May 29, 2021

What Is the Average Student Loan Debt?


According to, the average student loan debt load for borrowers of all ages is $39,351 this year. 42.9 million federal student loan borrowers are responsible for the outstanding 1.56 trillion federal student loan debt. Private student borrowers carry a national balance of $137 billion.

These staggering figures mean that student loan debt is now the second highest category for consumer debt. But how do these figures break down at the granular level over the past three-year period? What is the average student loan debt for that period? What are the demographics of student loan borrowers? Do they use their debt to pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees? How many of them qualify for federal benefits such as public service loan forgiveness or debt relief under the CARES Act of 2020?

Let’s take a look below.

Student Loan Debts in 2021: A Snapshot

Here’s a quick snapshot of the current state of student loan debt in the country:

  • $1.71 trillion: Total outstanding student loan debt
  • 7 million: Number of Americans carrying student loan debt
  • 15% of all adults report that they carry outstanding undergraduate student loan debt
  • 8% of all federal student loan are in default
  • 8% of all outstanding student loan debt belong to students who have yet to graduate

Federal Student Loan Portfolio from 2019 to 2020

Below show how much student loan debt by year borrowers carry depending on loan type. Figures for 2021 have not been released by the Office of Federal Student Aid.

As of the 4th quarter of last year:

  • 8% of federal student loan debt is in Stafford Loans — of which 18.6% is subsidized and 34.2% is unsubsidized.
  • 4% is from Parent PLUS loans, or loans that parents borrowed on behalf of their children.
  • 5% of student loan debt is from Grad PLUS loans, which professional or graduate students borrowed.
  • 5% of federal student loan debt is in direct consolidated loans.

Status of Federal Student Loan Debt in 2019 and 2020

Below shows the status of student loan debt 2019 and student loan debt 2020. Figures for 2021 have not been released by the Office of Federal Student Aid.

The impact of The CARES Act of 2020, which will be discussed in detail below. The Act provides student loan debt relief which affects between 20 to 35 million borrowers. As a result:

  • The amount of student debt in forbearance increased by 375%, while the amount in repayment decreased by 82%.
  • There was a 1.79% decrease in student loan defaults.
  • 8% of federal loan borrowers today have loans in forbearance.

The CARES Act of 2020

The legislation offers relief for student loan borrowers. Some provisions of the law include the following:

  • Automatic administrative forbearance on some federal loans, which means that borrowers can stop making payments without incurring penalties or interests. This is set to last from March 13, 2020 until September 30, 2021. 56.65% of all debt from federal student loans will remain in forbearance until the end of the relief period.
  • All payments made during the forbearance period shall be applied directly to the principal amount.
  • Any payments made during the forbearance period for federal loans will be counted towards student loan forgiveness programs, as long as the borrower qualifies for one.
  • The law, unfortunately, does not offer relief to borrowers who carry private student loans. However, some borrowers may request forbearance, especially if the loan is held by the school or institution that the borrower attended. Deferment may also be another option.
  • For borrowers who have already defaulted on their loans, the Department of Education has ordered the suspension of collection of federal loans, including the garnishment of Social Security benefits, disability benefits, tax refunds, and wages.

Private Student Loan Debt

Private loans are typically designed to supplement federal student loans. These loans usually come from schools, banks, or credit unions.

Private loan borrowers account for 8.4% of the total student loan debt this year. 88.5% of the total amount is for undergraduate education, while the 11.5% is carried by students who pursued or are pursuing graduate degrees.

Here are some key statistics for private student loan debt:

  • Private student loan debt increased by 14% or $16.8 billion from 2019 to 2020.
  • In 2020, 20% of private student loan debt were in deferment, 5.16% were in forbearance, and 75.3% were in repayment.
  • Although private loan borrowers were ineligible for the benefits afforded by the CARES Act, most private lenders offered payment suspension of up to 3 months. However, very few of them deferred interest collection.
  • The highest recorded interest rate for private loans, according to Student Loan Hero, was 12.45%.
  • More than 50% of undergraduate borrowers turn to private loans before they’ve exhausted all possible federal loan options.
  • 91% of undergraduate loans and 62% of graduate loans had co-signers.

Student Loan Demographics

Here are some important student loan debt 2021 borrower demographics:

By Gender or Sex

  • 58% of the total student loan debt is carried by women.
  • 16% of women in the country carry undergraduate student loan debt.
  • 8% of women in the country carry graduate student loan debt.
  • 5% of student financial aid recipients are women.
  • Parents are more likely to apply for student loans on behalf of male children.

By State

  • North Dakota has the lowest average student loan debt at $29,200.
  • The District of Columbia has the highest average student loan debt at $55,400.
  • Ohio has the highest number of student loan borrowers per capita.
  • Generally, states with larger populations tend to have a higher average student loan debt amount.

By Age

  • 35-year old borrowers have the highest average student loan debt at $42,600.
  • 6% of all student loan borrowers are in the 25 to 50 age range.
  • 7% of all student loan borrowers who are carrying a balance are under 25 years old.
  • 34% of all adults between the 18 to 29 age range are carrying student loan debt.

By Race or Ethnicity

  • Caucasian borrowers account for 54% of the total outstanding student loan amount.
  • White college students are most likely to receive private loans, while black college students are most likely to opt for federal loans.


Most students who pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree hope to increase their earning potential in the future. However, the stark reality for many of them is that a huge chunk of their monthly earning will go towards student loan debt repayment.

Prospective college students need to carefully weigh whether they need to take on debt to attend college or if there are other more affordable options they can turn to. As the figures above show, the cost of attending college is a heavy burden that many people are likely to carry for a significant portion of their lives, so careful consideration is a must.

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