Student Loan Debt by Age

Last Updated: July 10, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. 35-year-olds have the highest average outstanding student loan debt at $42,600 per borrower; their typical end balance is 287% higher than the value of their original loan.

  • 1-in-3 adults under 30 owe 34% of all student loan debt, totaling $578 billion.
  • 34% of adults aged 18 to 29 years have student loan debt, making them more than twice as likely as adults in any other age group to have student debt.
  • Student borrowers aged 30 to 44 years owe 49% of the national student loan debt balance or $823 billion.

Related research includes Student Loan Debt Statistics | Student Loan Debt by Race | Student Loan Debt by Gender | Student Loan Debt by Year | Student Loan Refinancing

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Student Loan Debt by Age

Charting student loan debt by age group is useful for tracking how education and financial policy changes affect consumers over time. Some variations in average student loan debt balances among age groups may be due to postgraduate and professional degrees. The rise and fall of interest rates are also a logical factor.

  • 35-year-olds have an average student loan debt of $42,600.
  • The average 35-year-old’s student debt is 287% greater than the value of their original loan.
  • 30- to 60-year-olds have average loan debts that exceed the national average.
  • Borrowers 24 and younger owe an average of $16,500 in student loan debt.
  • 350,000 35- to 49-year-olds owe more than $200,000 in student loan debt.
  • 34% of 18- to 29-year-olds have student loan debt.
  • 49% of adults under 30 with a bachelor’s degree or higher have student loan debt.
  • 1% of adults over 60 have student loan debt.
  • In 2016, 15- to 23-year-olds took out an average of $12,090 in student loans per year.
  • Also in 2016, 60.4% of 24- to 29-year-old students collected an annual average of $11,030 in educational loans.
  • 62.3% of students aged 30 years or more collected an annual average of $10,940 in loans.
  • Adults aged 30 to 45 years owe nearly half of all student loan debt.
  • Adults 60 and over owe less than 2% of the national student loan debt.
  • 2.8 million or 5.3% of adults aged 60 years and older have a student loan debt balance.
  • 18- to 29-year-olds owe 34% of student loan debt.
  • 17.3 million or 26% of adults under 30 years old have student loan debt.
  • 12.1 million or 28% of adults in their 30s have student loan debt.
  • 6.8 million or 13% of adults in their 40s have student loan debt.
  • 5.2 million or 12.5% of adults in their 50s have student loan debt.

Bar Graph: Percentage of Student Loan Debt Holders per Age Group

Student Loan Debt by Generation

The concept of dividing people into generations defined by cultural events began as a marketing tool. That is still its primary purpose. The significance of cultural generations, however, has crept into public consciousness. As such, many people now categorize age groups based on titled generations. In turn, researchers have begun applying generational parameters to data sets.

  • The youngest members of the Silent generation were the first to benefit from federal student loans.
  • Baby boomers had the highest student loan interest rates.
  • Since the eldest Millennials graduated, student loan debt has increased 362.4%.
  • Millennials currently have the greatest amount of outstanding debt.
  • The oldest members of Generation Z graduated from college last year.
  • So far, just 0.0007% of Generation Z members carry student loan debt.
  • Many of Generation Z’s student loans are not yet eligible for repayment.

For more details, see our report on Student Loan Debt by Generation.

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Average Tuition and Fees by Age Group

From 1963 to 1983, the cost of a college education remained stable when adjusting for inflation. The 1970s even saw a decrease in the cost of tuition. The 1983-84 academic year, however, the price of education began its excessive climb. The rise in sticker prices is a driving factor in the rise of student debt.

  • Assuming they began attending college at the traditional age of 18, 75-year-olds paid $1,280 for their first year of tuition, fees, and room & board.
  • 60-year-olds paid $2,587 for their first year of college.
  • 45-year-olds paid $7,931 for a year of college.
  • 30-year-olds paid $17,092 to attend college for a year.
  • From 1963 to 2018, the cost of a college education increased 1,873%.
  • That’s an annual growth of 34.2%, whereas the value of the U.S. dollar only increased by 13.3% each year.
  • The annual growth rate of college costs exceeds monetary inflation by more than two-and-a-half times.
  • Adjusting for inflation, the value of a college education rose by 140% over 55 years.
  • Between 1989 and 2019, the cost of a college education more than doubled when adjusting for inflation.
  • The cost of attending a public college is rising faster than the cost of attending a private school.

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Student Loan Interest Rates Among Age Groups

While the cost of college has increased, student loan interest rates have risen and fallen many times over the decades. Interest rates have a significant effect on student debt. Student loan interest hit its peak in the early-1980s and remained high until 2001, when it slowly began to ebb.

  • Assuming they started college at the traditional age of 18, 57- to 61-year-olds had the highest starting student loan interest rates.
  • From 1981 to 1982, student loan interest rates were as high as 14%.
  • 43- to 61-year-olds paid student loan interest rates in excess of 10%.
  • 6.8% is the highest interest rate on federal loans in recent years.
  • 30- to 34-year-olds paid higher starting interest rates on student loans than borrowers 29 and under.
  • Student loan interest rates are currently the lowest they’ve been in decades.
  • 2.75% is the current interest rate for a Federal Stafford loan.
  • 5.3% is currently the highest interest rate for a federal loan.

For more details, see our report on Student Loan Interest Rates.

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  1. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Digest of Education Statistics
  2. U.S. News, Meet Generation Subprime
  3. Experian, Main Street Report: Q2 2019
  4. PEW Research Center, 5 Facts About Student Loans
  5. FinAid, Historical Rates
  6. PEW, Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers as America’s Largest Generation
  7. New America, Education Policy: Student Loan History
  8. U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), Federal Student Loan Portfolio
  9. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Center for Microeconomic Data