Advertiser Disclosure

College Students and Recent Grads

Student Loans by the Numbers: Average Student Loan Debt Statistics

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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




All Institutions





Public Institutions





Nonprofit Institutions





For-Profit Institutions





Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

Average College Costs 4-Year Institutions

Tuition and




All Institutions





Public Institutions





Nonprofit Institutions





For-Profit Institutions





Source: The National Center for Education Statistics

Average College Costs 2-Year Institutions

Tuition and




All Institutions





Public Institutions





Nonprofit Institutions





For-Profit Institutions





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
























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








Less-than-2-year institutions








2-year institutions








4-year institutions








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


% of Loans for Graduate School Source: MeasureOne


Source: MeasureOne

Repayment Status of Private Loans

Q1 2018









Source: MeasureOne

Percentage of Payable Private Loans Currently Delinquent

Q1 2018

30-89 days delinquent


90+ days delinquent




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






% of Loans for Graduate School Source: MeasureOne


Area, ethnic,and civilization studies


Arts, fine and commercial


Fine arts


Commercial art and graphic desisn




Business, general




Business management and administration


Marketing and marketing research




Management information systems and statistics


Business, other and medical administration


Communications and communications technologies


Computer and information systems


Construction/electrical/transportation technologies


Criminal justice and fire protection




General education


Early childhood education


Elementary education


Secondary teacher education




Engineering and eneineering-related fields


General engineering


Chemical engneering


Civil engineering


Computer engineering


Electrical engineering


Mechanical engineering


Engineering, other


Engineering technologies


English language and literature


Family and consumer sciences


Health professions


General medical and health services






Liberal arts and humanities


Linguistics and comparative language and literature




Multi/ interdisciplinary studies


Natural sciences




Environmental science


Physical sciences


Physical fitness,parks,recreation and leisure


Philosophy and religious studies




Publicadm inistration and public policy


Social sciences


Anthropology and archeology






lnternational relations


Political science and government




Miscellaneous social sciences


Social work and human services


Theology and religious vocations


Other fields


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.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here


Advertiser Disclosure

College Students and Recent Grads

Can You Really Get Rid of Student Loans by Leaving the Country?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

government shutdown

A college degree that didn’t lead to your ideal job. A stack of student loan bills you can’t afford. A collections agent blowing up your phone.

For any of these reasons, you might be seeking a way out — even out of the country. Leaving the U.S., however, might not solve your education debt.

Can you escape debt by leaving the country?

The short answer is no. The debt will still be there.

There’s no statute of limitations on federal loans, meaning that you’d be responsible for repaying your debt when or if you return to the U.S.

For private loans, on the other hand, state laws do put limitations on lenders’ ability to sue over your old loan debt. However, these statutes last years and won’t stop collections agencies from contacting you, regardless of where you reside.

If you abandoned your debt, you would need to establish an income and credit report in your new country and otherwise lay down roots.

But just because you could abandon your American debt doesn’t mean that you should.

For one, you have a moral dilemma on your hands: You borrowed money to fund your education, and although the borrowing and repayment process might seem unfair, you did agree to repay it.

But even if that’s not an issue, you still have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to face the consequences of creating zombie debt that will hang over your head.

Consequences of a move overseas to escape student loans

It’s impossible to say whether you’d need to look over your shoulder, wary of creditors on your tail. They might not have the willingness or the wherewithal to track you down.

You also can’t be arrested for your debt, and, no, your passport isn’t at risk. Still, the punishments of ignoring your debt can be severe. Some effects include:

Your loan balance will balloon

Just because you disappear doesn’t mean your debt will too. Quite the opposite — it’ll continue to grow. Interest will accrue and capitalize onto your balance each month that passes without payment.

If you skip town $40,000 in the hole at 7.00%, for example, your balance would collect about $16,000 worth of interest after 10 years, and almost $35,000 after 20 years.

Your credit score will tank

Although your credit score won’t follow you overseas, it will only worsen while you’re away.

