How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans?
The average borrower takes decades to pay off their loans
The average borrower will spend 20 years repaying their student loans.
The length of time it takes to pay off your student debt depends on your specific financial and employment situation. Learn the typical timelines to repay student loans, along with tips to pay off your student loans faster and student loan forgiveness programs to consider.
How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans?
Educational costs and your degree level correlate closely to how long it takes to repay student debt—attending a pricier school or pursuing post-graduate degrees comes with more costs, which can mean borrowing more student loans. And these higher balances typically take longer to repay.
Here’s the average student loan repayment length by degree at public colleges:
- Associate’s: 4.1 years
- Bachelor’s: 5.6 years
- Master’s: 9 years
- Doctoral: 13.5 years
- Professional: 27.3 years
The repayment plan you choose and the resulting student loan payment will also affect how long it will take to repay your debt. A repayment plan with a shorter term will have higher monthly payments but repay your debt faster. Longer loan terms or income-driven repayment plans may lower monthly payments but extend how long it takes to pay this debt off.
In 2019, the average monthly student loan payment for borrowers who made payments on their loan was between $200 and $299.
Here are average student loan payments by degree:
- Associate’s: $384
- Bachelor’s: $541
- Master’s: $669
- Doctoral: $833
- Professional: $843
The student loan problem isn’t going anywhere anytime. In 2019, 55% of college attendees under 30 had taken on student loan debt. And 42.9 million Americans owe a total of $1.56 trillion in federal student loan debt in Q4 2020, according to Department of Education data.
How to Pay Off Student Loans Faster
Worried you’ll be paying off student debt forever? Don’t panic yet—here are moves you can make to pay off your student loans faster.
Limit Student Loan Borrowing
The easiest way to pay off student loans quicker is to take out less in student loans.
Before you choose a school, consider the cost of the university you plan to attend. In many cases, the cost difference between attending an in-state public college ($10,560 per year) and a private college ($37,650 per year) can make a huge difference in reducing your student loan burden.
On average, it will take 7.25 years for an undergraduate with an associate's degree earning $46,100 a year to repay $30,100 in student loans.
Keep your student loan debt to a minimum while you're still in college by getting a work-study job. Look for gift aid like federal Pell Grants or private scholarships to cover some of your college costs, too. Lastly, consider paying accruing interest on your student loans while still in school.
Pay as Much as You Can Toward Student Loans
Once you’re out of college and repaying student loans, the math is pretty simple: Making higher payments each month is the best way to pay student debt off quickly.
On the standard repayment plan for federal student loans, monthly payments are set to repay the student loan (plus interest) in 10 years. If you can afford to make these payments, it’s best to stick to this repayment plan.
Enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan can lower payments, for example, but will likely lengthen repayment—and increase your interest and total loan costs.
If you find yourself with a little extra cash each month, consider making an extra payment on your loans. Just be sure to talk to your student loan servicer and make sure the funds go toward your principal balance, not next month’s payment or interest owed.
Another great way to pay off student loans more quickly: create a monthly budget—and stick to it. If you lower discretionary spending like eating out, buying clothes, or traveling, that frees up funds to put toward 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.
Income-driven repayment plans, for example, offer forgiveness on any balance remaining after making 20-25 years of payments.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 makes student loan forgiveness tax-free.
Or, check out grants to help you pay off your student loans. These programs don’t require repayment and can help offset the cost of student loans for a variety of professionals.
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.
Carefully review eligibility requirements for these student loan forgiveness programs. The requirements can include qualifiers such as the field you work in, the number of student-loan payments you have to make while in the program, and how timely you make your loan payments.
The Bottom Line
While it might sometimes feel like you’ll be in student debt for 20 years or more, you don’t have to be. Using strategies like choosing public over private schools and exploring loan forgiveness programs can help offset the amount of long-term student loan debt that will follow you across that commencement stage—and trust us, every little bit helps.