Student Loans by the Numbers: Average Student Loan Debt Statistics

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Updated on Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Source: ARENA Creative

The numbers don’t lie: As college costs have risen in recent decades, many students and their families have been forced to take out more student loans to keep up. Seeing the statistics behind college debt can help shine a light on how big the student loan crisis has become and whom it’s affecting most.

Average Student Loan Debt: In a Nutshell

  • The total amount of student debt in the U.S. has reached $1.53 trillion, making student loans the nation’s second-largest source of consumer debt, below only mortgages (and well above credit cards), according to the Federal Reserve.
  • The average student loan debt for each borrower at $36,314 owed across 3.3 student loans, according to a MagnifyMoney analysis of anonymized My LendingTree users’ September 2018 credit reports. (Note: LendingTree is MagnifyMoney’s parent company)
  • Nearly one in five adults (18.2%) in the U.S. has student debt, which is around 44 million Americans.
  • Outstanding student debt more than doubled (a 167% increase) over the past 10 years alone to its current peak. The number of Americans with student loan debt also rose 51% in the same period.
  • Across all types of institutions, the average annual cost of college was $23,091 in 2016-17. Students who borrow for college take out $6,988 in federal student loans per year, on average.

To get a complete picture of the situation, we’ve collected recent data on student loans, college costs and other student aid.

How Much Does College Cost?

In recent decades, college costs have shot up, often forcing today’s students and their families to pay more out of pocket and borrow more in student loans to cover educational expenses.

Here’s a look at the average college costs that today’s students face, by different types of institutions.

Average College Costs All Institutions

Tuition and
Fees

Dormitory
Rooms

Board

Total

All Institutions

$12,219

$6,106

$4,765

$23,091

Public Institutions

$6,817

$5,859

$4,561

$17,237

Nonprofit Institutions

$32,556

$6,704

$5,291

$44,551

For-Profit Institutions

$14,419

$6,889

$4,123

$25,431

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

Average College Costs 4-Year Institutions

Tuition and
Fees

Dormitory
Rooms

Board

Total

All Institutions

$15,512

$6,231

$4,850

$26,593

Public Institutions

$8,804

$6,017

$4,666

$19,488

Nonprofit Institutions

$32,720

$6,709

$5,273

$44,702

For-Profit Institutions

$14,423

$6,996

$4,113

$25,532

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

Average College Costs 2-Year Institutions

Tuition and
Fees

Dormitory
Rooms

Board

Total

All Institutions

$3,518

$3,931

$3,149

$10,598

Public Institutions

$3,156

$3,822

$3,113

$10,091

Nonprofit Institutions

$15,293

$5,609

$4,350

$25,252

For-Profit Institutions

$14,397

$6,290

$4,340

$25,027

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

How Much Have College Costs Risen?

The cost of a college degree has risen much more steeply over the past five decades than overall inflation and wage growth.

Here’s a look at how college prices have changed over the past 50 years. Costs are adjusted for inflation and include room and board, tuition and other related fees.

How Are Students Using Financial Aid?

Student loans are just one form of financial aid that can help pay for a college degree. Gift aid — such as grants from the federal government, state or local organizations or from colleges themselves — can lower a student’s net college price and the need for student loan debt.

But as college costs have increased, student aid awards have not kept up. While most college students receive some form of student aid, just under half (45.7%) of students rely on student loans, borrowing nearly $7,000 a year.

Percentage of Students Who Receive Student Aid. 2015 - 2016 Academic Year

Institution Type

All Aid

Federal Grants

State/Local Grants

InstitutionaI Grants

Student Loans

All Institutions

82.7%

42.7%

32.3%

44.40%

45.7%

Public

80.2%

42.3%

37.3%

35.6%

38.2%

Nonprofit

89.6%

35.2%

23.8%

78.7%

60.9%

For-Profit

86.5%

69.8%

8.6%

25.3%

74.4%

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

How Much Has Federal Student Loan Debt Risen?

The federal government remains the top source of student loan debt, lending far more than states, banks and other institutions. Of the $1.53 trillion in outstanding student debt, $1.38 trillion takes the form of federal student loans.

This college debt has increased by $860 billion since 2007, a sharp difference of 167% in just over 10 years. Meanwhile, the number of people who hold federal student loans has also risen from 28.3 million in 2007 to 42.8 million, a 51% increase.

How Much Do People Owe the Government in Student Debt?

Next, take a look at how much borrowers owe in federal student debt. The average student loan debt is $32,150 across all types of federal student loans.

But most borrowers owe far less than this, with a majority (57.3%) carrying $20,000 or less in federal student loan debt.

Six-figure student debt is, fortunately, still fairly rare, with just 5.5% of borrowers owing $100,000 or more in federal loans.

Student loan balances also vary by age, with borrowers ages 35 to 49 having the highest average student loan debt, at $37,051. That average then eases for those above 50, but not by that much. And, of course, borrowers who are college-aged (24 or younger) have the smallest balances, since this group includes those still taking out loans for their education.

Overall, borrowers between the ages of 25 to 49 account for the bulk of college debt, with just under a trillion, or $995.1 billion, of outstanding federal student loans.

Who Is Defaulting?

With balances this high, not all borrowers can keep up with student loan payment. If nine months of nonpayment pass, a federal student loan defaults.

Options such as taking student loan deferment and forbearance or enrolling in income-driven repayment plans can often be effective ways to avoid defaulting. But the data suggest that some borrowers still aren’t taking advantage of these federal student loan benefits.

In 2017, more than 1 in 10 borrowers who had left college in 2014 had since defaulted. Default rates are higher among students leaving two-year colleges and schools with programs shorter than two years.

For-profit colleges also tended to have higher rates of default, compared to public colleges and private nonprofit schools.

