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98 Key Student Loan Statistics for 2021/2022: Demographics & Analysis

College is tough, especially if you are going to a renowned post-secondary educational institution. It is not just the academic requirements that you have to be wary of, but you also need to keep tabs on the rising costs as well. Today, it is made even more challenging with the sudden shift to online learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even before the pandemic, the cost of college in public and private schools has been steadily rising for the past 30 years.

Because of that, students are driven more towards the second-biggest debt in America: student loans. While these loans are a boon because they enable undergraduates and graduates alike to attain degrees, they can also be a bane. The average student loan debt is now more than $32,000.

That is not an amount that is easy to pay off, as the American economy also takes a hit from different sides. Borrowers are forced to make adjustments and even set back life milestones, such as marriage, to take care of their debt. Just how much is this affecting the people of America? Below, we prepared student loan statistics to give you an in-depth understanding of this $1.56 trillion problem.

student loan statistics

General Student Loan Statistics

Americans are struggling with debt. After mortgage loans, student loans are the biggest kind of debt an American individual has, having risen to $79 billion in 2018 alone. In fact, 4.7 million of the population has an outstanding balance, whether federal or private. But not all debts are equal; each borrower gets loans of varying amounts, depending on their socio-economic status, the degree they are taking, and the university or college they are going to, which may be among the top 12 most expensive colleges in the United States. On that note, here are general U.S. student debt statistics that can inform you of the current state of the matter.

  • $1.56 trillion is the total student loan debt in 2020. (Forbes, 2020)
  • This is three times more than what Americans owed a decade prior. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • In addition, 44.7 million Americans have student loan debts. (Forbes, 2020)
  • Student loan debt has become the second-largest category of debt in the United States, rising to $79 billion in 2018 and $29 billion in the first quarter of 2019 alone. (Credit.com, 2019)
  • The average student loan debt is $32,731, and the median student loan debt is $17,000. (Forbes, 2020)
  • Around 92% of student loans are federal loans rather than private ones. (The Motley Fool, 2020)
  • There are 2.8 million students who owe $100,000 upwards. (Credible, 2019)
  • More than 25% of borrowers have loans from $10,000 to $25,000. (NBC News, 2019)
  • In the first quarter of 2019, undergraduate students accounted for 88.15% of the total student debt, while the share of graduate students in the same period was 11.85%. (MeasureOne, 2019)
  • To give you the big picture, here is an example: Boston University’s median federal student debt load for graduates soared to almost half from 1997 to 2016 to $25,625. (World Economic Forum, 2019)
  • 9.4 million borrowers have student loans within the $20,000 to $40,000 range. (Credible, 2019)
  • The average student loan in the U.S. amounts to $37,584. (Educationdata.org, 2020)
  • Student loan debt is projected to reach two trillion by the end of 2021 to more than three trillion by 2030. (Statista, 2020)

Source: Credible.com

Drivers of High Student Loan Debt

Tuition is one thing, even as student housing statistics show that room and board costs remain on the high as well. Add food and miscellaneous expenses—whether personal or for school—to the mix and the cost of going to college skyrockets. Here are a few things to note to understand why student loan debt is so high.

  • Four-year public colleges raised their tuition by $6,870 in the past 30 years with an average increase of $229 per year. (EducationData.org, 2019)
  • On the other hand, four-year private college tuition went up to $18,820 in the same timeframe, averaging $627.33 of increases per annum. (EducationData.org, 2019)
  • Only 22% of high school students from the Class of 2020 went to college immediately in the fall compared to 2019. (Inside Higher Ed, 2020)
  • Due to the pandemic, the overall college enrollment rate has dropped from 35.3% to 27.7%, especially affecting those from high poverty, low income, and urban high schools. (Inside Higher Ed, 2020)
  • Students coming from low-income families are more likely to incur higher student loan debts. For example, attendees of the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Indianapolis incur $16,000 in debt, which is more than twice the $6,011 that students from high-income families acquire. (World Economic Forum, 2019)
  • The same is the case for students who are the first in their families to attend college. At Beulah Heights University, Georgia, the so-called first-generation students had a median student loan debt of $48,000 by the time they graduated in 2016. Meanwhile, those who have had family members go to college before only had a median of $$22,593. (World Economic Forum, 2019)
  • For the academic year 2019 to 2020, only 71% of families filed for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they believe they did not qualify for any aid. This means that some families cannot get thousands of dollars in financial aid. (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020)
  • The percentage of FAFSA filings in AY 2019-2020 marks a decrease compared to the percentage filed in AY 2018-2019 (77%) and AY 2017-2018 (83%). (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020)

Demographics of Student Loan Borrowers

Who are the borrowers? They come from different walks of life, and their ages range from 18 to 60 or older. They are spread across the US, too, though some borrowers who have a high student loan debt are concentrated in certain parts of the country. Get to know more about them by looking at the following statistics, including student loan statistics by race.

