here’s how total loan amounts have changed for each loan type in the past three years:

Direct Subsidized (in billions) Direct Unsubsidized (in billions) Grad PLUS (in billions) Parent PLUS (in billions) Perkins (in billions) Consolidation (in billions)
2020 – Q1 $279.6 $516.3 $75.3 $95.6 $5.9 $542.4
2020 – Q2 $282.9 $528.5 $78.8 $99.4 $5.6 $547.7
2020 – Q3 $282.3 $529.1 $79.5 $98.3 $5.4 $550.2
2020 – Q4 $285.7 $539.8 $82.8 $100.8 $5.2 $552.1
2021 – Q1 $285.2 $539.4 $82.7 $100.3 $4.9 $552.6
2021 – Q2 $289.8 $552.7 $86.3 $103.6 $4.7 $554.7
2021 – Q3 $288.7 $553.5 $87.3 $102.8 $4.3 $554.5
2021 – Q4 $291.5 $563.5 $90.7 $105.4 $4.4 $555.1
2022 – Q1 $290.9 $562.5 $90.6 $104.8 $4.2 $553.3
2022– Q2 $293.1 $571.9 $94.0 $107.3 $4.2 $549.2
2022 – Q3 $291.9 $571.5 $94.9 $106.3 $4.0 $548.7
2022 – Q4 $294.3 $579.3 $97.9 $108.5 $3.9 $550.6
2023 – Q1 $293.0 $574.1 $96.7 $107.6 $3.8 $560.3
2023 – Q2 $296.2 $584.9 $100.7 $111.7 $3.7 $547.3
2023 – Q3 $295.4 $585.4 $101.9 $111.3 $3.7 $536.2

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Student loan debt by state

The three states with the lowest student debt per borrower are:

  • North Dakota
  • Iowa
  • South Dakota

In each of these states, the average student debt per borrower comes in at less than $32,000.

The three states with the highest student debt per borrower are:

  • Maryland
  • Georgia
  • Virginia

In these states, the average debt per student is near or above $42,000. Washington, D.C., has the highest average debt per student overall at $54,863.

The map below summarizes each state’s total federal student loan balance, the number of borrowers and the average federal student debt per borrower as of March 31, 2023.

  • Federal student loan balances by state
Location Federal debt (in billions) Number of borrowers (in thousands) Average federal debt (per borrower)
Alabama $24.3 649.9 $37,390
Alaska $2.4 68.9 $34,833
Arizona $32.6 915.9 $35,593
Arkansas $13.5 400.3 $33,725
California $149.7 3,997.1 $37,452
Colorado $29.6 798.0 $37,093
Connecticut $18.5 514.4 $35,964
Delaware $5.1 133.4 $38,231
District of Columbia $6.6 120.3 $54,863
Florida $105.5 2,720.9 $38,774
Georgia $71.0 1,693.1 $41,935
Hawaii $4.7 124.2 $37,842
Idaho $7.4 223.7 $33,080
Illinois $63.7 1,655.7 $38,473
Indiana $30.5 921.0 $33,116
Iowa $13.6 441.5 $30,804
Kansas $12.9 390.9 $33,001
Kentucky $20.4 614.1 $33,219
Louisiana $23.4 668.3 $35,014
Maine $6.5 192.5 $33,766
Maryland $37.0 854.9 $43,280
Massachusetts $32.5 929.8 $34,954
Michigan $52.1 1,427.5 $36,497
Minnesota $27.3 804.7 $33,926
Mississippi $16.7 447.7 $37,302
Missouri $30.2 847.1 $35,651
Montana $4.4 130.9 $33,613
Nebraska $8.2 254.0 $32,283
Nevada $12.3 361.0 $34,072
New Hampshire $6.8 195.7 $34,747
New Jersey $45.1 1,239.4 $36,389
New Mexico $8.0 232.4 $34,423
New York $95.7 2,510.0 $38,127
North Carolina $51.7 1,352.3 $38,231
North Dakota $2.7 90.5 $29,834
Ohio $63.5 1,816.5 $34,957
Oklahoma $16.1 504.1 $31,938
Oregon $20.6 549.5 $37,489
Pennsylvania $66.9 1,865.5 $35,862
Puerto Rico $10.0 335.7 $29,789
Rhode Island $4.9 149.1 $32,864
South Carolina $29.2 758.1 $38,517
South Dakota $3.8 120.2 $31,614
Tennessee $32.6 889.1 $36,666
Texas $127.3 3,810.5 $33,408
Utah $10.6 319.7 $33,156
Vermont $3.0 79.4 $37,783
Virginia $44.1 1,110.3 $39,719
Washington $29.1 805.5 $36,127
West Virginia $7.4 231.0 $32,035
Wisconsin $24.0 741.5 $32,367
Wyoming $1.8 56.3 $31,972
Other $4.5 95.7 $47,022
Not Reported $75.1 2,984.3 $25,165

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Student loan debt by age

Millennials, followed by Gen Z and Gen X, are among the most affected generations by student loan debt. This may explain why a large percentage of them (59 percent of Gen X, 47 percent of millennials and 40 percent of Gen Z) agree that the government should do more to help borrowers.

Private student loan debt statistics

Private student loans are offered by online lenders, banks and credit unions. While private student loans should only be taken out once federal aid potential has been exhausted, they still account for almost a tenth of student loan debt in America.

Here’s how private student loans contribute to the overall levels of student debt in the U.S., according to data from the Education Data Initiative.

  • The total outstanding private loan debt balance is more than $128 billion, or nearly 7 percent of the total student loan debt in the U.S.
  • Undergraduate loans made up about 89 percent of this total number, while graduate loans made up roughly 11 percent.
  • Less than 2 percent of private student loans defaulted in the fourth quarter of 2021.
  • 7.3 percent of students use private student loans.

Student loan debt by degree

Advanced degrees are expensive, but the investment could pay off. Here’s what you need to know before taking out graduate student loans.

  • Graduate students account for 39 percent of federal student loan debt.
  • The average debt for those with Master’s degrees is $83,651.
  • The average debt for those with PhDs is $134,797.
  • 60 percent of graduate students borrow federal loans.
  • Those who earn an advanced degree earn up to 45 percent more on a weekly basis than those with just a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS data.
  • Those with advanced degrees also experience lower unemployment levels.

Student loan FAQs

  • Student loans are a type of installment loan specifically designed to cover college-related expenses. These include tuition and fees, room and board, course materials, books, transportation and more. These loans can be federal or private.
  • The process for getting a student loan will depend on the type of student loan you’re applying to.To apply for federal student loans, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. To do this, you’ll have to visit and provide the following information:
      • Your Social Security number.
      • Your driver’s license.
      • Your household size and income.
      • Your school’s information.
    The form will likely take about 30 minutes to complete, after which both you and your school will get a document known as the Student Aid Report (SAR) to determine your eligibility for loans.
    To apply for private student loans, you’ll need to do the following:
      • Calculate how much you need.
      • Check your credit score.
      • Research and compare lenders.
      • Gather all of the necessary information, including your Social Security number, proof of ID, proof of income, statements of debts and assets and your school’s information.
      • Prequalify with at least three lenders to see which one gives you the best offer without hurting your credit.
      • Pick a lender and fill out an official application.
      • Add a co-signer if you don’t have a job or another source of income.
      • Submit your application and wait for a decision.
    For more details on how to apply for both federal and private student loans, check out the full guide to getting a student loan.
  • Federal student loans have a standard repayment term of 10 years. However, depending on your repayment plan and type of loan, you may extend this term to up to 30 years. Private student loans, on the other hand, have repayment terms ranging from five to 20 years.