If you’re struggling with student loan payments, it might help to know that you’re far from the only one. Americans hold an alarming amount of student loan debt, and with tuition prices increasing by 8% each year, that amount likely will continue growing. Student loan debt is the second-biggest source of household debt, following mortgages. On an individual basis, Americans have more student loan debt than credit card or auto loan debt.
Despite the high price tag of going to college, a degree often is necessary to be competitive in the job market. Indeed, it's estimated that 70% of all jobs in the American economy will require postsecondary education by the year 2027. Based on the increased educational requirements for jobs and increasing tuition amounts, it's probable that student loan debt will continue to increase.
Average Student Loan Debt
Student loan borrowers numbered approximately 43.2 million and owed $1.71 trillion in student loan debt in the United States as of Q4 2020. In the first quarter of 2006, the amount of outstanding student loan debt stood at $480.97 billion, which means student loan debt has more than tripled since 2006.
Monthly student loan payments have increased, too. They rose 50% from 2005 to 2016. Today, a typical student loan payment is between $200 and $299 per month.
Among 2019 college graduates, 62% left college with student loans, at an average of $28,950.
Older Borrowers and Student Loan Debt
The number of people aged 60 and older with student loan debt (federal and private) quadrupled between 2005 and 2015, growing from 700,000 to 2.8 million. In Q4 2020, consumers aged 62 and over owed $86.8 billion in federal student loans. Many older borrowers have student loans because they're helping finance their children's and grandchildren's college educations. In 2015, the CFPB estimated that more than 57% of co-signers were 55 and older.
Student Loan Delinquency Rates
As of Q3 2019, 10.9% of student loan debt was more than 90 days delinquent or in default, but that figure dropped to 6.5% in Q4 2020, due to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provisions that suspended payments while reporting all student loans as current. This drop in defaults and delinquencies is a positive trend.
The CARES Act provided borrowers with necessary student loan relief and gave borrowers who were behind an easy path to bring their student loans current.
Another act, called the American Rescue Plan Act (enacted in March 2021), gave some student loan borrowers more relief, making any forgiven student loan debt between 2021 and 2025 tax-free.
Student loan delinquency rates based on degree status include:
- 40% of borrowers with student loans but no degree
- 15% of people who completed an associate's degree
- 8% of those who completed a bachelor's degree
- 6% of those with a graduate degree
Surprisingly, delinquency rates fall among borrowers with larger student loan balances. Taking on more debt is usually a sign of attaining a higher level of education, and with it, greater earning power as well.
Delinquency rates based on the total amount of outstanding student loan debt include:
- 21% among borrowers with less than $15,000 of outstanding debt
- 14% among borrowers with more than $15,000
States Where Student Loan Debt Is Highest and Lowest
When breaking down average student loan balances, how much borrowers owe varies by as much as $30,000 from state to state. Student loan borrowers in Washington, D.C. owe the most, with a $58,200 average balance while borrowers in North Dakota owe an average of $27,800.
The figures below are estimates provided by a partnership between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax:
|States With the Highest Average Debt per Student|
|State||Average student loan balance|
|District of Columbia||$58,200|
|States With the Lowest Average Debt per Student|
|State||Average student loan balance|
Federal Reserve Bank of New York Center for Microeconomic Data. "Household Debt and Credit Report (Q4 2020)," Page 33.
Finaid. "Tuition Inflation."
Inside Higher Ed. "Ignore the Hype. College Is Worth It."
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Student Loans Owned and Securitized, Outstanding (SLOAS)."
FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax. "Table 2: Average Student Debt Balance Per Borrowers by State/Area Among Borrowers With Outstanding Balance."
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019 - May 2020: Student Loans and Other Education Debt."
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. "Is There a Student Loan Crisis? Not in Payments."
The Institute for College Access & Success. "Project on Student Debt: Student Debt and the Class of 2019."
Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education. "Portfolio by Age."
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Snapshot of Older Consumers and Student Loan Debt." Page 4-5.
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Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit 2019: Q3," Page 2.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit 2020: Q4," Page 3.
Congress.gov. "The American Rescue Plan Act," Page 182.