Average Time to Repay Student Loans

Report Highlights:

  • 20 years is how long it takes the average indebted graduate to pay off their student loans, with a current average $32,731 debt per loan.
  • 46+ years is the time it takes some professional graduates to pay off their student loans, ultimately paying more in interest than the original loan was worth.
  • 1-in-5 borrowers see their total student loan debt increase in the first five years of repayment.
  • The average medical school graduate’s salary is not sufficient to make their student loan payments.

As of 2020’s third fiscal quarter, over 43.4 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.68 trillion. The average student loan debt per person is $39,000, but it can range widely among individuals and demographics, including by race, age group, gender, and even from state to state. Undergraduates of public institutions owe less than $30,000 on average, whereas the average medical school debt is over $240,000. The longer it takes a borrower to pay off their student loan debt, the more interest their debt accrues. This results in ever greater amounts of debt. How long does it take to pay off student loans? It varies from year to year, but the undergraduate class of 2021 is the first in decades that may reasonably expect to pay off their student loans within 10 years.

Average Student Loan Repayment Timelines

The amount of time it takes to repay student loan debt depends on the initial amount borrowed, the loan’s interest rate, as well as the rate and method of repayment. Because each of these variables is constantly changing, average estimates and projections may not reflect the current reality of student loan debt.

  • 10 years is the ideal timeline for paying off student loan debt according to financial experts.
  • In practice, it takes borrowers closer to 20 years to pay off their student loans.
  • 21.1 years was the average length of repayment in a 2013 study.
  • 45% of student loan borrowers decrease their balance in the first five years of repayment.
  • 21% of student loan borrowers increase their balance in that same period.
Undergraduate Class of 2021 Projected Student Loan Repayment (2.75%)
SalaryMonthly
Payment*
Average
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$42,500$354$29,500$32,8007 yrs, 9 mos
$35,000$39,7009 yrs, 4 mos
$45,300$53,70012 yrs, 8 mos
$64,900$541$29,500$31,5004 yrs, 10 mos
$35,000$37,9005 yrs, 10 mos
$45,300$50,4007 yrs, 9 mos
$73,800$615$29,500$31,3004 yrs, 3 mos
$35,000$37,5005 yrs, 1 mos
$45,300$49,7006 yrs, 9 mos

*Monthly payments are always the recommended 10% of income unless otherwise noted.

Class of 2021 Student Loan Repayment Timelines

Because student loan interest rates are at historic lows, current students may reasonably expect to pay off their student loan debts within the recommended 10-year timeline.

  • 2.75% is the interest rate for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized federal student loans to undergraduate borrowers.
  • 10% of income should go toward paying off debts according to federal guidelines.
  • 36% of income is the maximum amount that should go toward paying off debt.
  • $42,500 is the low-end starting salary for a new graduate with a Bachelor’s degree.
  • $73,800 is the high-end salary.
  • $64,900 is the average annual salary for a recent graduate with a Bachelor’s degree.
  • $52,000 is the median salary for new graduates with Bachelor’s degrees.
  • 4 to 12+ years is the projected student loan debt repayment period for Bachelor’s degree holders who graduate in 2021.

Associate’s Degree Debt Repayment

Student borrowers with Associate’s degrees are significantly less likely to take on student loan debt if they attend public institutions. Private school attendees are actually more likely than their Bachelor’s degree-seeking peers to use student loans to pay for school.