Sex

  • 57% more women graduate with bachelor’s degrees than men. (Business Insider, 2019)
  • Women have $2,700 more student loan debt than men. (Business Insider, 2019)
  • Women’s average student loan debt is $21,619, but for black women, it is more than $30,000. (Business Insider, 2019)
  • Around 50% of parents of all boys save money for college compared to 39% of parents of all girls. (T. Rowe Price, 2017)
  • 23.2% of women find difficulty paying their student loan debts after graduation, compared to 21% of men. (AAUW, 2020)
  • On average, women whose parents have a high school diploma borrowed $4,145.80 more than women whose parents have a bachelor’s degree. (AAUW, 2020)

Age

  • 34% of borrowers are between 18 and 29 years old. 22% are 30–44 years old, 7% are 45–59 years old, and 1% are 60 years or older. These numbers roughly translate to 15% of the American adult population. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • In 2020, 13% of student loan debts in the U.S. were held by Gen Z. 11% were held by millennials while 5% were held by Gen X. (Northwestern Mutual, 2020)
  • One in four or 25% of Gen Z has student debts. (Northwestern Mutual, 2020)
  • Gen X has the highest average student debt of $34,075. They are followed by millennials with an average debt of $21, 367 and Gen Z with $15,798. (Northwestern Mutual, 2020)
  • Borrowers aged 35 years old held the highest outstanding student loan debt of $42,600 per borrower. These borrowers had an end balance that was 287% times higher than the value of the original loan. (EducationData.org, 2020)

Race

  • On average, African-American college graduates owe $25,000 more in student loan debt than their Caucasian counterparts. (EducationData.org, 2020)
  • 32% of Black and African-American students borrow an average cumulative amount of $25,000 to $39,999 for undergraduate studies. In contrast, 40.6% of White and Caucasian students borrow an average cumulative amount of $0 to $9,999 for undergraduate studies. (EducationData.org, 2020)
  • 7.6% of African-American borrowers default on their student loan debt. In comparison, only 2.4% of Caucasians do. (The Motley Fool, 2020)
  • Among Caucasians, African-Americans, and Hispanics who borrowed for their own education, 21% of African-Americans were behind in paying student loans. (Federal Reserve, 2020)
  • Among U.S. adults who borrowed money for their own education, 28% were African-Americans aged 18 to 29 who said they were behind on their payments. (Federal Reserve, 2020)
  • 59.9% of white students take out federal loans to go to four-year colleges. (Business Insider, 2020)

Income

  • 52% of young college graduates who borrow for their education come from families with incomes of $75,000. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • 21% of young degree holders have families that earn less than $40,000. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • The estimated median household income for White families was $69,823. (United Census Bureau, 2019)
  • The estimated median household income for Black families was $43,862. (United Census Bureau, 2019)
  • 40 % of the highest-income households that earn over $74,000 a year make almost three-quarters of student loan debt payments. (The Brookings Institution, 2020)
  • On the other hand, 40% of the lowest-income households contribute less than 10% in payments for outstanding student loan debts. (The Brookings Institution, 2020)

Geography

  • Student debt tends to be at high levels in northeastern states. For the Class of 2019, the top five high-debt states were New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware. (The Institute for College Access & Success, 2020)
  • In contrast, student debt tends to be at low levels in the western part of the U.S. For the Class of 2019, the top five low-debt states were Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Wyoming. (The Institute for College Access & Success, 2020)
  • In New Hampshire, the statewide average debt level for Class of 2019 students was at $39,410. (The Institute for College Access and Success, 2020)
  • In New Jersey, the average student debt levels increased three times faster than the rate of inflation in 2019. (The Institute for College Access and Success, 2020)
  • On the other hand, debt levels for graduates grew in line with inflation in Arizona. In 2019, the average student loan debt in the state was $24,700, a 36% increase from 2004 figures pegged at $18,150. (The Institute for College Access and Success, 2020)
  • The federal student loan debt is equivalent to $31.4 billion per state. (EducationData.org, 2020)
  • As of June 2020, 9.7% of borrowers had student loans amounting to over $100,000. (Student Loan Planner, 2021)
    student loan: women vs. men

Student Credit Card Use Statistics

Expensive tuition costs, a major driver of student stress statistics, tend to overwhelm the average college student, leading to the increase of student loan debts all over the world. Because of difficulties in having cash on hand, some students look to credit cards to help them with various needs and wants, despite credit card cons. Though applying for a credit card has become difficult, it has not deterred students from acquiring one. Indeed, the average number of credit cards a college student has is five. Here are more student credit card debt statistics to look at.

