Student Loan Debt in America: A Look at the Statistics

Published June 2021
Man wearing graduation cap with a dollar sign hanging from it

Student loan debt exceeds $1.6 trillion in 2021. A look at the statistics will help motivate you to find the best credit card debt reduction strategy.

Key Points:

  • Student loan debt is the second-highest consumer debt category, exceeded only by mortgages.
  • One in eight Americans has student loan debt.
  • Most borrowers tend to borrow amounts below $5,000.
  • Most student loans are federal student loans.
  • By keeping your student loan amount as small as possible, you grant yourself more debt relief options later.

Student Loan Borrowers in America

43 Million

Collective Amount Owed

$1.6 Trillion

Consumer Debt Category

Second only to Mortgage Debt


According to the US Department of Education and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt skyrocketed in the US in the first quarter of 2021. More precisely, it registered a $29 billion increase compared to the previous quarter. 

Thus, it’s hardly surprising that nationwide student debt totals more than debts relating to auto loans and credit cards. It is second only to mortgage debt.

As an existing or would-be borrower, you may find that the current student loan landscape carries information that can help you optimize your decisions. In response to the ongoing global pandemic, lawmakers have instituted a temporary student loan forbearance period, lasting until September 30, 2021. 

What you need to know is that during the forbearance period: 

  • You do not owe payments on your federal student loan.
  • Your student debt does not accumulate interest.
  • There are no collections on defaulted student loans. 

Democratic lawmakers have also floated a student loan cancellation proposal. Although the Biden administration is reluctant to accept this radical plan, it seems willing to cancel some student loan debt. 

These extraordinary circumstances may have skewed some of the statistics discussed below. 

Average Student Loan Debt Distribution by Debt Type

According to a 2020 study by the Institute for College Access and Success, based on 2019 data, 62% of public college graduates have student debt. The average amount is $28,950. Depending on specialization and school attended, however, average student loan debt can be much higher than that. 

Type of School

Average Student Loan Debt

Medical School


Pharmacy School


Dental School


Law School


Graduate School


Based on data from the National Center of Education Statistics, Association of American Medical Colleges, American Dental Education Association, etc. 

Student Loan Debt Distribution by State 

It is hardly surprising that the US states with the highest raw amount of accumulated student debt are those with the largest populations. California, New York, Texas, and Florida hold around 30% of all student loan debt. California alone is home to more than 3.9 million student loan borrowers. 


Total Student Loan Debt

Number of Borrowers


$140 billion

3.9 million


$113 billion

3.5 million


$96 billion

2.5 million

New York

$90 billion

2.4 million


$66 billion

1.6 million


$62.5 billion

1.8 million

Average Student Loan Debt per Student by State 

To gain relevant insight into the student debt situation state-by-state, it makes more sense to look at the average student loan debt per student. If you reside in/move to a certain state to study there, this is how much you are likely to owe in student debt. 


Average Student Loan Debt per Student

New Hampshire






Rhode Island






Data from the Institute for College Access and Success 

Students in states like Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada have the least student debt on average. In Utah, the average is $17,935. In New Mexico, it is $20,991, and in Nevada, it’s $21,254. This does not necessarily mean that education is cheaper in these states, although that may be a factor. It simply means that students in these states tend to owe less than their peers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. 

Average Student Debt per Borrower by State 

Perhaps the most relevant statistics are those that look at the average student debt burden per borrower. The difference between the averages calculated for students and borrowers is that the students who do not have any debt dilute the per-student statistics. The per-borrower statistics, on the other hand, offer a more accurate picture of the student loan debt situation. 


Average Student loan Debt per Borrower

Washington, DC










Data from

Student Loan Debt Distribution by Balance 

Some people borrow more than others. Most tend to stay below $100,000 on their student loans. According to data published at, around 38 million borrowers have balances of less than $60,000. Some 7.9 million borrowers chose to borrow less than $5,000. Only 2.3 million people borrowed more than $100,000, and fewer than 1 million borrowed more than $200,000. 

Keeping student debt under control is essential to stave off disaster later. If you can’t avoid student loan debt, aim to keep its amount as low as possible. 

Goal list

Those with smaller balances will find it easier to get debt relief if they struggle to make their payments.

Federal Student Loan Debt Dwarves Private Student Loan Debt 

If you go into debt to finance your education, you should opt for a federal source over a private one. The majority of debtors have made the right choice in this respect. 

  • The US Department of Education owns 92% of student loans.
  • Less than 8% of borrowers opted for a private student loan. Private student loan debt comprises $132 billion, while federal student loan debt makes up the remaining 1.59 trillion. 

What to Do When Debt Becomes Burdensome

If your student loan payments are causing you to struggle with other payments such as your credit card balances, look for a debt relief solution as soon as possible. Contact a ClearOne Advantage Certified Debt Specialist at 866-481-1597 to learn what your credit card relief options are and get a free savings estimate today.

Get a free savings estimate.

The data and statistics referenced come from multiple credible resources that are cited throughout. ClearOne makes no representations or warranties regarding accuracy of the information from these various resources and is providing the content for informational purposes only.

Topics: Financial Education