Student Loan Fact Sheet 2021

As total U.S. student loan debt rapidly approaches $1.7 trillion, millions of Americans are seeking guidance on how to approach this ballooning portion of the economy. The following key pieces of information will help you on your path to understanding this aspect of the American financial landscape.

Unless otherwise stated, these statistics pertain to federal student loans. Although private student loans make up roughly 7.7% of student loan debt, most statistical resources relate only to federal student loan programs.

Total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. (including private loan options): $1.698 trillion

Federal student loan debt as of Q4 2020: $1,566.3 billion

  • Direct loans: $1315.2 billion
  • FFEL loans: $245.9 billion
  • Perkins loans: $5.2 billion

Private student loan debt as of Q1 2020: $131.81 billion

Source: Federal Student Aid Portfolio Summary 2020, Q4

Total number of student loan recipients in the US: 42.9 million

  • Direct loan recipients: 35.9 million
  • FFEL loan recipients: 11 million
  • Perkins loan recipients: 1.7  million

Source: Federal Student Aid Portfolio Summary 2020, Q4

Federal student debt by loan type:

Type of LoanLoan Amount (in billions)Number of Borrowers (in millions)
Stafford Subsidized$285.729.6
Stafford Unsubsidized$539.829.2
Stafford Combined$825.533.4
Grad PLUS$82.81.5
Perkins PLUS$100.83.6
Perkins$5.21.7
Consolidation$552.111.5

Source: Federal Student Aid Portfolio by Loan Type 2020, Q4

Federal Student Debt by Age:

  • Borrowers 24 and under account for $115.5 billion, or 7.4% of total student debt.
  • Borrowers ages 25-34 account for $500.5 billion, or  31.9% of total student debt.
  • Borrowers ages 35-49 account for $601.7 billion, or 38.4% of total student debt.
  • Borrowers ages 50-61 account for $262.2 billion, or 16.7% of total student debt.
  • Borrowers ages 62 and up account for $86.8 billion, or 5.5% of total student debt.

Source: Federal Student Loan Portfolio by Age

Federal Student Debt Statistics related to race and ethnicity

(Based on most recent reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, many of which pertain to the 20152016 school year)

  • African American graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loans than their white counterparts.
  • African American students are most likely to have student debt over $60,000.
  • 40.2% of White undergraduates take out student loans, while 50.8% of 
  •  African American students and 23% of Asian students have student loans. 
  • White students are most likely to receive private loans, and African American students are most likely to receive federal loans.
  • Asian students are least likely to receive federal loans. 
  • American Indians are most likely to owe over $350/month in student loan payments.
  • Asian borrowers are most likely to have a net worth greater than their student debt.
  • Asian borrowers are most likely to borrow less than $10,000.
  • White borrowers have 54% of all student debt.

Federal student debt statistics related to gender and sexual orientation 

(Based on most recent reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, many of which pertain to the 20152016 school year)

  • Female borrowers have 58% of student debt.
  • Women are less likely to receive financial help from their parents.
  • Women take an average of two years longer to pay off their student loans.
  • Male borrowers are least likely to have high levels of student debt, but most likely to have high graduate school debt.
  • LGBTQ students owe an average of $16,000 more than their peers.
  • Female debt one year after graduation is nearly 10% higher than their male

counterparts.

Other key statistics 

25.1 million borrowers sought loans to attend public schools, for a total of $662.2 billion. Private school loans account for $520.2 billion and 13.7 million borrowers, while proprietary schools command $18.1 billion from 12.3 million borrowers as of Q4 2020. 

The class of 2019 left school with an average debt of 29,900 per graduate. The 68% of public school graduates with student debt faced an average of $27,770, and private school graduates, 66% of whom did so with debt, owed an average of $30,800. 47% of those who graduate with an Associates’ degree also take on debt, at an average of $19,600 per borrower. 