  • Just 41% of Associate’s degree holders who graduated from public institutions use student loans to pay for school.
  • 84% of attendees of private, nonprofit schools take on student loan debt.
  • 88% of attendees of private, for-profit schools take on student loan debt.
  • $46,100 is the average annual salary for a recently graduated Associate’s degree holder.
  • 4 to 7+ years is the projected student loan debt repayment period for Associate’s degree holders who graduate in 2021.
Student Loan Repayment for Associate’s Degree Holders (2.75%)
SalaryMonthly
Payment
Average DebtTotal CostTime to Zero Debt
$46,100$384$17,800$18,8004 yrs, 1 mos
$28,300$31,0006 yrs, 9 mos
$30,100$33,2007 yrs, 3 mos
Master’s Graduate Student Loan Repayment
SalaryMonthly
Payment
APR %Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$80,300$6694.3%$58,300$70,0008 yrs, 9 mo
$77,000$99,50012 yrs, 5 mos
$96,700$136,50017 yrs, 0 mos
5.3%$58,300$73,7009 yrs, 2 mos
$77,000$107,80013 yrs, 5 mos
$96,700$154,40019 yrs, 3 mos

Graduate Student Loan Debt Repayment Timelines

Graduate and professional students, on average, borrow more for school than undergraduate students. Their income rates tend to be higher, as well.

  • 4.3% is the interest rate for Direct Unsubsidized federal student loans to graduate or professional borrowers.
  • 5.3% is the interest rate for Direct PLUS loans, which go to graduate or professional borrowers as well as parents of undergraduates borrowing on their behalf.
  • $58,300 is the average student debt for a borrower who graduated from a public institution with a Master’s degree.
  • $96,700 is the average debt for Master’s degree holders who attended a private, for-profit institution.
  • $101,200-$175,600 is the range of average debt for Doctoral degree holders.
  • $243,300 is the average debt for Professional degree holders who attended private, nonprofit institutions.
  • $77,800 is the average salary for a Master’s degree holder.
  • $96,800 and $97,900 are the average respective salaries for people with Professional and Doctoral degrees.
Doctoral Graduate Student Loan Repayment
SalaryMonthly
Payment
APR %Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$100,000$8334.3%$98,700$128,70012 yrs, 11 mos
$100,700$132,20013 yrs, 3 mos
$171,400$311,30031 yrs, 2 mos
5.3%$98,700$140,00014 yrs, 0 mos
$100,700$144,30014 yrs, 5 mos
$171,400$452,60045 yrs, 3 mos

Postgraduate Student Loan Debt Repayment Timelines

When indebted students return to school, they may not be required to make payments on any outstanding student loan debts. This does not mean, however, that these debts stop collecting interest. Students seeking postgraduate work may take out additional loans on top of existing student loan debt.

Professional Graduate Student Loan Repayment
SalaryMonthly
Payment
APR %Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$101,100$8434.3%$152,600$246,50024 yrs, 4 mos 292
$237,400NA**NA
$203,600$472,70046 yrs, 9 mos 561
5.3%$152,600$307,40030 yrs, 5 mos 365
$237,400NANA
$203,600NANA

**The monthly payment does not cover the loan’s principal interest, rendering repayment impossible.

Alternative Professional Graduate Student Loan Repayment
SalaryMonthly
Payment
% of
Income
APR %Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$101,100$1,68520%4.3%$237,400$331,10016 yrs, 5 mos
$2,52830%$237,400$289,9009 yrs, 7 mos
$1,68520%5.3%$203,600$291,70014 yrs, 5 mos

Repayment of Medical and Law School Debt Timelines

The average law school debt is more than four times higher than the average undergraduate student debt. Medical degrees offer a better chance of qualifying for student loan forgiveness if the indebted graduate meets the set of rigid standards to apply.

