The Most Interesting Student Loan Debt Statistics That May Surprise You

By Todd Kunsman

Financial Independence

Published on

Updated on

There is no doubt, you are likely quite aware of some student loan debt statistics that are out there. It’s a hot topic issue for people, families, and of course a top talking point for the majority of politicians.

But I’m not here to talk about politics with student debt, there is plenty of that out there on the Internet for you to find. Instead, I wanted to explore some of the student loan statistics that are circling the world. 

Many of these data points might not be surprising and others might be a bit shocking, to say the least. 

However, there are hundreds, if not thousands of stats currently out there. Instead of sharing them all,  I hand-picked the ones that really stood out to me.

Some High-Level Student Loan Statistics

Before we jump in, I put this post together for a number of reasons. 

  • First being, I’m a data nerd and really like seeing the numbers behind things — whether good or bad.
  • Secondly, I think understanding the data is important to educate ourselves about what is going on in higher education.
  • And lastly, some of this info may help you make better informed decisions about college, paying your debt, refinancing, etc. 

That said, I wanted to start with just a taste of some of the higher level student loan stats.

Of course, the number of borrowers is no surprise, but seeing the actual data still made me go “Wow.” Add those to the total remaining student loan debt — which continues to rise — and you can see why the media and many will label this a crisis.

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Student Loan Debt Statistics That Are Interesting

As I mentioned early, I dove into some student debt statistics online to find ones that were intriguing, even surprising. The challenge was, there are so many data points that it was somewhat difficult to choose.

However, here are some of the student loan debt statistics I think are interesting to know.

The current share of student loans borrowed is as follows:

  • Federal Subsidized Loans: 20%
  • Federal Unsubsidized Loans: 46%
  • Parent PLUS Loans: 12%
  • Grad PLUS Loans: 10%
  • Perkins Loans: 1%
  • Nonfederal Loans: 11%

According to The Trends in Student Aid Report from CollegeBoard:

  • As of March 2018, 52% of the outstanding federal education loan debt was held by the 14% of borrowers owing $60,000 or more; 56% of borrowers with outstanding debt owed less than $20,000
  • Federal education tax credits and deductions reached an estimated 12.0 million students in 2016-17, 5.0 million more than the 7.0 million Pell Grant recipients in 2017-18.
  • After a decade of rapid growth in annual borrowing, total federal loans to undergraduate students declined by 23% between 2012-13 and 2017-18 after adjusting for inflation, and federal loans to graduate students rose by 2%.

Students attending a private college pay nearly three times as much as those attending an in-state public university. It follows then that bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate program graduates from private universities owe much more than their public college counterparts.

Data from the New York Federal Reserve tells us that borrowers ages 39 and under have the highest total student loan balance. 

As of 2017, nearly 3.2 million people age 60+ are still paying off debt—three times more than were a decade ago. For this age group, the total loan balance is 85.4 billion dollars

Sallie Mae found that in 2018, around 14% of college costs were covered by student borrowing while parent loans covered 10%.

Student Loan Statistics About Repayments

For the borrowers who can’t make payments, they can opt to postpone them through deferment or forbearance. However, interest typically accrues during these periods, but borrowers with subsidized loans don’t owe the interest that accrues during deferment.

These statistics came from the Federal Student Aid, Q1 2019 Report:

  • Current federal loan borrowers in repayment: 18.6 million.
  • The number of federal loan borrowers in deferment: 3.4 million.
  • Federal loan borrowers with loans in forbearance: 2.7 million.
  • And the number of federal loan borrowers with loans in default: 5.2 million.

Similarly, borrowers can also postpone private student loan payments via deferment or forbearance, but interest always accrues regardless of whether the borrower is making payments.

The data below, came from MeasureOne Private Student Loan Report:

  • The percentage of outstanding private loan balance in deferment: 18.01%.
  • The percentage of outstanding private loan balance in forbearance: 2.39%.
  • And the percentage of private loans in repayment that are 90+ days past due: 1.75%.

If you can’t afford to repay your federal student loan, then many may choose the path of income-driven repayment plans. There are a few stipulations to these options, but also some interesting student loan debt statistics behind it.

The data below, came from Federal Student Aid, Q1 2019:

  • Federal loan borrowers on an income-driven repayment plan: 7.37 million.
  • Federal loan borrowers on Income-Based Repayment: 2.82 million.
  • Federal loan borrowers on Revised Pay As You Earn: 2.56 million.
  • Federal loan borrowers on Pay As You Earn: 1.31 million.
  • Federal loan borrowers on Income-Contingent Repayment: 680,000.

Many borrowers are behind on payments of student loans as well. Check out a few numbers below that came from the Federal Reserve:

  • 37% of borrowers who are no longer enrolled in school and have less than an associate’s degree are behind on payments.
  • 21% of borrowers with associate’s degrees are behind.
  • 10% of borrowers with bachelor’s degrees are behind.
  • 6% of borrowers with graduate degrees are delinquent.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, some of the most interesting and potentially, surprising student loan debt statistics that are out there.

If you are a student loan borrower, the above statistics may help you make better decisions when it comes to your education and finances.

For example, you have few options at your disposal like student loan refinance, loan consolidation, how you repay your student loans, etc. 

There is no doubt though looking at these stats, that there is a major problem that only appears to be getting worse.

I know I don’t have the solutions, but for future generations of people looking to attend college, I hope we do see some change with the rising costs.