Graduate students face greater levels of debt than their undergraduate counterparts. 73% of graduate students take on an average debt of $66,000. How much debt each specific graduate student acquires depends heavily on their area of study. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the average debt accrued by individuals who have recently completed graduate programs (these calculations do not include those who didn’t take out any loans):

  • Master’s Degree: $44,900
  • MBA: $52,600
  • PhD: $107,500
  • Law: $113,300
  • Medical School: $201,490
  • Dental School: $292,169
  • Veterinary School: $183,302

One of the reasons for this elevated debt is that graduate student loans are unsubsidized. Undergraduate loans are usually subsidized, meaning that the loan doesn’t accrue interest as long as the borrower is still actively finishing their degree. Although payment is deferred until graduation, the loan accrues interest for unsubsidized graduate school loans while the borrower is still in school. These loans also command higher rates compared to undergraduate loans. While undergrad loans for the 2019-2020 school year featured an interest rate of 4.08%, Direct unsubsidized loans for graduate and professional students had an interest rate of 6.08%, while direct PLUS loans accrued at 7.08%. 

Borrowers often hope that financial aid will help mitigate these considerable costs once they’ve turned in their FAFSA forms. However, most financial aid, like Pell Grants, are only available to undergraduates.

Average student debt based on location

States with Highest Average Student DebtAverage DebtStates with Lowest Average Student Debt Average Debt
Connecticut
Pennsylvania
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
New Jersey
Delaware
Washington, D.C.
Maine
Minnesota
Michigan
$38,669
$37,061
$36,775
$36,036
$34,387
$34,144
$34,046
$32,676
$32,317
$32,158
Utah
New Mexico
California
Nevada
Washington
Hawaii
Florida
Wyoming
Colorado
Oklahoma
$19,728
$21,858
$22,585
$22,600
$23,524
$24,162
$24,428
$24,474
$24,888
$25,221

Source: Federal Student Aid Portfolio by Location 2020, Q4

Borrowers by debt size 

  • 7.9 million borrowers owe less than $5000 in student debt.
  • 7.4 million borrowers owe between $5,000 and $10,000.
  • 9.2 million borrowers owe between $10,000 and $20,000.
  • 9.6 million borrowers owe between $20,000 and $40,000.
  • 4.2 million borrowers owe between $40,000 and $60,000.
  • 2.6 million borrowers owe between $60,000 and $80,000.
  • 1.4 million borrowers owe between $80,000 and $100,000.
  • 2.3 million borrowers owe between $100,000 and $200,000.
  • 900,000 borrowers owe more than $200,000.

Source: FSA Portfolio by Debt Size 2020, Q4 

Loan payment extension amid Covid-19 

As a response to the pandemic, almost all student loan payments have been moved into forbearance under the CARES Act. This status is set to expire on January 31st, 2020. These are the numbers from both before and after the onset of the pandemic.

  • Total direct loan amount in Repayment as of Q2 2020: $693 billion (18.1 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Repayment as of Q4 2020: $14.7 billion (0.4 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Deferment as of Q2 2020: $133.7 billion (3.6 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Deferment as of Q4 2020: $114.4 billion (3.2 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Forbearance as of Q2 2020: $162.6 billion (3.8 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Forbearance as of Q4 2020: $887.4 billion (22.2 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Default as of Q2 2020: $128.3 billion (5.8 million borrowers)
  • Total direct loan amount in Default as of Q4 2020: $122.2 billion (5.5 million borrowers)

Source: FSA Portfolio by Loan Status

The percentage of student loans in default or over 90 days delinquent as of Q2 2020 is 7%. This number, however, is smaller than usual, as the government’s pandemic response has included bringing more student loans under the umbrella of the CARES Act. Before this decision, the default/over 90-day delinquency rate on student loans was 11.1%.

As of Q1 2020:

  • $40 billion in direct loans, shared by 1.25 million borrowers, were 3,190 days delinquent.
  • $25.9 billion in direct loans, shared by 870,000 borrowers, were 91,180 days delinquent.
  • $13.9 billion in direct loans, shared by 520,000 borrowers, were 18,1270 days delinquent.
  •  $9.3 billion in direct loans, shared by 360,000 borrowers, were 271,360 days delinquent.