  • Over a third (36%) of college students have credit card debt. (CNBC, 2019)
  • 7% of college students used credit cards held by a student for education financing. (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020)
  • On the other hand, 10% of college students used credit cards held by their parents for education financing. (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020)
  • Those that use student-held credit cards to pay for college saw an average charge of $2,172. (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020)
  • Meanwhile, those that used parent-held credit cards to pay for college saw an average charge of $2,312. (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020)
  • In 2019, students had an average of five credit cards, two more than the last survey in 2016. (Creditcards.com, 2019)
  • College students in 2019 have credit card balances that are $347 higher than college students back in 2016. (Creditcards.com, 2019)
  • Over 8% of the delinquency balance belongs to those in the 18–29 years old bracket. (CNBC, 2019)
  • 15% of college students report their credit scores taking a hit because of late bill payments. (CNBC, 2019)
  • Student loans (>40%), mortgage loans (<20%), and auto loans (>10%) have higher debt shares for individuals who are aged 18–29 years old. (New York Fed, 2019)
  • 52% of college graduates said they would like to earn rewards that can be redeemed via automatic loan payments. (Sallie Mae & IPSOS, 2019)

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Student Loan Payments Statistics

Student loan debt statistics will not be what they are if every borrower can make good with their monthly payments. However, borrowers are having a hard time doing so because of the steep interest rate: 5.8% per annum. If you need to know more about interest rates in general, you can read about loan interests and penalties here.

  • 1.31 million borrowers are subscribed to the Pay As You Earn repayment plan, which caps payments at 10% of discretionary income. (The Motley Fool, 2020)
  • The above-mentioned borrowers earn less than $20,000 a year. (NBC, 2019)
  • The average student loan payment is $393, and the median student loan payment is $222. (Forbes, 2020)
  • For the school year 2020 to 2021, the federal student loan interest rate was 2.75%. (Best Colleges, 2021)
  • However, as part of the Coronavirus relief package, federal student loan rates will remain at 0% until September 2021. (Best Colleges, 2021)
  • 53% of white, non-Hispanic individuals have completely paid off loans compared to 24% of black, non-Hispanic, and Hispanic people. (Credit.com, 2019)
  • 6% white, non-Hispanics, 20% black, non-Hispanics, and 23% Hispanics are behind on their educational debt payments. (Credit.com, 2019)
  • 41% white, non-Hispanic, 56% black, non-Hispanic, and 45% Hispanic borrowers are continuing to pay off student loan debts. (Credit.com, 2019)
  • 11.1% of aggregate student loan debt was delinquent for 90 days or more in the fourth quarter of 2019, with a transition rate of 9.2%. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2020)
  • 20% of borrowers who acquired student loans for their own education are behind on their payments. (Federal Reserve, 2020)
  • Around 5.2 million federal student loan debtors are in default during the first quarter of 2019. (The Motley Fool, 2020)
  • By the end of the first quarter of 2019, 75.37% of private loans are in repayment status. This is a -0.51% year-on-year update. (MeasureOne, 2019)
  • In 2019, $623.7 billion of outstanding student loan debts in the U.S. were in repayment status. (Statista, 2020)
  • Student loans in forbearance have a year-on-year increase of 2.18%, those in deferment are now at 20.02%, while those that are given grace are at 2.44%. (MeasureOne, 2019)
  • 18% of Americans think they can pay off their student loans in six to 10 years, while 17% say that it will take them one to five years. Meanwhile, 16% of Americans think they won’t be able to pay off their student loans. (Statista, 2020)
  • Overall student loan default rates are at 52% for black dependent full-time, first-time students at four-year institutions. Overall student loan default rates are only 11% for their white counterparts. (The Education Trust, 2020)

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Fortunately for borrowers, there is a program called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. It has a particular set of rules that a borrower has to meet, such as the loan amount, the amount already paid, number of years in employment, and more. If a borrower ticks off every criterion, then they can have their loans discharged.

  • At the end of June 2019, there were 110,729 applications for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. (Nerd Wallet, 2021)
  • Of those, only 1,216 were approved by the PSLF officer in that period. Others were rejected for not meeting program requirements (74,618) while there are those that were denied for missing information (24,200). (Nerd Wallet, 2021)
  • Only over 1% of PSLF applications have been approved since the program’s inception in 2007. (EducationData.org, 2020)
  • However, as of March 2020, the U.S. Department of Education approved 3,174 PSLF applications, which translates to an approval rate of 1.8%. (Forbes, 2020)
    public service loan forgiveness stat

Impact of Student Loans on the Borrower and the Economy

Student loans have a significant impact on the borrower and the economy. But how much, exactly? Find out with the help of the statistics below.

