Total Student Loan Debt

Report Highlights.The total student loan debt, currently $1.71 trillion, continues to climb as a number of borrowers do not have access to debt relief.

  • Federal student loan debt has grown at an annual average rate of 27.9% since the turn of the 21st Century (16.1% after adjusting for inflation).
  • Student borrowers owe $1.57 trillion in federal loan debt.
  • Borrowers owe $132 billion in private student loan debt.
  • A total of 47.9 million borrowers have student loan debt; 45.5 million or 95% of them have federal loan debt.

Related reports include Average Student Loan Debt | Student Loan Debt by State | Average Student Loan Debt by Year | Student Loan Refinancing

Line Graph: Historic Total National Student Loan Debt Balance in Trillions

Total* Student Loan Debt by Year
Year Total Debt Year-over-Year Change
2020 $1.70T 8.28%
2019 $1.57T 3.97%
2018 $1.51T 6.34%
2017 $1.42T 4.41%
2016 $1.36T 6.25%
2015 $1.28T 5.79%
2014 $1.21T 8.04%
2013 $1.12T 9.80%
2012 $1.02T 9.68%
2011 $930B 14.74%†
2010 $760B 13.60%
2009 $669B 12.82%
2008 $593B 13.38%
2007 $523B 11.99%
2006 $467B 13.08%
2005 $413B 11.02%
2004 $372B 13.41%
2003 $328B 11.95%
2002 $293B 12.69%
2001 $260B 13.54%
2000 $229B 13.37%

*Totals prior to 2011 do not include private loan debt.
†Change refers to federal loans only.

Total Student Loan Debt

The total student loan debt balance continues to rise faster than the rate of tuition though its growth rate has slowed significantly in the past 5 years. 2020 saw the largest year-over-year (YoY) increase since 2013.

  • The total student loan debt is about $1,698,400,000,000.
  • Federal student loan debt totals $1,566,400,000,000.
  • The nationwide total private student loan debt estimated to be $131,810,000,000.
  • Over the last 5 years, the total student loan debt balance has increased 32.8%, an annual rate of 6.56%.
  • The federal balance alone increased 28.8%, an annual rate of 5.76%.
  • During that time, the cost of college increased 14.1%, an annual growth rate of 2.81%.
  • Also during that time, the value of the U.S. dollar increased 10.0%, or an annual growth rate of 2.0%.
  • In 20 years, the total federal student loan debt balance has increased 584%, averaging an annual growth rate of 29.2%.
  • Total private loan debt increases at an annual rate of 7.04%.

Federal Loan Debt Total Balance

Most of the total student loan debt balance is for federal loans, covering 92.2% of the total debt.

  • $825.5 billion or 48.6% of federal loan debt is from Stafford loans.
  • $552.1 billion or 32.5% of federal debt is from loans that have been consolidated (a process similar to refinancing but with no change‡ in interest rates).
  • $272.3 billion in total federal student loan debt belongs to borrowers who owe between $20,000 and $40,000 (21.1% of borrowers).
  • $263.1 billion in federal debt belongs to borrowers who owe $200,000 or more (1.9% of borrowers).
  • Borrowers who owe between $5,000 and $10,000 account for a total of $54.6 billion or 34.8% of federal student loan debt.

The consolidated interest rate is the average of the existing loans’ interest rates rounded up to the nearest 1/8th%.

Outstanding Federal Student Loan Debt
Year Undergraduate Graduate¶
2020 $826B $741B
2019 $797B $714B
2018 $767B $672B
2017 $723B $634B
2016 $704B $595B
2015 $667B $552B
2014 $632B $513B
2013 $584B $466B
2012 $539B $426B
2011 $488B $384B
2010 $426B $334B
2009 $376B $293B
2008 $335B $258B
2007 $298B $225B
2006 $270B $197B
2005 $241B $172B
2004 $222B $150B
2003 $198B $130B
2002 $179B $114B
2001 $161B $99B
2000 $144B $85B

¶Data sources include consolidated loans among graduate debt.

Line Graph: Total Federal Student Loan Debt in billions by Loan Type

Analysis: Graduate Debt on the Rise?

While there has been a significant increase in graduate student borrowing, the raw data available does not itemize consolidated loans. In other words, it is not possible to tell if the loans consolidated were undergraduate or graduate loans. Further, all PLUS loans are considered graduate loan debt, though parents often take out PLUS loans to aid their undergraduate children. Therefore, there is likely a significant portion of graduate student loan debt that was actually used to undergraduate study.

  • The current debt balance for federally consolidated loans is $552.1 billion or 74.5% of graduate debt.
  • This is a 47.8% increase in the consolidated debt balance since 2014, averaging an annual growth rate of 7.96%.
  • The consolidated debt balance grows 27.4% fater than the total student debt balance and 38.2% faster than the total federal student debt.
  • The current debt balance for Parent PLUS loans is $100.8 billion or 13.6% of graduate debt.
  • This is a 54.8% increase since 2014, averaging an annual growth rate of 9.14%.
  • Together, consolidated loans and Parent PLUS loans cover 88.1% of federal student loan debt often designated as graduate student debt.
  • Graduate PLUS and Perkins loan debt totals $88 billion or 11.9% of federal debt designated as graduate student debt.
  • This is a 78.1% increase since 2014, or an annual growth rate of 13.0%.

Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Federal Student Aid, Federal Student Loan Portfolio
  2. Congressional Budget Office, The Volume and Repayment of Federal Student Loans 1995 to 2017
  3. The MeasureOne Private Student Loan Report 2020