Source: FSA Portfolio by Delinquency Status 2020, Q4

Overall default rate (according to the most recent 2017 report from Federal Student Aid): 9.7%

  • Public nonprofit institutions: 9.3%
  • Private nonprofit institutions: 6.7%
  • Proprietary colleges: 14.7%
  • Foreign institutions: 2.9% 

For those struggling to make payments on student loans, there are some options:

Deferment: Roughly 3.3 million borrowers were currently exercising this option as of Q1 2020. It allows those going through a financial change or difficulty to suspend their payments. Those who seek this option for direct subsidized loans don’t have to pay the interest accumulated during this time, while those with direct unsubsidized loans will eventually have to pay. Depending on your qualifications, this deferment period can last a period of months or over a year.

Forbearance: This is another way to put your loan payments on pause. If you’re facing a change in employment, an unexpected expense, or any other difficult situation, your loan officer may be willing to suspend payments. In certain circumstances, like if you’re in AmeriCorps or your loan payments are over 20% of your income, your loan officer might be required to grant you a forbearance — known as a mandatory forbearance.

Income-driven Repayment: While a Standard Repayment Plan sets monthly payments that last until the end of your loan’s term, this option uses your monthly income to set your payments. There are a few options:

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) – This option requires that you commit 20% of your monthly income, or a fixed amount over 12 years, to your loan repayment. The income percentage is relatively high, but any loan is eligible.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR) – Provided that the loan isn’t actually made out to your parents, this allows for either a 10 to 15 percent monthly income payment over a 20 to 25-year term.

PAYE – Borrowers who took on a loan after October 1, 2007, that didn’t have a disbursement until October 11, 2011, are likely eligible for this program as long as the loan wasn’t taken out for their parents. This loan requires a 10% payment of monthly income over a course of 20 years.

REPAYE – This is an expansion of the PAYE program, in that it offers a longer-term for graduate school loans, covers half the interest on unsubsidized loans for the full extent of the payments, and opens the program to all types of loans.

Number of direct loan borrowers on each repayment plan (Based on FSA Q4 2020 Report)

Level: 10 years or less 10.71 millionIncome-Contingent0.75 million
Level:  >10 years 1.73 millionIncome-Based 2.77 million
Graduated: 10 years or less3.16 millionPAYE1.49 million
Graduated: >10 years0.35 millionREPAYE3.22 million

There are ways to have federal loans forgiven, as long as your case meets certain criteria. The most popular of these loan forgiveness options is Public Service Loan Forgiveness or PSLF.

As of September 2020, 229,215 PSFL applications had been submitted. Of these applications, 5,069 were deemed eligible for debt forgiveness. Overall, this has saved recipients $260,487,126. 

Those whose applications are denied can still apply for TEPSFL, or Temporary Expanded PSFL. Of the 37,242 TEPSFL requests submitted to this point, 2,180 have been deemed eligible for an accumulated savings of $87,448,286.

Source: FSA September 2020 Servicer Portfolio by Loan Status 

Private student loan information 

Private student loans have an outstanding balance of $131.81 billion.

  • 88.46% of private student loans are for undergraduate education, while 11.54% are for graduate school. 
  • 1.15% of undergraduate loans and only 0.79% of graduate loans are at least 90 days delinquent
  • 71.77% of loans are in Repayment, 20.39% are in Deferment, 2.67% are in Grace, and 5.16% are in Forbearance. 

Source: MeasureOne’s 2020 Q1 report

Methodology: 

Most of the statistics used above are taken directly from studentaid.gov, an official source of information from the U.S. government on student loan statistics. Other sources are noted in-line. This data changes regularly, and we’ll likely update with additional information as the source refreshes its data.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com  with comments or questions.

Reviewed by

  • Andrea Perez
    Andrea Perez
    Personal Finance Editor

    Andrea Perez is an editor at The Simple Dollar who leads our news and opinion coverage. She specializes in financial policy, banking, and investing.