National Student Loan Statistics: How Do You Stack Up?

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Student loan debt continues to mount to a staggering high. Right now, it’s at $1.774 trillion, according to a report by Melanie Hanson, senior editor for the Education Data Initiative. In “Student Loan Debt Statistics,” Hanson noted that outstanding federal loan balances comprise $1.644 trillion of that amount, accounting for 92.6% of all student loan debt

All told, 43.6 million borrowers have federal student loan debt. The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,717 — but the total average balance, including private loan debt, may be as high as $40,505.

See: All of the States That Will Pay Off Your Student Loans

The EDI provided a useful breakdown of year-over-year quarterly changes showing precisely how much student loan debt has catapulted over the years.  

Quarter Total (in trillions) Year-Over-Year Change
2023 Q1 $1.774 1.53%
2022 Q4 $1.762 1.63%
2022 Q3 $1.761 1.28%
2022 Q2 $1.744 1.53%
2022 Q1 $1.747 1.67%
2021 Q4 $1.733 2.34%
2021 Q3 $1.739 2.53%
2021 Q2 $1.719 2.78%
2021 Q1 $1.718 2.80%
2020 Q4 $1.693 3.42%
2020 Q3 $1.696 3.75%
2020 Q2 $1.672 4.32%
Source: Hanson, Melanie. “Student Loan Debt Statistics”, July 17, 2023

Digging even deeper, the EDI also looked at how debt has risen over the past decade. 

Year Total Year-Over-Year Change
2022 $1,762,171,390,000 1.66%
2021 $1,733,415,180,000 0.31%
2020 $1,728,113,340,000 3.17%
2019 $1,637,900,000,000 4.55%
2018 $1,602,053,960,000 5.17%
2017 $1,523,343,760,000 5.76%
2016 $1,440,358,580,000 6.05%
2015 $1,358,137,440,000 6.78%
2014 $1,271,844,960,000 7.60%
2013 $1,182,061,180,000 12.09%
2012 $1,054,565,110,000 9.87%
Source: Hanson, Melanie. “Student Loan Debt Statistics”, July 17, 2023

If you’re a student loan borrower still paying off debt, where do you fit in the big picture? Take a look at EDI’s statistics. 

Who Has Private Student Loan Debt

Over 7% of students use private loans to help fund their education. Their debt amounts to over $120 billion and accounts for 8.4% of total student loan debt.

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Private loans aren’t necessarily begrudged by personal finance experts, but in general, they can be more complicated, and it’s recommended to thoroughly do your homework before embarking on a private student loan. 

Who Has Other Educational Debt

Student loans don’t cover noneducation expenses like living costs, so some people take out additional loans or use credit cards to fund these expenses. Twenty-four percent of indebted student borrowers have school-related debt other than student loans. Four percent of them used a home equity loan to pay for their own education, and 11% used some other type of loan to pay for their own education. Among those taking on debt for a child’s or grandchild’s education, 9% used home equity loans and 11% used another type of loan.

The Gender, Racial and Age Demographics of Student Loan Debt 

According to EDI, middle-income students are most likely to take out federal loans (71.8%), as are students who live in campus housing (69.5%). Further, 66% of college students living with their parents use federal loans, as do 77.8% of married undergraduates, while 74.8% of independent undergraduate students take out federal student loans.

Gender, age, race and ethnicity also play a central role. According to EDI, 61.4% of female bachelor’s degree holders take federal student loans while only 52.2% of male bachelor’s degree holders do. Female students with associate’s degrees are 49.9% more likely than men to to have federal student loans. 

In the area of race and ethnicity, Black students are the most likely to borrow federal loans (76.1%). Black or African American student borrows also tend to owe much more than their white peers — by an average of $25,000. 

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And in the age category, younger people are the most burdened by student loan debt: 34% of adults ages 18 to 29 years report having student loan debt compared to 22% of those ages 30 to 44. However, borrowers in their 30s have proportionately more debt — 32.5% of federal student loan debt belongs to them compared to 17% for borrowers are under 25.

Older Americans aren’t immune — 4% of federal student loan borrowers are age 62 or older, likely having borrowed to put their children or grandchildren through school. 

How to Pay Down Student Loan Debt 

With student loan debt towering, many borrowers are wondering how they can lessen the burden. Here are a few key ways to pay down student loan debt — or even wipe it out completely. 

  • Refinance Your Student Loans: It may make sense for you to refinance your student loans. This means taking out a new loan from a private lender to repay the balance on your existing student loans. The goal here is to nab a lower interest rate, which can save you hundreds (at minimum) in fees. 
  • Consolidate Loans: It could be easier to pay all your student loans with one monthly payment, but you’ll need a Direct Consolidation Loan to do so. There’s no fee, and you can apply on the FSA website.  
  • File for Bankruptcy: The most draconian way to eliminate student loan debt is to file for bankruptcy. Federal student loan debt can be discharged or restructured this way, but only if you file a separate action called an adversary proceeding. There’s no guarantee of success, and legal fees to file the suit can prohibitively expensive. In addition, bankruptcy is a drastic measure that will weigh negatively on your credit history for years, so only consider it as an absolute last resort.


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