Many college graduates get stressed about how long it will take to pay back their student loans and it’s not hard to see why. A repayment plan can last decades. In a nightmare scenario, it could even last into the start of your retirement. According to research, the average student loan takes 21 years to pay off. That’s because people borrow too much and don’t understand how repayments work. We cover both below.
If you’re looking to get some relief from your student loans and can’t wait to see if any will be forgiven, you may want to consider refinancing. If you have excellent credit or have a co-signer you could qualify for lower payments and pay off your loan within the term of the loan. See some of the best student loan refinancing options available.
How Long Will it Take to Pay Off My Student Loan?
There is no set time period for how long it takes to repay a student loan because there are different types of loans with varying interest rates. In fact, there are a number of factors that play into how long it could take you to repay your loans.
The amount of time it takes to pay back a student loan in full depends on the type of loan, the amount borrowed, the interest rate and the repayment plan the borrower selects, as well as the use of deferments and forbearances. Another factor is how much extra a borrower can pay each month.
The average student loan takes 21 years to pay off but that doesn’t mean that it has to take you that long. If you want to get a better idea of what your monthly payment will look like then you can use our student loan calculator to figure out your monthly and total student loan payments.
Student loans are either federal student loans or private student loans. Both loan types have different interest rates and repayment options.
Repaying Federal Student Loans
A federal student loan is student aid backed by the U.S. Department of Education. There are several types of federal student loans, including subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
The government pays interest on your behalf with a subsidized loan while your loans are in deferment, either an in-school deferment, economic hardship deferment or unemployment deferment.
With an unsubsidized loan, interest is not subsidized, so it will continue to accrue.
Repayment plans for federal student loans are divided into two main categories: traditional repayment plans (including Standard, Graduated, and Extended) and four different income-driven repayment plans, which are based on your household income and family size.
What Is a Traditional Student Loan Repayment Plan?
Traditional repayment plans are based on the loan’s principal balance. Your principal balance is just the amount of money you borrowed to fund your education. Traditional repayment options don’t consider your income or family size when working out how much you will be paying every month.
Both traditional and income-driven repayment plans come with their own set of pros and cons — including different repayment terms.
Traditional repayment plans include:
Standard Repayment Plans
A standard repayment plan gives borrowers up to 10 years to repay their student loans.
With a standard repayment plan, the exact monthly payment amount will vary depending on the total loan amount you borrowed. However, the monthly minimum payment is $50.
As a good rule of thumb, the monthly payment you should expect to be giving back to your lender will be about 1% of the loan balance at repayment.
Graduated Repayment Plans
Under the graduated repayment plan, borrowers have up to 30 years to repay their federal student loans, depending on the amount borrowed. Monthly payments will start just above interest-only payments and increase every two years.
The extended repayment plan gives borrowers up to 30 years to repay their loans in full, depending on the amount owed. Payments under this plan are generally lower than those under Graduated or Standard repayment.
This table breaks down those repayment terms.
A similar set of repayment terms apply to graduated repayment.
Cost of Repaying Loans
The amount of time it takes you to pay off your debt shouldn’t be your only concern. The longer it takes you to repay the loan, the more expensive it becomes. This is because you will repay more interest the longer your loan is being repaid. Here are some real examples of student loans that were borrowed, the average interest rate and the total amount of interest that the student was required to pay.
Time For Repayment
Total Interest Paid
As you can see, if it takes you longer than 10 years to repay your loan then you could end up paying about as much interest as the amount of your original loan. That makes student debt a lot more expensive than people may realize.
Income-Driven Repayment Plans
One thing that has helped with the monthly costs of student loan debt is income-driven repayment plans. Income-driven repayment plans base the monthly loan payments on the borrower’s income and family size.
These plans are different from a traditional repayment plan, which calculates your repayment term based on the amount you owe. Note that defaulted loans are not eligible for repayment under these plans. Income-driven repayment plans make it very difficult to repay the loan in full because your payments are capped before many are able to pay down the principal.
There are four different income-driven repayment plans, including:
1. Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
With income-contingent repayment (ICR) plans, the borrower’s monthly payments are based on 20 percent of their discretionary income.