After all, more than a third of your score’s composition rests on your payment history. By ignoring your payment due date, your score will take a nosedive. And when you default, the status will show up and stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

With such poor credit, you’ll have a hard time after your stateside return borrowing money in any form, including a home mortgage, car loan or credit card.

Your wages could be garnished — and worse

Once you default on your federal loans — that is, fail to make a payment for more than 270 days — your servicers could send your debt to a collections agency, where it will incur more fees.

The Department of Education could then take the following measures to collect your debt:

  • Treasury offset: The government could withhold any federal money you were set to receive, such as income tax refunds and Social Security benefits. Your driver’s license and/or other state-issued licenses could even be forfeited.
  • Wage garnishment: Your collections agency could require your employer to hand over 15% of your paycheck to put toward your defaulted loan. If it’s unable to take your income — perhaps because you’re self-employed — then you might face a lawsuit from the Department of Justice.

Private lenders vary in their practices, but you can bet they’ll farm out delinquent loans to their debt collection agencies. They can also sue you to secure a percentage of your income.

Your cosigner could be left hanging

Federal loans are borrowed in the student’s name, so you — and only you — are on the hook for them. The family you leave behind in the U.S., however, might have to deal with phone calls or mail from collections agencies.

Private loans are a different story. In all likelihood, you asked a family member to cosign your loan as an undergraduate, since about nine of 10 private loans are cosigned.

By leaving your debt and country, however, you’d be passing the buck to your cosigner. Mom, Dad or whoever else could be legally responsible for repaying your debt, potentially putting a stranglehold on their finances.

Can you even move to another country with student loan debt?

Just because you shouldn’t leave the U.S. to flee your student loans, however, doesn’t mean you’re trapped inside the country until your debt is repaid. If you’re motivated to live abroad for reasons other than escaping your education debt, consider that you could take your debt along for the ride.

You might make progress in repayment, for example, if you can earn an American salary but reside in a country with a lower cost of living.

No matter where you decide to shack up while repaying your education debt, consider these tips.

Explore repayment plan options

Whatever ails your loan situation so much that you’re considering quitting your repayment, know that there are debt relief options, including:

Income-Driven Repayment (IDR)

On the federal loan front, consider switching repayment plans. IDR would allow you to limit your monthly payment amount to a percentage of your discretionary income, making it a good option if you’re out of work or climbing the career ladder from the bottom. Keep in mind though that when you lower your payments and extend your loan term, your debt grows because of accruing interest.

Unfortunately, private lenders generally don’t offer IDR, but they could be willing to adjust your repayment if you fall on hard times.

Deferment or forbearance

There are more than a dozen types of eligibility for deferment and mandatory forbearance on federal loans. These measures pause your payments while you get back on your feet. To cure your wanderlust, you could even defer your loans for up to three years by joining the Peace Corps.

Private lenders’ protections are typically less comprehensive, so talk with your lender about what it offers.

Student loan refinancing

You’ll need good credit and steady income (or a cosigner) to qualify, but student loan refinancing could solve several of your repayment problems simultaneously. It could consolidate your debt into one new loan, potentially lower your interest rate and give you the power to choose your new (private) lender.

Just be aware that by refinancing federal loans, they’ll be stripped of the federal safeguards that come with them, such access to IDR and some loan forgiveness programs.

Budget for travel — and loan payments

Once you know how much you need to spend to keep pace with — or, better yet, attack — your loan balance, it’s time to budget. This step is crucial if you’re planning to live abroad. A budget will serve as your roadmap, helping you to estimate the affordability of the life you want to lead and the debt you’re due to repay.

Cutting U.S. expenses like apartment rent and utility bills is a great start. You can also maximize your money by choosing the right country. You might have designs on visiting Scandinavia, for example, but then find that Southeast Asia is more in your price range. Nomadlist is an excellent resource to help plan for potential monthly costs on a city-by-city basis.

Increase your income

You can budget until you’re blue in the face, but eventually you’ll run out of expenses to trim. Give yourself more wiggle room by increasing your income at home or abroad.

If you’re fortunate enough to work remotely and take your American salary with you, you might already have the cash flow necessary to travel cheaply and still pay down your debt. You might also seek side gigs like teaching English as a second language in another country.

