Average Student Loan Interest Rate in 2021

Last Updated: October 4, 2021 by Melanie Hanson
  • Among all existing borrowers, 5.8% is the average student loan interest rate.
  • For new undergraduate loans, the current federal interest rate is 3.73%.
  • All federal loan interest rates have been temporarily set to 0% until January 31, 2022; 91.9% of all student loan debt is federal.
  • Current refinancing rates from private lenders range from 2.25% to 12%.
Current Federal Interest Rates
Student Borrowers Loan Type Interest Rate
Undergraduate Direct 3.73%
Graduate & Professional Direct 5.28%
Parent, Graduate & Professional PLUS 6.28%

Student Loan Interest Rates

Student loan interest rates were at historic lows for the 2020-2021 academic year in response to the ever-ballooning national student debt, which was labeled a crisis as early as 1995.

  • 5.8% is the average student loan interest rate among all student loans, federal and private.
  • The average federal loan interest rate is 4.12%.
  • Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, all federal student loan interest rates fell an average 31.24%.
  • Interest rates for undergraduate loans fell 62% faster than interest rates for graduate and professional students.
  • The undergraduate federal interest rate has declined 80.36% since rates peaked at 14% in the early 1980s.
  • Consolidating federal loans does not decrease interest rates, but refinancing may.

Line Graph: Federal Student Loan Interest Rates for undergraduates, graduates, professionals, and parents

Federal Interest Rates

92.24% of all student loan debt is federal. Federal loan interest rates are fixed, meaning the interest rate stays the same as long as there is an outstanding balance on the loan.

  • The interest rate among all federal student loans declined 30.17% – down from 5.90% – between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years.
  • The average federal loan interest rate since 2006 is 6.05%.
  • The undergraduate interest rate is 3.73%.
  • The current undergraduate interest rate is up 36.5% YoY.
  • Over the past 5 years, the average interest rate for undergraduate student loans has been 4.11%.
  • Federal interest rates are adjusted every year on July 1st.
  • The interest rate for a Direct Consolidation Loan is determined by the weighted average of the consolidated loans’ interest rates rounded up to the nearest 1/8%.
Federal Direct Student Loan Interest Rates for Undergraduates
Disbursement Period Interest Rate
7/2021-6/2022 3.73%
7/2020-6/2021 2.75%
7/2019-6/2020 4.53%
7/2018-6/2019 5.05%
7/2017-6/2018 4.45%
7/2016-6/2017 3.76%
7/2015-6/2016 4.29%
7/2014-6/2015 4.66%
7/2013-6/2014 3.86%

Line Graph: Average Interest Rates for All Federal Loans

Historical Federal Interest Rates

While the earliest federal student loan progams date to 1944, they were only available to military veterans until 1958.

  • In 1982, federal interest rates ran as high as 14%.
  • In 1988, undergraduates could get loans at an interest rate of 9%.
  • In 1992, federal interest rates ran from 7% to 10%.
  • Federal interest rates fell by an average 36.19% between 2010 and 2020.
  • The average federal loan interest rate has declined % since 2006.
  • Federal interest rates for undergraduates have declined % since 2006, an annual rate of %.
  • From 2006 until 2013, the fixed interest rate for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for undergraduates was 6.80%.
  • From 2006 until 2012, teh fixed interest rate for graduate and professional students was 6.8%.
  • As of July 1, 2012, graduate and professional students are no longer eligible for subsidized loans.
  • Starting with the 2013-2014 academic year, Undergraduate Direct Loans carry the same interest rate whether they are subsidized or unsubidized.
  • Also starting in 2013, interest rates adjust annually.
  • Prior to the 2013-2014 academic year, interest rates were generally higher and didn’t always change from year to year.
Federal Direct Subsidized Loan Interest Rates for Undergraduates
Disbursement Period Interest Rate
7/2011-6/2013 3.4%
7/2010-6/2011 4.5%
7/2009-6/2010 5.6%
7/2008-6/2009 6.0%
7/2006-6/2008 6.8%

Graduate, Professional, & Parent Rates

Interest rates for parents and graduate students haven’t fallen as quickly as loans for undergraduates.

  • Direct loans for graduate and professional students declined 29.28% in the last year.
  • PLUS loans for parents and for graduate and professoinal students declined 25.14%.
  • Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years, interest rates for these loans saw their largest ever year-over-year declines.
  • Graduate and Professional direct loan interest rates are decliing 38.27% slower than those for undergraduate loans.
  • PLUS loan interest rates have declined 44.74% slower than those for undergraduates.
  • Compared to Direct loans for graduate and professional students, PLUS loan interest rates have declined 10.48% slower.
  • The now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL) had a fixed interest rate of 8.5% for parents, graduates, and professional borrowers.
Federal Direct Loan Interest Rates for Graduate & Professional
Disbursement Period Interest Rate
7/2021-6/2022 5.28%
7/2020-6/2021 4.30%
7/2019-6/2020 6.08%
7/2018-6/2019 6.60%
7/2017-6/2018 6.00%
7/2016-6/2017 5.31%
7/2015-6/2016 5.84%
7/2014-6/2015 6.21%
7/2013-6/2014 5.41%
7/2006-6/2013 6.80%
Federal PLUS Loan Interest Rates for Parents, Graduates & Professionals
Disbursement Period Interest Rate
7/2021-6/2022 6.28%
7/2020-6/2021 5.30%
7/2019-6/2020 7.08%
7/2018-6/2019 7.60%
7/2017-6/2018 7.00%
7/2016-6/2017 6.31%
7/2015-6/2016 6.84%
7/2014-6/2015 7.21%
7/2013-6/2014 6.41%
7/2006-6/2013 7.90%

Private Loan Interest Rates

Private lenders have started to implement strategies similar to federal relief in order to keep default rates at historic lows; the current private loan default rate is 2%.

  • Official report estimates for the overall average private student loan interest rate generally range from 6% to 7%.
  • Among major private lenders, 12.99% is the highest annual percentage rate (APR).
  • The lowest available APR among private lenders is 1.04% (including an auto-pay discount)*.
  • 93% of private undergraduate loans have a co-signer, which typically lowers a borrower’s interest rate.
  • 60% of graduate loans are co-signed.

*Both of these rates are from CollegeAve.

Refinance Loan Interest Rates

Federal and private student loans can only be refinanced through private lenders.

  • One study found that if every eligible borrower refinanced their loans, the national average interest rate would drop to 4.2%.
  • 52.8% of borrowers are eligible for refinancing.
  • 33.3% of borrowers consolidate or refinance their loans.

For more information, see our report on Student Loan Refinancing.

Sources

  1. New America, In the Interest of Few
  2. U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), Federal Interest Rates and Fees
  3. ED, Federal Student Aid Policy: A History and an Assessment
  4. PR Newswire, Latest MeasureOne Private Student Loan Report Finds Pandemic-Related Forbearance
  5. Bankrate, Current Student Loan Interest Rates