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How Many Americans Have Student Loans?
There’s an easy question to answer: almost everyone.
According to a recent study, about 70% of American students have taken out a loan for higher education. This number has risen steadily over the past decade, as more and more students opt for college or graduate school.
And while college is still considered a worthwhile investment by many experts and economists, the high cost of tuition is making it harder than ever for young Americans to afford higher education without taking out loans.
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How Many Americans Have Student Loan Debt?
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About 42.9 million Americans have federal student loans, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education. That means about 1 in 8 (12.9%) people in the United States carry student loan debt, per an analysis of census data.
Total outstanding student loan debt is $1.59 trillion, according to second quarter of 2021 data from the federal government. Private student loan debt comprises around 7.89% of that total, or around $1.728 billion, according to 2021 data from MeasureOne, a higher education data and analytics firm.
Here are some key stats about the 43 million Americans with student debt:
Who is the typical student loan borrower?
A typical student loan borrower, statistically, has left school with nearly $30,000 in debt. The average among the class of 2019 was $28,950, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About 25% went to graduate school, according to the Brookings Institution; the rest sought associate or bachelor’s degrees.
In general, women borrow more for college compared with men, and Black students borrow more compared with all other races and ethnicities.
Student debt is most common in the 25-to-34 age group, but the greatest amount of debt is owed by those 35 to 49 — more than $600 billion in undergraduate, graduate and parent loans, as well as payments stretched out by forbearance or income-driven repayment plans.
Student loan debt by age
The age group with the most federal student debt is 35- to 49-year-olds, with $601.7 billion. But the most borrowers are in the 25-to-34 age group. Here’s how student loan debt breaks down by age:
Millions of borrowers
Billions in debt
24 and younger
25 to 34
35 to 49
50 to 61
62 and older
Typical debt amounts by age group
Across all age groups, the typical amount of student debt for most borrowers is between $10,000 and $40,000. Those ages 35 to 49 are the group with the greatest amount of high debt ($200,000 and more). Here’s a more detailed picture of the typical amounts held by each group:
Among those 24 and younger, most (2.11 million) have between $10,000 and $20,000 of student debt.
Among 25- to 34-year-olds, most (3.56 million) have between $20,000 and $40,000 of student debt.
Among 35- to 49-year-olds, most (2.87 million) have between $20,000 and $40,000 of student debt.
Among 50- to 61-year-olds, most (1.16 million) have between $20,000 and $40,000 of student debt.
Among those age 62 and older, most (490,000) have less than $5,000 of debt.
Source: Studentaid.gov, Federal Student Loan Portfolio by Age and Debt Size, March 31, 2021
Student loan debt by race and gender
Asian and Hispanic student loan borrowers have the lowest debt loads compared with all other races and ethnicities, while Black student loan borrowers tend to hold the greatest average debt, federal data shows.
The average debt disparity is exacerbated even further for Black women, who carry higher average debt than women across all races and ethnicities, according to the American Association of University Women.
Here’s what average student debt looks like for men and women across race and ethnicity:
Hispanic or Latinx
Women hold two-thirds of all outstanding loan debt compared with men, according to an analysis of federal data by the AAUW. There’s little data available that includes gender-nonconforming student borrowers.
One of the primary reasons women hold more debt is because they earn the majority of degrees at all levels — from certificates to doctor’s degrees, according to federal data.
But carrying greater amounts of debt is a problem since women, by and large, tend to have less earning power than men: Women with bachelor’s degrees earn, on average, 74 cents on the dollar compared with men with that degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The largest average debt loads are held by women who attend for-profit four-year schools — about 44% more than women who attend public four-year institutions. Here’s what student debt totals for women look like across types of four-year institutions:
The number of people with student loan debt has increased by an average of 827,273 per year over the last decade.
38.3 million people with student loan debt outstanding owe repayment for an undergraduate education.
17.9 million people with outstanding student debt owe for a postgraduate education.
34.3 million borrowers carry a balance on Stafford loans, up 2.4% YoY.
11.2 million indebted borrowers carry a balance on consolidated loans, down 2.6% YoY.
1.6 million student borrowers owe Grad PLUS loans; 1.5 million owe Perkins loans.
A minimum of 15.8 million indebted borrowers have loans from both undergraduate and postgraduate school.
6.1 million people with outstanding student loans report they are behind on payments.
34.4 million report their payments are current.
Among borrowers with a student loan balance, a minimum of 3.5 million took out loans on behalf of children or grandchildren.
Estimated Change YoY
How Many People Had Student Loans Qualify for CARES?
The federal government implemented the CARES Act between the second and third financial quarters of 2020. This legislation affected a minimum of 20 million borrowers, and federal student loan debt relief continues into 2022.
22.3 million borrowers had loans in forbearance in 2020’s third financial quarter, which is 18.5 million more than there were in the previous financial quarter (2020Q2).
300,000 borrowers had loans in repayment in 2020Q3, down 17.8 million from the previous quarter.
5.9 million indebted borrowers were in school in 2020Q3, which was 900,000 fewer than there were in the previous financial quarter.
In 2022Q1, 6.1 million indebted borrowers were still in school, down 10.3% from 2020Q2.
2021Q3 had the lowest number of borrowers in school (5.6 million) in over a decade.
1.2 million borrowers had loans in a grace period in 2022Q1, which is 400,000 fewer than there were in the previous financial quarter.
2.9 million borrowers had loans in deferment, down 200,000 from the previous quarter.
5.0 million borrowers have loans in cumulative default, which is the lowest number of borrowers in default since 2018Q3.
Zero borrowers have loans that are considered delinquent.
How Many People Have Student Loan Debt by Demographics?
Due to privacy and antidiscrimination laws, not all debt-related demographic information is recorded or publicized; the available data is usually expressed in terms of percentages within each particular group.
An estimated 25.3 million indebted student borrowers are women; 18.1 million are men.
25.3 million indebted student borrowers attended public institutions.
200,000 borrowers attended foreign institutions.
13.7 million borrowers attended private institutions, and 12.4 million attended proprietary institutions.
10.1 million federal student loan recipients attended an other or undisclosed type of institution.
7.4 million student borrowers under the age of 25, down 3.9% YoY.
14.9 million borrowers are between the ages of 25 and 34, up 0.7% YoY.
14.4 million indebted borrowers are between the ages of 35 and 49, up 0.7% YoY.
6.4 million are aged 50 to 61 years, up 3.2% YoY.
2.5 million are ages 62 and older, up 8.7% YoY.
Among indebted student borrowers, an estimated 24.0 million make less than $50,000 per year.
389 million federal loan borrowers are undergraduate certificate recipients.
581 million are associate’s degree recipients owe an average of $21,890 each in federal loans.