Percentage of people who defaulted since they entered their repayment phases three years ago (2014)

All Institutions

11.5%

Public

11.3%

Nonprofit

7.4%

For-profit

15.5%

Less-than-2-year institutions

17.0%

Public

13.80%

Nonprofit

19.80%

For-profit

17.0%

2-year institutions

18.2%

Public

18.3%

Nonprofit

17.6%

For-profit

17.5%

4-year institutions

9.0%

Public

7.5%

Nonprofit

7.0%

For-profit

14.6%

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

What About Graduate Student Loan Debt?

Completing an advanced degree can also mean taking on a significant amount of debt, though here, not all graduate student debt is created equal. For example, 48.2% of research doctorate degree holders have student loan debt, but that proportion is significantly higher — 74.5% — for those with professional doctorate degrees.

Among those with graduate student loan debt, balances range from $50,300 among master’s degree holders up to $171,700 for those with professional doctorates.

Digging a little deeper, the data show that earning an advanced medical degree (such as an MD) comes with the highest levels of debt. Eight in 10 graduates with these degrees have student debt, with average student loan debt balances at $223,100.

What Do We Know About Private Student Loan Debt?

Besides federal student loan debt, private student loans from banks and other lenders are also an important piece of the puzzle. The amount of outstanding private student loan debt is $67.1 billion, most of which (88.3%) was borrowed for undergraduate studies.

Private Loans Outstanding

Q1 2018

Current Balance

$67.12 billion

% of Loans for Undergraduate School

88.3%

% of Loans for Graduate School Source: MeasureOne

11.7%

Source: MeasureOne

Repayment Status of Private Loans

Q1 2018

Grace

2.3%

Deferment

21.1%

Forbearance

2.5%

Repayment

74.1%

Source: MeasureOne

Percentage of Payable Private Loans Currently Delinquent

Q1 2018

30-89 days delinquent

2.8%

90+ days delinquent

1.50%

Charge-offs

1.80%

Source: MeasureOne

How Much Can That Expensive Degree Earn Me?

With college costs and average student loan debt levels on the rise, some borrowers might wonder whether their education is worth the price.

Overall, earning one or more degrees does substantially increase income. Someone with a bachelor’s degree earns 57.1% more on average than a worker with only a high school diploma. Those who hold a master’s degree or higher tend to earn twice as much as those with high school diplomas, and 28.2% more than graduates who hold a bachelor’s degree.

Of course, a college graduate’s course of study has a huge impact on their career opportunities and earning potential. Engineering fields offer the highest pay, with median salaries of $69,650 among college graduates. Studying theology and religious studies, on the other hand, resulted in the lowest pay at just $34,420 per year.

 Median Salary of Bachelor's Holders by Field of Study                   

Field of Study

2016

Agriculture

$44,590

Architecture

$50,000

% of Loans for Graduate School Source: MeasureOne

2016

Area, ethnic,and civilization studies

$44,260

Arts, fine and commercial

$39,830

Fine arts

$36,270

Commercial art and graphic desisn

$40,300

Business

$50,360

Business, general

$50,290

Accounting

$55,400

Business management and administration

$48,280

Marketing and marketing research

$50,200

Finance

$60,070

Management information systems and statistics

$59,950

Business, other and medical administration

$49,600

Communications and communications technologies

$45,260

Computer and information systems

$65,440

Construction/electrical/transportation technologies

$55,310

Criminal justice and fire protection

$40,990

Education

$40,240

General education

$40,270

Early childhood education

$35,940

Elementary education

$39,070

Secondary teacher education

$39,070

Education,other

$40,050

Engineering and eneineering-related fields

$69,650

General engineering

$63,770

Chemical engneering

$74,880

Civil engineering

$63,110

Computer engineering

$78,080

Electrical engineering

$74,790

Mechanical engineering

$71,860

Engineering, other

$65,480

Engineering technologies

$59,630

English language and literature

$40,280

Family and consumer sciences

$37,680

Health professions

$51,830

General medical and health services

$50,060

Nursing

56,350

History

$43,430

Liberal arts and humanities

$40,020

Linguistics and comparative language and literature

$42,040

Mathematics

$50,340

Multi/ interdisciplinary studies

$43,170

Natural sciences

$45,340

Biology

$45,330

Environmental science

$41,000

Physical sciences

$49,110

Physical fitness,parks,recreation and leisure

$40,080

Philosophy and religious studies

$39,810

Psychology

$40,100

Publicadm inistration and public policy

$56,460

Social sciences

$50,310

Anthropology and archeology

$39,800

Economics

$60,350

Geography

$45,210

lnternational relations

$52,290

Political science and government

$50,330

Sociology

$40,030

Miscellaneous social sciences

$42,190

Social work and human services

$36,200

Theology and religious vocations

$34,420

Other fields

$40,380

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

How Many Students Are Leaving School Without Getting a Degree?

For students who have already taken out student debt, completing their degree could make the difference between easily repaying their loans or ending up in default.

Part-time students are much likelier to drop out of college overall, while for-profit college have the worst attrition rates in terms of types of institutions.

As student loan balances have grown, so has the impact of this debt has on borrowers’ lives. By understanding the numbers underlying the student debt crisis, we can better gauge its effects. Overall, though, a degree is still worth getting despite rising college costs and the amount of debt needed to pay them.

But today’s students and borrowers need to be wiser with their educational and financial choices to avoid the worst outcomes. As the data suggest, the type of school and the field of study can play a big role here.

Statistics can’t always capture individual cases, as one student’s situation won’t necessarily match the averages. But one thing that might hold true for most if not all borrowers is the importance of knowing your options to manage this debt. If you owe student loans, check out our top picks for refinancing student loans to help you get out of being another statistic in the ongoing student debt crisis.

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