Keep your American bank account

Even if you’re not sure when you’ll return to the U.S., keeping your American bank account will ease your student loan payments. You won’t want to deal with foreign transaction fees, for example.

Additionally, by keeping your domestic checking account, you can score an interest rate reduction with some lenders and servicers by signing up for autopay.

You can repay your debt and still wander the world

Leaving your home country for a clean slate elsewhere is an age-old strategy. But unless you’re planning to leave the U.S. permanently, it could wreck your student loan debt situation.

Before you book a flight, consider the consequences of wandering the world without a repayment plan. Whether you choose to live in the U.S. or abroad, there are plenty of ways to get back on track. You just have to look for them.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Andrew Pentis
Andrew Pentis |

Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here

TAGS: , ,

Advertiser Disclosure

College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews

Review: SunTrust Custom Choice Loan

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

mortar board cash

SunTrust offers students a good option to finance their education with its Custom Choice Loan. Interest rates are fairly low, students may apply with a cosigner, and it comes with several repayment options. As a bonus, SunTrust offers graduates a 2% principal balance reduction as long as students graduate with at least a Bachelor’s degree.


Details of SunTrust’s Custom Choice Loan

The minimum amount you can borrow is $1,001 and the maximum amount you can borrow is $65,000. The total amount of Federal and private student loan debt you take out per year can’t exceed $150,000. You can choose a 7- or 10-year repayment term, and a 15-year term is available for borrowers taking out $5,000 or more.

Fixed APRs range from 5.35% to 14.05%, and variable APRs range from 4.37% to 13.38%.

You have four choices of repayment plans:

  • Immediate Payment – There’s no grace period as you begin full payments while in school
  • Interest-only Payment – You pay the interest that accrues on your balance while in school
  • Partial Payment – Available on loans $5,000 or more, you can make payments of $25 per month while in school
  • Full Deferment – You get a grace period of six months when you choose this option, and you’re eligible for deferment as long as you’re enrolled in school part-time at an approved school (this option is the closest to how Federal student loans function)

The interest rate you get approved for is based on your credit history, loan term, amount requested, and other information provided on your application.

A 0.25% interest rate reduction applies if you set your loans to autopay, and SunTrust customers benefit from an additional 0.25% reduction if they pay through their SunTrust bank account.

How Does the Custom Choice Loan Compare to Federal Student Loans?

Before applying for the Custom Choice Loan, you should exhaust all of your federal student loan options first. Make sure your family fills out the FAFSA form to see what you might be eligible for. Federal student loans have lower fixed interest rates, and come with more benefits than private student loans do. These benefits will help in case you hit a rough patch with your money.

For the 2018 – 2019 Academic year, Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans have a fixed interest rate of 5.05%. That makes the 5.35% fixed APR and 4.37% variable APR of the Custom Choice Loan comparable. However, those are the lowest possible APRs available, and if you don’t have excellent credit, you may not be eligible to receive them. Variable rates are also subject to change, which means they can increase over the life of your loan and become more expensive.

SunTrust doesn’t have an origination fee with its loan, but the Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan has a 1.062% disbursement fee from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019.

SunTrust’s APRs aren’t horrible, though. If you can, apply with a cosigner who has better credit, as you’ll be eligible for lower rates. You want to get as close to Federal interest rates as possible to get the best deal.

[7 Things You Need to Know about Private Student Loans]

Eligibility Requirements

You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to apply. A majority of four-year public or private colleges are eligible – you can check eligibility on the first page of the application.

If your credit history isn’t sufficient enough, you can apply with a cosigner, and there’s a cosigner release option available after 36 consecutive, on-time payments.

You must also be the legal age of majority when completing the application. Applicants residing in Iowa or Wisconsin aren’t eligible for this loan.

[How to Tell if Your Loans are Federal or Private]

Application Process and Documents Needed

You can apply online by yourself or with a cosigner. After your application and credit (a hard credit inquiry is used) are reviewed, you’ll be presented with your loan options. If you choose to move forward with the loan, you’ll be provided with a list of documents you need to upload.

