What Is the Average Student Loan Debt?

Quick Answer

The average student loan debt was $39,487 per borrower in 2021. Student loan borrowers in the Generation X and millennial age groups had the most debt with average balances around $46,000.

What Is the Average Student Loan Debt? article image.

Student loan borrowers had an average loan balance of $39,487 in 2021 and a total balance of $1.59 trillion, according to Experian data. More than 43.5 million Americans had one or more outstanding student loans in 2021, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Payments on federal student loans were paused in early 2020 to provide relief in the early days of the pandemic. That pause is set to expire sometime in 2023. And pending the outcome of court proceedings, many student loan borrowers are expecting to receive forgiveness of up to $20,000 of their federal student loans, with eligibility and the amount forgiven depending on income and receipt of grants in college.

Which Generation Owes the Most in Student Loan Debt?

Student loan borrowers in the Generation X and millennial age groups had similar average balances of around $46,000 in outstanding student debt in 2021, according to Experian data. Baby boomers owe an average of about $42,000. Generation Z, the adult members of which are either just starting or just completing higher education, owe an average of nearly $19,000.

Average Student Loan Debt, 2021
Generation Z $18,878
Millennials $46,281
Generation X $46,317
Baby boomers $42,351
Silent generation $29,492

Source: Experian

More than a quarter of millennials still owed some sort of student loan in 2021. A much higher percentage of millennials owed student loan debt compared with Generation X or any other generation.

Percent of Generation Members With Student Loan Debt, 2021
Generation Z 18.9%
Millennials 25.5%
Generation X 15.5%
Baby Boomers 6.6%
Silent Generation 1.4%

Source: Experian

How Many Student Loan Borrowers Owe More Than $20,000?

There's a big divide in student loan balances among borrowers. While most borrowers owe significantly less than the average balance of $39,487, nearly a quarter of borrowers owe more than $50,000. As of 2021, almost half of all student loan borrowers owed less than $20,000.

Distribution of Student Loan Debt by Balances
$10,000 and under 29.1%
$10,001 - $20,000 19.3%
$20,001 - $30,000 12.9%
$30,001 - $40,000 8.8%
$40,001 - $50,000 6.1%
More than $50,000 23.8%

Source: Experian; data as of 2021

How Much Has Student Loan Debt Grown in the United States?

The amount of student loan debt has increased more than $600 billion over the past decade to nearly $1.6 trillion in 2021, according to Experian and Department of Education data. No additional interest accrued on federally owned student loans since early 2020, when loan repayments were paused, and the total amount owed has remained relatively stable over the past two years.

Total Student Loan Debt
2019 2020 2021 2020-2021 Change
$1.511T $1.570T $1.595T $25.4B (+1.6%)

Source: Experian; data from Q3 of each year

Which States Have the Most and Fewest Student Loan Borrowers?

In 2021, Hawaii had the lowest percentage of consumers with student loan debt—amounting to only 9.4% of individuals there. Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of residents with student loan debt: More than 20% of people there have some form of student loan debt in their name.

Percent of Consumers With Student Loan Debt

What Are the Best Ways to Borrow for College?

Student loans backed by the federal government are often the best way to borrow, as there are flexible repayment options. Private student loans, offered by banks, credit unions and online lenders, do not necessarily offer flexible repayment options.

Students should consider borrowing for themselves before their parents do it for them. The interest rate on federal loans for students is lower than the interest rate charged to parents who borrow for a child's college costs through the federal PLUS loan program.

What Are My Options for Repaying Multiple Student Loans?

Juggling on-time payments for multiple loans can be challenging. Student loan consolidation can simplify your student loan repayments, and help you avoid late payments. Failing to stay on top of your payments can have a negative impact on your credit scores and potentially make future borrowing more difficult and costly.