How Long Does it Take to Pay Off Student Loans?

Aaditya Shah
Aaditya Shah

Aaditya is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. With a passion for simplifying complex financial concepts, Aaditya provides practical tips and insights to help readers make smarter money decisions. Through his concise and informative articles, he empowers individuals to take control of their finances and build a secure financial future. His articles combine a conversational tone with actionable strategies, making them accessible and relatable to readers from all walks of life.

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August 11, 2022

Late last year, the Department of Education released findings that highlighted the growing trend in which loans are prolonging. In fact, the average time it takes for a student to repay their student loans is now 20 years

As a student, you should be aware of the current circumstances and understand what the averages are to avoid any long-term difficulties. Although this finding did showcase the ever-increasing trend, there are some key points to note before making a quick judgment call.

Firstly, loan repayment can differ widely, and I mean immensely. Many conditions must be taken into account like the principal amount borrowed, interest rates, what type of degree you plan on pursuing and most importantly, what type of loan you end up choosing (federal or private). 

How Long It Takes to Pay Off Student Loans

By Degree Type

As mentioned, the different degree types will affect your loan repayment timeline, but with a concrete plan and the knowledge, you will be able to pay your debts in a timely manner.

Associate’s Degree

On average, associate’s degrees take the shortest amount of time to repay, ranging from just over 4 years to just over 7 years depending on the loan type. Federal loans take the shortest amount of time to repay, and private student loans take the longest. 

Moreover, associate’s degree graduates have an average annual salary of $46,100, and more than 90% of students pursuing this type of degree take out student loans.

Bachelor’s Degree

Next, looking at a bachelor’s degree, it takes, on average, 5 years and 7 months to repay student loans if attending a public institution. If the student is attending a private non-profit institution, it would take just under 7 years, and with a private for-profit institution, it would take just over 9 years.

Additionally, compared to the $46,100 average annual salary for associate’s degree holders, a bachelor’s degree holder will take home nearly $65,000. 

Graduate Degree

Students and professionals pursuing graduate-level degrees, on average, borrow more than undergraduate students. On average, a master’s degree will take 9 years to repay if you were to attend a public institution versus 13 years from a private non-profit and 18 years from a private for-profit college. This vast discrepancy between the timelines in loan repayment showcases the importance of choosing where and how your loan is formed.

Despite the higher debt, master degree holders earn typically about $78,000 annually, and it only goes up from there.

Post-Graduate Degree

For the post-graduate student, this type of education and degree is mostly about furthering themselves in a very niche, specific concentration, and with that comes a significantly increased repayment time on average. 

For example, a student pursuing their doctoral degree will take roughly 13 and a half years to repay their student debt from both a public and private non-profit college, whereas a private for-profit institution loan on average takes over 38 years to complete.

Finally, let’s take a look at more specialized degrees, those being medical and law school repayment timelines.

Law Degree

A recent study showed that the average law school debt is over 4 times the average bachelor’s degree holder’s debt. Totaling $160,000 and with an average starting salary of $55,200, law degrees are tremendously expensive due to the intensive nature of the education as well as how niche they are.

Repayment for law degrees drastically vary based on the domain a lawyer chooses to pursue — public or private. On average, a lawyer working in the public sector will take 26 years to repay their loans if they use 20% of their income. For lawyers in the private sector, it will take just over 16 years if they were to use 20% of their income.

One caveat for this is that the U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that the ideal amount to spend on student loan repayment is 10% of your income. If a lawyer working in the public field were to follow this, it would not be possible for them to repay their loans, and for a lawyer in the private field, it would take 50 years!

Medical Degree

For students pursuing a medical degree, the average student loan debt is even higher than law school at over $240,000. Depending on your lifestyle choices and frugality, you may be able to pay off a medical degree in 5 years or less if you were to live well below your means. Another popular option is to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This program, run by the US Department of Education allows participants to reduce the total cost of their education, but forces them to make payments for 10 years before the remaining debt is forgiven. 

By Loan Type

As mentioned above, repayment of student loans varies drastically depending on certain factors, one of them being the type of loan it is. This could be either a federal loan or a private student loan.

Federal Student Loans

Breaking this down further, federal loans can include standard repayment plans, graduated repayment plans and extended repayment plans. 

Standard repayment plans are typically fixed monthly payments for a set number of years. Graduated plans are structured in a fashion where payments are on the lower end of the scale, and increase over time. For fast-progression degrees like graduate degrees, this is most common. Extended repayment plans are essentially fixed or graduated payments with the only caveat being that it is a 25-year term.

Aside from these loan structures, there are also five different types of income-driven repayment plans. The monthly payment amount for these plans are based upon your income. Payments are generated based upon a percentage decided and with that, payments are made. 

Private Student Loans

Despite the vast amount of federal loans available, private loans still serve a demographic, and understanding private loan structures is critical as it can shave off years of repayment and debt.

Private student loans originate from either non-profit institutions, generally academic, or for-profit institutions like banks or other financial institutions. As private loans are, well private, they can vary immensely from loan to loan and depending on your personal circumstances.

For example, as of August 2022, Sparrow’s lending partners offered interest rates as low as 1.13%, although rates that low are typically reserved for those with the best credit score rating. The estimated average is roughly 6%-7%.

How Long It Will Take You to Pay Off Your Student Loans

Repayment timelines are highly dependent on your exact loan terms and conditions. While understanding the average debt payoff timeline is helpful, your individual timeline may differ based on your repayment period and monthly payments. One quick tip is to use a student loan calculator that can calculate your payoff date based on your loan balance, interest rate, and repayment term.

What’s Next

As with anything this impactful, student loans must take time and thoughtful consideration before diving into the deep-end and making a mistake. Using Sparrow as a loan comparison tool that aggregates loans from different lenders will let you know the intricacies of the loan, and with that, you can figure out more details regarding repayment structures. 

Regardless, loan repayment varies for everyone. For someone pursuing their doctoral degree, it may not be of tremendous concern to repay the loan immediately or take on higher payments. But, as everyone is in different circumstances, the conditions of your repayment will be unique. Ultimately, know that after analyzing the data, you can make an informed decision about choosing your student loan! 

*Data sourced from EducationData.

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