Once you’ve submitted everything, an Approval Disclosure will be sent to you for acceptance. You have 30 days to accept the terms of the loan before they expire.

Upon acceptance, SunTrust will contact your school to request certification of the loan, as you’re only allowed to borrow enough to cover your education expenses. This also ensures you don’t take out more student loan debt than necessary.

Once everything is complete, you (and your cosigner, if you applied with one) have three days to back out of the loan. After that, the loan is finalized, and the funds are sent directly to your school.

Have these documents ready to submit when applying:

  • Proof of income – the student or cosigner must show proof of positive income in the form of a recent W2, paystub, or tax return
  • Photo ID
  • Proof of residency may be required if Photo ID isn’t sufficient

The Fine Print

There are no origination, application, or prepayment fees for this loan. If you’re 10 days past due on a payment, you’ll be charged 5% of the unpaid amount as a late fee.

The minimum loan amount is different in certain states: $5,001 in Alaska, $3,001 in Colorado, $2,501 in New Mexico, $5,101 in Oklahoma, $5,001 in Rhode Island, and $3,701 in South Carolina.

[Student Loan Disbursement 101]

Repayment Assistance Options

American Education Services is the loan servicer for SunTrust. If you experience any difficulty repaying your student loans, you’ll have to contact them for repayment assistance options. You may be able to apply for a deferment, forbearance, or interest-only payment for an extended period of time.

Pros and Cons of the Custom Choice Loan

Pro: If the borrower dies, then the balance of the loan may be forgiven as long as SunTrust is contacted and provided with proof of death. (If the cosigner dies, the student remains responsible for the loan.) Students who become permanently disabled can apply for a loan discharge as well.

Con: The loan isn’t available to those living in Iowa or Wisconsin, and minimum loan amounts differ in six states. Make sure that doesn’t apply to you in case you’re not looking to borrow a large amount.

Pro: The Custom Choice Loan fittingly gives you a few choices when it comes to loan repayment options. Choosing partial payments or interest-only payments can help lessen the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of your loan, and are easier to manage than going into immediate repayment.

Pro: SunTrust offers a Graduation Reward where 2% of your principal balance will be reduced, provided you graduate with at least a Bachelor’s degree. The principal balance is based off the net total of all disbursements you receive from SunTrust.

SunTrust Bank


on SunTrust Bank’s secure website

Private Student Loan Alternatives

Not eligible for a loan with SunTrust? There are many other private lenders offering student loans, such as Citizen’s Bank and Sallie Mae.

Citizens Bank: You can borrow up to $90,000 and your combined Federal and private student loan debt can’t exceed $120,000. Fixed APRs range from 6.39% to 11.65%, and variable APRs range from 6.14% to 11.40%. Repayment terms offered are 5, 10, and 15 years.

Citizens Bank (RI)


on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Sallie Mae: One of the most well-known private student loan lenders, Sallie Mae has a Smart Option Student loan with fixed APRs ranging from 6.25% to 9.16%, and variable APRs ranging from 4.00% to 9.04%. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance, and this loan comes with a Graduated Repayment option.

Sallie Mae Bank


on Sallie Mae Bank’s secure website

It’s also worth checking with your bank or local credit union for their rates. If you or your cosigner have an existing relationship with a bank, that could help you secure lower rates.

Are you afraid of your credit being negatively affected if you apply with too many lenders? As long as you complete applications within a 30-day window, then the credit bureaus will count all inquiries as one inquiry, ensuring your credit doesn’t take a huge hit. Shopping around for the best deal is worth the effort with student loan debt being such a burden. Lower interest rates will make your loan more affordable.

A Solid Option if You Have to Use a Private Lender

The SunTrust Custom Choice Loan is a solid option for students requiring more financial assistance than what the Federal government can provide. SunTrust customers benefit more with the 0.50% interest rate deduction, and no one can complain about receiving a 2% principal reduction on their loans upon graduating.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Erin Millard
Erin Millard |

Erin Millard is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at