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Average Time to Pay Off Student Loans: How Long Does It Take?

How Long Does It Take To Pay off Student Loans?
Nancy Bilyeau
Nancy BilyeauUpdated April 26, 2022
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
The average student borrower takes 20 years to pay off their student loan debt, according to a recent report. In the U.S. there is nearly $1.75 trillion in total student loan debt, with about 46 million Americans paying on these loans.The fact that many of these holders of student loans require decades to pay off their debt is disturbing to not just the debt holders and their families but also to various politicians and activists. Having ongoing debt means other things have to be put on hold, critics say.For example, about 51% of borrowers are delaying the purchase of a home because of their student debt, according to a report that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released earlier this year. At least 60 percent of those who are delaying are millennials.

How Long It Takes to Repay Student Loans

Paying off student loans faster is a priority for many people. The question driving them is, “How long will it take to pay off my student loan?”When some students sign up for student loans in college, they might not expect repayment to go on for so long, perhaps for much of their adult lives. After asking, “How long does it take to pay off student loans?” the follow-up question is “Why does repayment take so long?”One contributing factor: College costs more than ever. This is a reason to investigate scholarships and grants as thoroughly as possible. Over the last 20 years, the average tuition and fees at private universities have increased 144%. And out-of-state tuition and fees at public universities have risen 171% in 20 years, according to research conducted by U.S. News and World Report.Compounding this trend is that financial aid is widely available. Among today’s college students, 65% graduate with student debt. The average student loan payment is $460 a month, according to Educationdata.org.

Federal Student Loans

More than 43 million borrowers have federal student loan debt. The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,113, says Educationdata.org.Federal student loans typically come with plans ranging from 10 to 30 years. The amount of time it takes for someone to repay their student loan debt depends on the initial amount borrowed, the loan’s interest rate, and repayment habits, among other factors.Ten years is the ideal timeline for paying off student loan debt, according to financial experts and the U.S. Department of Education. In practice, it takes borrowers an average of 20 years to pay off their student loans.

Private Student Loans

Most private student loan lenders offer 5-, 7-, 10- and 15-year terms, but some also provide 20- or even 25-year terms.In 2020, private student loan debt increased by $16.8 billion or 14%. However, private loan borrowing still constitutes just 8.4% of the outstanding student loan debt.The national private student loan balance exceeds $140 billion. More than 88% of that balance is for undergraduate loans while 11.5% is for graduate student loans.

Calculate How Long It Will Take To Repay Student Loan

How long does it take to pay off student loans? You can figure out how much time it will take to pay off with a student loan repayment calculator. You will insert the balance, interest rate, and length of the loan to see the projection.

How to Pay Your Student Loan Faster

There are various strategies you can try to pay down your student loans with more speed. Don’t assume that you can’t come up with any extra money to apply to this until you’ve studied your expenses and payments. Cancel streaming services you don’t regularly use; cut back on restaurant meals. There are lots of places to look.

Begin Payment As Soon As Possible 

A six month grace period comes with most federal student loans, meaning you don’t have to start paying until after graduation. While in school or during the grace period, you can begin to pay, however. This way, less interest will capitalize and get added to a principal balance when you enter repayment.

Consider a Side Hustle 

Some students work a part-time job while still in college to get a jump on their loans.After graduation, you can try freelancing, starting a side business, or getting a second job. This will enable you to pay off debt faster. 

Make More Than the Minimum Payment

Paying extra each month can reduce the interest you pay and reduce your total cost of your loan over time, says Federal Student Aid. It’s important to notify your loan servicers to apply overpayments to your current balance and to ask if the additional payment amount can be allocated to your higher interest loans first. Try setting up automatic payments based on the extra amount, to make sure it takes place.

Speak to Your Lender About a New Payment Plan

One of the most important ways to pay down your student loan is to not fall behind. Not only will that delay the date you finish paying, but it will likely lead to compounded interest. This is why the size of some loans increases.In fact, about 21% of student loan borrowers increase their balance in the first five years of paying down their loan, says Educationdata.org.Rather than fall behind because you can’t afford the payment, contact your federal loan server about an income repayment plan. It’s well worth a try to negotiate your student loan payment. Private servers might be open to modifications as well as the federal loan servers.You may also find an employer student loan repayment plan extremely helpful.

Refinance Your Loan

When grappling with how long it takes to pay off student loans, consider refinancing. Speeding up repayment may be one of the benefits of refinancing. This will mean applying to a private lender such as a bank for a loan. The bank will buy your federal loan or loans and issue you a new loan — this is how some people achieve lower interest rates. It is also a way to potentially shorten the term of the loan, though it often means higher payments.The disadvantage to refinancing is you will no longer be eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs, such as the pause in payments due to the pandemic which ends December 31, 2022. There are many different student loan forgiveness programs.

Check Out Student Loan Refinancing Options With Lantern

There are paths to finding out how to refinance student loans. Credit rating, employment history and other factors are weighed in deciding whether to issue a loan. With Lantern, you can compare student loan refinance rates.
Photo credit: iStock/izusek
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.SOLC0222040

Frequently Asked Questions

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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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