  • Top-earning doctors can have their student loans paid off in a minimum of 7 years.
  • First-year residents do not earn enough to pay their student loan’s principal interest, making repayment impossible.
  • $241,600 is the average student loan debt for a medical school graduate.
  • $63,200 is a first-year resident’s annual salary.
  • $174,000 is a general physician’s salary.
  • $400,000 is an anesthesiologist’s salary.
  • $160,000 is the average student loan debt for a law school graduate.
  • $55,200 is the average starting salary for a law school graduate.
  • $127,000 is an average salary for an experienced attorney.
  • $188,000 is an average salary for a patent attorney.
Medical School Graduate Average Student Loan Repayment
SalaryMonthly
Payment
% of
Income
APR %Total
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$63,200$52710%4.3%NANA
$105320%$508,40040 yrs, 3 mos
$1,58030%$350,70018 yrs, 6 mos
$174,000$1,45010%$368,50021 yrs, 2 mos
$400,000$3,330$280,3007 yrs, 0 mos
$63,200$5275.3%NANA
$105320%NANA
$158030%$403,40021 yrs, 3 mos
$174,000$1,45010%$438,10025 yrs, 2 mos
$400,000$3,330$291,9007 yrs, 4 mos
Law School Graduate Average Student Loan Repayment
SalaryMonthly
Payment
% of
Income
APR %Total CostYears to Zero Debt
$55,200$46010%4.3%NANA
$55,200$92020%$251,00022 yrs, 9 mos
$127,000$1,058$230,90018 yrs, 2 mos
$188,000$1,567$164,80010 yrs, 7 mos
$55,200$92020%5.3%$305,10027 yrs, 8 mos
$127,000$1,05810%$264,70020 yrs, 10 mos
$188,000$1,567$213,20011 yrs, 4 mos

Private Student Loan Debt Repayment Timelines

Private student loans, for the most part, come from academic institutions as well as banks and credit unions. The total amount of private student loan debt is difficult to track because little of the related data is a matter of public record.

  • 1.2% is the lowest known private student loan interest rate, available only to those with excellent credit.
  • 3.82% is the low-end private student loan interest rate for most student borrowers.
  • 14.5% is the high-end interest rate.
  • Most students owe between $20,000 and $40,000 in student loan debt.
  • 56% of indebted borrowers owe $20,000 or less in student loan
  • 34.3% of indebted student borrowers owe $10,000 or less in federal student loans.
  • 17.1% of borrowers owe less than $5,000.
  • 21.4% of borrowers owe between $10,000 and $20,000 in student loans.
  • 18.4% owe $40,000 to $100,000.
  • 7.4% owe $100,000 or more.
  • 2% owe in excess of $200,000.
Private Student Loan Repayment ($64,900 Income)
Monthly
Payment
% of
Income
APR %Average
Debt
Total CostTime to Zero Debt
$54110%1.2%$15,000$15,2002 yrs, 4 mos
$30,000$30,9004 yrs, 9 mos
$60,000$63,6009 yrs, 10 mos
3.82%$15,000$15,7002 yrs, 5 mos
$30,000$33,1005 yrs, 1 mos
$60,000$74,10011 yrs, 5 mos
14.5%$15,000$18,4002 yrs, 10 mos
$30,000$49,9007 yrs, 8 mos
$60,000NANA
$1,08220%$60,000$99,9007 yrs, 8 mos

Sources

  1. PEW Research Center, Student Loan System Presents Repayment Challenges
  2. U.S. Federal Reserve, Consumer Credit – G.19
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Learn more, Earn More: Education Leads to Higher Wages, Lower Unemployment
  4. U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), Federal Student Loan Portfolio
  5. ED OFSA, The Standard Repayment Plan is the Basic Repayment Plan for Loans from the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program
  6. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Trends in Student Loan Debt for Graduate School Completers
  7. NCES, The Condition of Education: Loans for Undergraduate Students
  8. CNBC, College Grads Expect to Earn $60,000 in Their First Job—Here’s How Much They Actually Make
  9. National Association of Colleges and Employers, Class of 2018’s Preliminary Salary Shows Slight Drop
  10. BLS, Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator
  11. U.S. Department of Justice, Entry-Level and Experience Attorneys
  12. National Library of Medicine, Graduate Medical Education Funding Mechanisms, Challenges, and Solutions: A Narrative Review
  13. U.S. Government Accountability Office, Graduate Medical Education: Trends in Training and Student Debt
  14. Current Student Loan Interest Rates and How They Work
  15. Forbes, Student Loan Debt Statistics in 2020: A Record $1.6 Trillion