  • Higher student debt balances correlate to low homeownership rates. However, college graduates, regardless of their student loan balance, have higher homeownership rates than those who have no college education. (Liberty Street Economics, 2017)
  • 15% of young college graduates without outstanding loan balances believe that the lifetime costs cancel out the benefits of a degree. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • Meanwhile, 36% of those with outstanding loan debts have the same sentiment. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • Out of all student loan holders aged 25 to 39 who currently had student loans, 23% said that the financial costs are somewhat larger. Another 23% said that the financial benefits are somewhat larger, while 23% said that the financial benefits are much larger. (Pew Research Center, 2019)
  • A $1,000 increase in student debt for women lowers their chances of getting married by 2%. (Washington Post, 2019)
  • 10% of borrowers are unable to purchase cars because of their debt. (Student Loan Hero, 2019)
  • The effects of student loan debt are broader and longer-lasting than they were in the early 2000s. (Student Loan Hero, 2019)
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Do the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs?

Do the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs?
Financial costs are much larger: 14%

Financial costs are much larger

14%
Do the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs?
Financial costs are somewhat larger: 23%

Financial costs are somewhat larger

23%
Do the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs?
About the same financial benefits and financial costs: 17%

About the same financial benefits and financial costs

17%
Do the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs?
Financial benefits are somewhat larger: 23%

Financial benefits are somewhat larger

23%
Do the benefits of a college degree outweigh the costs?
Financial benefits are much larger: 23%

Financial benefits are much larger

23%

Source: Pew Research Center

Designed by

Impact of COVID-19 on Student Loans

The enactment of the CARES law in the U.S. has injected much-needed funding to schools to offset the revenue losses they are experiencing due to drops in student enrollment. As for students, they are also given temporary respite with the imposition of 0% interest rates on student loans until September 2021. But with COVID-19 impacting the job market as well, paying off student loan debts continue to be a challenge for most and will force them to forego spending on other items or delaying some major life decisions.

  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will provide about $30 billion in fiscal support to states, K-12 schools and higher education. (AAUW, 2020)
  • The CARES Act will allow $14 billion of dedicated funds directly to high schools and colleges. Out of these funds, approximately $12.5 billion will be given to schools based on their enrollment of Pell Grant students. (AAUW, 2020)
  • On the other hand, $1 billion will be allotted to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Institutions that were most affected by the pandemic will receive $349 million in grants. (AAUW, 2020)
  • In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education has set aside an additional $21.2 billion to help ensure the continuity of learning during the pandemic in higher education institutions. (U.S. Department of Education, 2021)
  • Student loans were the most searched loan types during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. On average, there were 382,333 searches related to student loans from March to August 2020. (Semrush, 2020)
  • At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, women filed about 59% of unemployment claims despite comprising only half of the labor force. (AAUW, 2020)
  • During the pandemic, 34.2% of women said that their undergraduate student loan debt has forced them to delay buying a home. Meanwhile, 21.7% said it has caused them to delay marriage while 22.6% said that it has caused them to delay having children. (AAUW, 2020)

Smart Personal Finance Decisions for Less Debt

Being smart with your finances is one of the crucial steps you can take to pay off your loans and to avoid other kinds of debt. That said, you can rely on certain tools to help you get it right. For example, you can use expense management software without being a finance or accounting guru.

Additionally, you do not have to break the bank acquiring one, too, as there are examples readily available online for free.

You can also check the best repayment scheme for you, as there are several that are income-based. In this way, you can quickly say goodbye to student loans. It is important to research forgiveness programs, as well. Take, for example, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness scheme. Many Americans have applied with the program and have been approved, discharging millions in loans.

So, the gist is you have to be smart in handling your personal finance, especially in light of the uncertain economic conditions brought about by the pandemic. There’s no harm in splurging infrequently because there are ways to go out for cheap with your credit card. But you have to ensure that it does not hurt your ability to pay off your debts in the long run.

 

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Nestor Gilbert

By Nestor Gilbert

Nestor Gilbert is a senior B2B and SaaS analyst and a core contributor at FinancesOnline for over 5 years. With his experience in software development and extensive knowledge of SaaS management, he writes mostly about emerging B2B technologies and their impact on the current business landscape. However, he also provides in-depth reviews on a wide range of software solutions to help businesses find suitable options for them. Through his work, he aims to help companies develop a more tech-forward approach to their operations and overcome their SaaS-related challenges.

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