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Average Student Loan Debt In the United States: 2023

What Is the Average Student Loan Debt?
Nancy Bilyeau
Nancy BilyeauUpdated July 29, 2023
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It can be hard to wrap your mind around the size of college student debts in America. When you’re talking about education-financing trends, the numbers are … huge. To the tune of $1.75 trillion in 2023.How did this happen? Experts say that as it became more and more common to pursue a college degree, the federal government made accruing student loans fairly easy to do and tuition has skyrocketed, to the tune of a 211 percent increase at public universities alone from 2002 to 2022, according to U.S. News and World Report. These forces seem to have strengthened one another, leading to what some describe as a crisis.Media reports say that student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category in the nation. It is second to mortgage debt and ranks higher than credit card or auto loan debt.In August 2022, President Joe Biden said that over time “an entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for an attempt, at least, at a college degree. The burden is so heavy that even if you graduate, you may not have access to the middle-class life that the college degree once provided.”

How Much Student Loan Debt Is There?

According to the latest statistics, about 45 million Americans owe $1.75 trillion in student loan debt. The majority of this debt is made up of federal loans.In March 2020, a pause was put on payments on federal student loans due to hardship caused by COVID-19 pandemic. The federal student loan pause ends in the autumn of 2023.The three-year-long pause included the following relief measures for eligible loans:
  • a suspension of loan payments
  • a 0% interest rate
  • stopped collections on defaulted loans
The payment pause freed up cash in the budgets of millions of Americans. But the pause has also reduced by tens of billions of dollars the amount in interest payments that the government expected to collect during this period.As part of the debt ceiling bill negotiated by President Biden and Congress, that pause must end.  Student loan interest will resume starting on Sept. 1, 2023, and payments will be due starting in October.

Average Student Loan Debt in the United States

The average federal student loan debt is $37,717 per borrower, while the total average balance (including private loan debt) may be as high as $40,505, according to 2023 statistics from Since Spring 2020, the average student loan debt increased by 1.6%. Looking forward, the average student-loan debt holder takes 20 years to pay off what’s owed. Some professional graduates take more than 45 years to repay their student loansThe average total debt remains close to the maximum amount a student can borrow if relying solely on federal loans, says U.S. News and World Report.The states with some of the highest average federal loan debt are the District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New York and Florida.The states with some of the lowest average federal loan debt are North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Maine.Recommended: Student Loans: How Much Do I Owe?

Average Undergraduate Student Loan Debt

When it comes to undergraduate student loans, the average student borrows over $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree, says students graduate, drop below half-time enrollment, or leave school, their federal student loan goes into repayment. However, if they have a Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education Loan, they have a six-month grace period before being required to start making regular payments. They’ll have a nine-month grace period if they’ve got a Perkins Loan.

Average Graduate Student Loan Debt

When you scrutinize the student loans average for graduate school, the debt can be staggering.The average graduate student loan debt balance in 2023 is $76,620 among federal borrowers, says it breaks down: The average debt among master's degree holders is $83,651. The average debt among PhD holders is $125,276. The average graduate student debt is 141.8% higher than the average debt balance among all student borrowers.Today’s graduate students are three times more likely to borrow for school than graduate students in 1995. The average graduate school debt has also more than doubled since 1995. In almost all cases, graduate or professional students are considered independent students for the purposes of completing their FAFSA form for grad school. This means graduate students generally are not required to provide parent information.

Paying Off Student Loans

The way it begins: your loan servicer will provide you with a loan repayment schedule that states when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment.Your billing statement will tell you how much to pay. Your monthly payment amount depends on your repayment plan. If you signed up for electronic communication, pay attention to your email. Most loan servicers send an email when your billing statement is ready for you to access says that 48.9% of students who borrow money to attend school are still paying off loans 20 years later. On its website, the Department of Education issues the following statement: “REMEMBER: Your federal student loans can’t be canceled or forgiven because you didn’t get the education or job you expected or you didn’t complete your education (unless you couldn’t complete your education because your school closed).”Clearly, some loan holders are struggling to keep up. One out of every ten Americans has defaulted on a student loan, and 7.8% of all student loan debt is in default, says An average of 15% of student loans are in default at any given time.

Refinancing Student Loans

To pursue new interest rates and flexibility in repayment time frames, some people choose to refinance their federal student loans with a private loan servicer. By comparing student loan refinancing rates, loan holders can choose a deal that works for them. The private company pays off the federal loan and begins a new loan with the customer.There are pros and cons to refinancing. By doing so, private loan holders lose out on some benefits available to those with federal student loans. Those include:
  • Losing access to the government's SAVE program for federal student loans, an income-driven repayment plan that will significantly decrease your monthly payment amount compared to all other government repayment plans.
  • Losing access to Biden's federal loan programs (deferment or student loan forbearance) when you do not have to make payments because of financial hardship, continuing your education, or military service
  • No interest accumulation on subsidized student loans during periods when payments are deferred
  • Access to repayment plans based on your income that provide loan forgiveness once you have been in repayment for 20 or 25 years
  • Access to various forms of loan forgiveness and discharge, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness, total and permanent disability discharge, and borrower defense to repayment discharge.

The Takeaway

The nation’s student debt has grown in recent years, with the average student borrowing over $37,000 in federal loans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. When it comes to graduate school, the average graduate student loan debt balance is $76,000 among federal borrowers.What this has led to: student loan debt now ranks as the second highest consumer debt category in the nation, second only to mortgage debt.Holders of federal student loans could be interested in refinancing loans. However, they must bear in mind that refinancing means that loan is no longer eligible for federal forgiveness or income-driven repayment.Explore your student loan refinancing options with Lantern.
Photo credit: iStock/designer491

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau writes about student loans, mortgages, car insurance, medical debt and many other finance topics for Lantern. A veteran of the magazine business, she has edited stories on personal finance for Good Housekeeping and DuJour magazines and has written articles for The Wall Street Journal, Readers' Digest, Parade, Town & Country and Lifetime/A&E, among others. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
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