After 25 years (which should equate to 300 payments), the remaining debt that you owe is forgiven.
Want to learn more? Check out our income-contingent repayment calculator.
2. Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
With income-based repayment (IBR) plans, monthly payments are based on 15 percent of the borrower’s discretionary income.
This is defined as the amount by which the borrower’s income exceeds 150 percent of the poverty line. Monthly payments are capped at the standard 10-year payment amount.
After 25 years (or 300 payments), outstanding student loan debt will be forgiven.
Check out our income-based repayment calculator to estimate your monthly payment.
3. Pay As You Earn Repayment (PAYE)
Pay as you earn (PAYE) repayment plans calculate monthly payments based on 10 percent of the borrower’s discretionary income.
In the case of PAYE, discretionary income is defined as the amount by which the borrower’s income exceeds 150 percent of the poverty line. Monthly payments are capped at the standard 10-year payment amount.
The remaining debt is forgiven after 240 payments over 20 years. This differs from IBR and ICR loan forgiveness, which normally kicks in after 30 years.
If you want to learn more about PAYE repayment terms, check out our Pay-As-You-Earn Calculator.
4. Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment (REPAYE)
With the revised pay as you earn (REPAYE) repayment plan, monthly payments are based on 10 percent of the borrower’s discretionary income.
Debt forgiveness on REPAYE loans works differently depending on whether you’ve taken out a loan to fund undergraduate or postgraduate study.
If you’ve taken out an undergraduate student loan, a REPAYE payment plan allows for debt forgiveness after 20 years (which should equate to 240 payments). If you’re a graduate student taking out a loan for a master’s, the remaining student debt is forgiven after 25 years (or 300 payments).
Want to get an idea of what your REPAYE payments would look like? Check out our Revised Pay-As-You-Earn Calculator.
Repaying Private Student Loans
Private student loans don’t have a set repayment plan, unlike federal student loans. However, the same subsidy rules don’t bind lenders so that they can offer different amounts to borrowers based on different terms.
Because private loans aren’t as standardized, that also means repayment periods for private student loans vary a whole lot more than federal student loans.
It’s common for private student loan holders to offer 10-year repayment terms. That being said, some lenders offer repayment terms as short as five years and as long as 25 years.
Private student loan borrowers should go through their loan terms and talk to their loan servicer to make sure that they know the repayment terms.
What Could Change the Repayment Timeline?
While repayment plan terms offer some insight into the amount of time it takes to pay off student loans, repayment in practice can take a different course. Here are some actions that can decrease (or increase) the amount of time it takes to repay a student loan in full.
1. Making Extra Payments
Some borrowers can afford to make extra payments on their student loans. Of course, not everybody is that lucky, but if you can afford to make extra payments, it’s something you might want to think about.
Why? Consistent extra payments will reduce the time it takes to pay off the debt and lower the total repayment amount.
For example, let’s say you’re a borrower who owes $30,000 at a 6% fixed interest rate with a 10-year repayment term. The monthly payment is about $333, and the total payments are $39,967. But if you, as the borrower, make an extra payment of $50 every month, the total payments drop to $38,263, and the loan will be paid off in 8.3 years.
That would mean you’d be able to shed your student debt more than a year and a half early.The ChangEd app could help you pay extra on your student loans. It links to your federal and private student loans and puts extra money towards your loan balance. Then, it rounds up your purchases and applies that “spare change” to your student loan.
Want to see how making extra payments could impact your student debt? Use our student loan prepayment calculator to see how much extra payments can reduce your overall loan term over time.
2. Deferments and Forbearances
Student loan deferments and forbearances allow borrowers to stop making payments on their student loans temporarily.
For many federal loans, you can apply for an Unemployment Deferment if you are looking for and unable to find full-time work. The Economic Hardship Deferment is for many federal borrowers working full-time but are still experiencing economic hardship.
For private student loans, options for forbearances vary.
The interest owed continues to accrue on unsubsidized loans and all private loans during a deferment and on all loans during forbearance. If it isn’t paid as it accrues, it will be capitalized by adding it to the loan balance. So while it could be a temporary relief, deferments and forbearances add to the amount of time it takes to repay the debt and will often increase the total amount you are paying towards that debt.
