How Long Does it Take the Average American to Pay Off Student Loans?

Student Loan Rates Are Set to Rise

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Federal student loan providers estimate that it will take borrowers 10 years to pay off their student loans, or at least that’s the timeline for payoff with a standard repayment plan. But in reality, the amount of time it takes for borrowers to pay off their student loans is much longer.

In fact, the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree takes just over 21.1 years to pay off his or her loans, research shows. The student loan problem isn’t going anywhere anytime soon since 69% of new college graduates have student loan debt. And 43 million Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt.

But don’t panic just yet. Here we’ll share our best tips and tricks for paying off your student loans, from how to make extra payments, to deciding which repayment plan is best for you, even student loan forgiveness programs to consider.

How to Pay Off Student Loans Faster

First, the easiest way to pay off student loans more quickly is to take out less in student loans in the first place. Before you decide which college or university to attend, explore the best grants to help you pay off your student loans.

These programs can help offset the cost of student loans for a variety of professionals, from nurses to those in the armed forces, even veterinarians or those working in public service. Read the eligibility requirements carefully for these programs, and take advantage of every grant you can, since it will add up in the long run.

In many cases, the cost difference between attending an in-state public college ($10,440 per year), versus the cost of attending a private college ($36,880 per year) can make a huge difference in the number of student loans you accrue after four years.

After graduation, the average student loan borrower pays between $200 and $299 per month in student loan payments. But if you find yourself with a little extra cash each month, considering paying more on your student loans.

But before you earmark that extra cash toward your loans, be sure to talk to your loan servicer and make sure the funds go toward your principal balance, not next month’s payment or interest owed. This will save you money in the long run, since it will decrease both the amount you owe and the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

Another great way to pay off your student loans more quickly? Create a monthly budget – and stick to it. The less money you spend on discretionary spending, like eating out, buying clothes, or traveling, the more funds you’ll have to allocate toward your student loans.

Qualifying for Loan Forgiveness

If paying off your student loans is an unrealistic goal, you may consider student loan forgiveness programs. These programs range from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to military student loan forgiveness options to repayment options offered by your employer.

There are also volunteering-based student loan forgiveness programs. For example, if you volunteer with certain branches of AmeriCorps, you are eligible for some student loan reimbursement.

Keep in mind that eligibility requirements for these student loan forgiveness programs range, and can include qualifiers such as the field you work in, the amount of time you’ve paid on your student loans, even the amount of time you agree to work in that specific field.

Of course, working to pay off student loans doesn’t have to wait until you graduate.

Keep your student loan debt to a minimum while you're still in college by working a work-study job, paying on the interest on your student loans, and finishing your degree in four years (rather than adding on a fifth year).

These strategies can help offset the amount of student loan debt that will follow you across that commencement stage – and trust us, every little bit helps.