Average Time to Repay Student Loans

Last Updated: August 17, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. The average student borrower takes 20 years to pay off their student loan debt.

  • Some professional graduates take over 45 years to repay student loans.
  • 21% of borrowers see their total student loan debt balance increase in the first 5 years of their loan.
  • The average medical school graduate’s salary is not sufficient to make their student loan payments.

Related reports include Student Loan Debt Statistics | Average Student Loan Debt | Student Loan Debt by State | Average Student Loan Interest Rate | Student Loan Refinancing

Student loan repayment timelines for 2021 graduates on EducationData

Average Student Loan Repayment Timelines

The amount of time it takes for an individual to repay their student loan debt depends on the initial amount borrowed, the loan’s interest rate, and repayment habits, among other factors.

  • 10 years is the ideal timeline for paying off student loan debt according to financial experts and the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
  • 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.
  • The average medical school graduate’s salary is not sufficient to make their student loan payments.
Undergraduate Class of 2021 Projected Student Loan Repayment (2.75%)
Monthly
Payment*
Average
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$354 $29,500 $32,800 7 yrs, 9 mos
$35,000 $39,700 9 yrs, 4 mos
$45,300 $53,700 12 yrs, 8 mos
$541 $29,500 $31,500 4 yrs, 10 mos
$35,000 $37,900 5 yrs, 10 mos
$45,300 $50,400 7 yrs, 9 mos
$615 $29,500 $31,300 4 yrs, 3 mos
$35,000 $37,500 5 yrs, 1 mos
$45,300 $49,700 6 yrs, 9 mos

*Monthly payments are based on 10% of typical income values (low-end to high-end) for recent graduates.

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.
Student Loan Repayment for Associate’s Degree Holders (2.75%)
Monthly
Payment
Average Debt Total Cost Time to Zero Debt
$384 $17,800 $18,800 4 yrs, 1 mos
$28,300 $31,000 6 yrs, 9 mos
$30,100 $33,200 7 yrs, 3 mos

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.
Master’s Graduate Student Loan Repayment ($669 Monthly Payment)
APR % Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
4.3% $58,300 $70,000 8 yrs, 9 mo
$77,000 $99,500 12 yrs, 5 mos
$96,700 $136,500 17 yrs, 0 mos
5.3% $58,300 $73,700 9 yrs, 2 mos
$77,000 $107,800 13 yrs, 5 mos
$96,700 $154,400 19 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 ($833 Monthly Payment)
APR % Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
4.3% $98,700 $128,700 12 yrs, 11 mos
$100,700 $132,200 13 yrs, 3 mos
$171,400 $311,300 31 yrs, 2 mos
5.3% $98,700 $140,000 14 yrs, 0 mos
$100,700 $144,300 14 yrs, 5 mos
$171,400 $452,600 45 yrs, 3 mos

Average student loan debt among graduates by institution type on EducationData

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 ($843 Monthly Payment)
APR % Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
4.3% $152,600 $246,500 24 yrs, 4 mos 292
$237,400 NA** NA
$203,600 $472,700 46 yrs, 9 mos 561
5.3% $152,600 $307,400 30 yrs, 5 mos 365
$237,400 NA NA
$203,600 NA NA
Alternative Professional Graduate Student Loan Repayment
Monthly
Payment
% of
Income
APR % Current
Debt
Ultimate
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$1,685 20% 4.3% $237,400 $331,100 16 yrs, 5 mos
$2,528 30% $237,400 $289,900 9 yrs, 7 mos
$1,685 20% 5.3% $203,600 $291,700 14 yrs, 5 mos

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

Average debt among degree holders by institution type 1 on EducationData

Medical School Graduate Average Student Loan Repayment (4.3% APR)
Salary Monthly
Payment
% of
Income
Total
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$63,200 $527 10% NA NA
$1053 20% $508,400 40 yrs, 3 mos
$1,580 30% $350,700 18 yrs, 6 mos
$174,000 $1,450 10% $368,500 21 yrs, 2 mos
$400,000 $3,330 10% $280,300 7 yrs, 0 mos
Medical School Graduate Average Student Loan Repayment (5.3% APR)
Salary Monthly
Payment
% of
Income
Total
Cost
Time to Zero Debt
$63,200 $527 10% NA NA
$1053 20% NA NA
$1580 30% $403,400 21 yrs, 3 mos
$174,000 $1,450 10% $438,100 25 yrs, 2 mos
$400,000 $3,330 10% $291,900 7 yrs, 4 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.
Law School Graduate Average Student Loan Repayment (4.3%)
Salary Monthly
Payment
% of
Income
Total Cost Years to Zero Debt
$55,200 $460 10% NA NA
$55,200 $920 20% $251,000 22 yrs, 9 mos
$127,000 $1,058 20% $230,900 18 yrs, 2 mos
$188,000 $1,567 20% $164,800 10 yrs, 7 mos
Law School Graduate Average Student Loan Repayment (5.3%)
Salary Monthly
Payment
% of
Income
Total Cost Years to Zero Debt
$55,200 $920 20% $305,100 27 yrs, 8 mos
$127,000 $1,058 10% $264,700 20 yrs, 10 mos
$188,000 $1,567 10% $213,200 11 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
APR % Average
Debt
Total Cost Time to Zero Debt
$541 10% 1.2% $15,000 $15,200 2 yrs, 4 mos
$30,000 $30,900 4 yrs, 9 mos
$60,000 $63,600 9 yrs, 10 mos
3.82% $15,000 $15,700 2 yrs, 5 mos
$30,000 $33,100 5 yrs, 1 mos
$60,000 $74,100 11 yrs, 5 mos
14.5% $15,000 $18,400 2 yrs, 10 mos
$30,000 $49,900 7 yrs, 8 mos
$60,000 NA NA
$1,082 20% $60,000 $99,900 7 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