For College Students

Average Student Loans Debt & Other Statistics

Student loan debt is almost inevitable. Here’s the data on how college students manage their loans.


Student debt impacts millions of Americans, and with the rising costs of higher education, the next generation of academics faces the steepest financial climb in history. But what is the average college student’s debt? Furthermore, how do they manage their overall debt in terms of use and payment? This work will answer both questions while discussing the cause-and-effect relationship between debt and poverty. 

The average student debt is $30,000.¹ But this amount can reach up to approximately $55,000, as seen in D.C., while the most inexpensive state is North Dakota at approximately $29,000. Data suggest the most expensive type of school are private, not-for-profit schools where a bachelor’s can cost upwards of $35,000.² Here’s the breakdown.

Private v.s. Federal Student Loan Debt

Federal student loan debt is at an all-time high of $1.57 trillion.³. Which far exceeds private student debt of $131 billion. Approx 68%² of students use federal loans. Studies show that women borrow $1,200 more than their male counterparts.

Student Loan Debt by Degrees

More specialized education, like that of a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc., is among the most expensive academic experiences. A medical student can expect to borrow as much as $241,000 for schooling, while the least expensive master’s degree, international agriculture, is approximately $15,000.⁴ The most popular degree, business administration, averages $41,000. 

Alternatives to degrees are licensed certifications which can cost as low as $14,000. Additionally, older students typically pay more for schooling. This is due to advanced degrees, less scholarship eligibility, the time required to manage school and work, and other personal factors. Students 24 and younger pay around $14,000 for school. In comparison, students 35-49 pay roughly $40,000. Again, this is attributed to the advanced degrees older students earn. 

Additionally, the average student relies heavily on deferment until they are financially stable enough to repay loans. Considering the average student loan payment is just shy of $400,³ it’s easy to see why deferment is a strong option. 

What’s the Average College Student’s Debt Outside of Student Loans?

Credit Card Debt

2022 studies show that over 67%⁶ of students have credit card debt. The average credit card debt for students is $4,000⁷ and is split between bills, emergencies, and general spending. At $200 billion⁸, College students possess some of the highest collective spending power than any other demographic and, as such, become targets for credit card companies that advertise on campus. Other high credit card factors among students include impoverished backgrounds, higher interest rates, and reliance on credit for day-to-day living. 

Car Loans

The data on car loans for college students is undetermined. Many students obtain used cars or have joint loans with their parents. Additionally, many students from non-impoverished backgrounds have car loans paid for by their parents. That said, we can reasonably assume that the average car loan with a college-aged student has higher interest rates based on their age group and lack of credit. Hard data shows that the average new car loan is approximately $28,000⁹, with a payment of roughly $400⁹.  

Personal Loans

The average personal loan is $1,500¹º with a payment of approx $120. Typically, these loans are used to pay for emergencies. Students should refrain from attempting to pay for tuition via student loans due to the comparatively high rates of personal loans versus student ones and the legality of using personal loans to pay for college. Alternatively, lines of credit are a better option due to their revolving nature and interest rates. 

Other Interesting Data Points About College Students and Debt

  • As the most popular degree, an education in business administration comprises approx 4% of the total student loan debt. 
  • The single most expensive advanced degree, Oral Sciences and Dentistry, is approximately $138,000.
  • 66% of public college students graduate with debt. Comparatively, approximately 83% of students in for-profit colleges graduate with debt. 
  • Student loan forgiveness would cost approx $373 Billion
  • 54% of students report they have anxiety regarding their student loans. 
  • 53% report extreme depression regarding student loans. 

What College Students Can Do To Avoid Debt or Pay It Down Responsibly

Avoiding student loans isn’t possible for most college students. That said, limiting interest charges and doing due diligence to find the most beneficial loans is feasible. Here are a few things students can do to manage their debt. 

Borrow and Use Only What You Need

In the case of credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans, students may be approved for more than they need. It’s better to pay the extra back. For example, a student may want an $8,000 car but be approved for up to $15,000 by their financial institution. It’s smarter to keep the initial budget rather than adopt a mentality of spending the full approval. The same principle can be applied to virtually any credit resource. 

Pay More, Especially On Credit Cards

Every credit agreement has a section that explains the total amount of interest paid if only the minimum payments are met for the life of the loan. For example, a $5,000 loan with an interest rate of 8% will cost approx $7,100 if only the minimum is paid. In the case of revolving credit, paying more has little to no downside, as the funds are still available in case of emergencies. 

Avoid Sub-Prime Lenders

Researching to understand the average interest range for a credit product can save students from falling victim to predatory lending. For example, a high auto loan interest rate is around 15%. Comparatively, predatory lenders may charge twice that amount under the guise of helping individuals with low credit. 

Bottom Line

The average college debt is rising. And with it, the need to utilize student loans to pay for college. The benefit is that students can access various student loan types based on factors such as age, academic performance, state, and more. Additionally, public schools and certificates offer the least expensive option for higher education and are a good starting point. The data between public college and lifetime earnings are inconclusive. A significant factor in student loans is debt management. Students who pay more save more.

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About the Author

Chadhurst Sharpe

Chadhurst Jainlett Sharpe spent over six years working as a personal finance banker. He's passionate about giving young minds the tools and resources they need to succeed with money.

Last updated on: December 28, 2023