3. Consolidating Your Student Loans
Consolidating federal student loans allows borrowers to combine multiple federal student loans into one. This means making a single monthly loan payment on all of your student debt instead of multiple payments.
While this can streamline the repayment process, it also can reset the clock to zero, since you’re signing up for a new loan with its own new term. That means that consolidation will generally increase the amount of time you’ve got to spend paying back your loans. If you are working towards student loan forgiveness, either with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or forgiveness offered by income-driven repayment plans, consolidating will reset the clock starting you at day one of repayment.
Student loan refinancing is relatively common, especially with high-interest private loans. Refinancing a student loan can lower interest rates and monthly payments on student debt. However, lower payments often mean it will take longer to repay the loan in full.
For example, let’s say that you’re refinancing a loan with an initial 10-year payment period. If you opt for lower monthly payments, refinancing could result in 30 years of repayment rather than the original 10 years.
There are several pros and cons to refinancing student loans. It’s important to remember that anytime you refinance a federal loan into a private loan, you’re going to lose all federal benefits including income-driven repayment plans, generous deferment options, any subsidized loans you may have had, and the potential for loan forgiveness.
If you refinance with a private lender, how long it will take you to repay your loan depends on the new payment term you’ve chosen. A shorter term means less time to repay your loan and larger monthly payments, but you’ll end up paying less in interest overall. A longer payment term means it will take you longer to repay and you may have smaller monthly payments, but you will end up paying more interest overall on your loan.
What Happens if Your Student Loan Enters Delinquency
A student loan is considered delinquent after the borrower has made one late payment or missed a payment. The student loan will then go into default after a continued period of delinquency, but this period varies depending on the type of loan you’ve taken out.
The default period is typically 120 days of delinquency for private student loans and 360 days for federal student loans.
It also goes without saying that missed payments will add to the timeline for repayment. But a longer repayment term isn’t going to be the only result of making late payments.
For example, your lender might also charge you additional fees and report your late payment to a credit bureau. That means it could end up hurting your credit score.
According to an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, former Publisher and VP of Research of Savingforcollege.com, the average time in repayment for federal student loans is up to 16–19 years. This depends on whether the maximum repayment term is weighted by the number of borrowers or the amount of the loans.
How to Lower Your Student Loan Bill
One way to lower the amount of time it takes to repay your student loans is to borrow less money. In order to do that you’ll need to find access to free money for school or save more. Here are things you can do to lower your student loan bill by borrowing less money:
- Open a 529 Plan: You can open a 529 plan and save for college while getting tax benefits.
- Find Scholarships: Getting free money for school via scholarships can be important to lowering your overall bill. You can earn a scholarship for many different things from sports to your grades.
- Apply for Grants: Obtaining grants to go to school is getting free money you don’t have to pay back. There are numerous grants you could apply for every school year to lower your overall bill.
The Bottom Line
Many students borrow more than they should go to college because they don’t take the time to prepare and save money. While student loans can be a good supplement to paying for college it is difficult to borrow everything you need to attend school. This is why most people end up taking more than two decades to pay back their student debt. Consider opening a 529 plan to save more money before attending school in order to limit your debt.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take to pay back $100,000 in student loans?
The length of time to reapy $100,000 in student debt is going to depend on your interest rate and what you’re paying on the loan monthly. For example, in order to repay $100,000 with an average of 6% interest over 20 years you would need to pay $716.43 per month. To repay the loans in 10 years it would move the payment to $1,110.21.
What is the monthly payment on a $50,000 student loan?
The monthly payment on a $50,000 student loan is going to depend on both your interst rate and the repayment term. With a 10-year term and 6% interest rate your monthly payment would be roughly $555.10. You can caluclate your monthly payment with our loan calculator.
How long does the avearge student loan take to pay off?
Repayment terms on student loans are going to depend on a number of factors such as the amount owed, term of the loan, and interest rate. The average person takes 21 years to completely pay off their student debt, but there are a number of things you can do to lower that time frame such as saving for college or making double payments.