You finally made it through college. You graduated with a degree, a new set of friends, great memories – and probably some amount of student loan debt. How long does it take to pay off student loans, you ask? And what strategies can help you manage paying it along the way?
How Long Does it Take To Pay Off Student Loans?
On average, it can take you anywhere from 10 to 30 years to pay off student loans. The time it takes to pay off student loans depends on the type of loan and the payment term selected.
The most common types of student loans include:
- Standard Repayment Plan
- Graduated Repayment Plan
- Income-Driven Repayment Plan
For most college grads, financial experts recommend 10 years as an ideal timeline to pay off student loans. However, in practice, it can take closer to 20 years.
Average Monthly Student Loan Payment
In addition to how long it takes to pay off student loans, you may be wondering how much student loans average out to in monthly payments.
The average monthly student loan payment depends on the amount owed, the interest rate and the repayment schedule. All of these factors are included in the equation to determine a monthly student debt payment.
Currently, the average monthly student loan payment is around $393. Because this would be the minimum payment, you’d have to pay more than this each month to make a real dent in your debt. Which, when the average college grad is making $50,000 a year as a starting salary, can be a pretty high ask on top of all of life’s other expenses.
This amount is based on a standard 10-year repayment schedule, but many loans will let you extend your repayment cycle by 20 or even 25 years to reduce your monthly financial burden.
But take note: the average amount of interest accrued on a 20-year payment schedule is $26,000 – that’s $26,000 ON TOP of your initial loan amount.
If you can afford a shorter repayment schedule and pay more than the minimum monthly balance, it will add up to significant savings on interest. There’s also refinancing your student loans, which can help you lower your monthly interest rate.
5 Ways To Manage Paying Off Student Loans
You’ve got 99 problems and your student loans are probably one. But, there’s hope in managing your loan payments and working towards financial freedom. Here’s some MoneyTips:
1. Splurge on your student loans, not “extras”
We’re not saying you don’t deserve a treat or two every now and then, but prioritizing your loan will help you put a dent in what you owe, as well as interest. Commit to paying the minimum amount due on your student loan payments each month. If you can afford it, pay ahead to knock down those interest payments, too.
2. Develop a reasonable plan for paying off student debt
Sure, your lender is going to provide you with a standard plan, but you can make this plan work for YOU and your finances. There are eight different repayment programs listed on the Federal Student Aid website (FSA) that cover a variety of scenarios to help make payments more affordable. Some money is better than no money when it comes to paying these loans down.
And we’re sure you’ve heard this one before, but creating a sustainable budget can help make sure you can make those monthly payments – and maybe enjoy the occasional avocado toast.
Set up an annual budget that includes your annual expenses and expected income to help you make payments on time while also helping you better manage your overall cash flow.
3. Don’t default on your student debt
Life happens, and sometimes it’s hard to fully account for the unexpected. If your situation is tight and you can’t make your payments, the worst thing you can do is avoid the situation entirely.
There are steps you can take to avoid a default, such as loan deferment or forbearance. In both cases, interest will accrue on your loan, but at least you can avoid the pain of outright default. And, you won’t be penalized for stopping payments with these other options.
Defaulting on a student loan can result in garnished wages (they’ll take money from your paycheck before you even see it) and poor credit for the foreseeable future. Student loans have one other side effect in that, unlike other debt, they generally cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.
4. Verify your student loan information
Check your loan status on the FSA website and with the credit bureaus. Make sure that both sets of records match and contain the correct information. If notice of a late or missed payment is posted incorrectly, it can cause significant credit problems at a time when you can least afford them.
5. Seek help when you need it
When it comes to your loans, don’t wait until the last minute to get help. There are plenty of judgment-free resources available to help you handle your current situation in a way that won’t impact your future. After all, you didn’t get that degree (and this debt) for nothing, right?
Here are a few places to start looking for help:
- Ask your lender for assistance
- Check with your school for any resources available to graduates and check out online resources
- Contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group if there is a problem with the servicing on your loan
Look for help from a variety of sources, but be wary of loan consolidations and debt-relief agencies that offer too-good-to-be-true quick fixes. These can end up doing more harm than good.
Managing student loan debt can be challenging. But with discipline and focus — and perhaps the occasional bit of sound advice — you can work your way through this challenge, just like you handled all of those challenging classes in school.
Owe Money? Mo’ Problems
When it comes to loans and debt, the more money you owe, the more of a burden it becomes to get these balances down. Thankfully, there’s a few different strategies to paying off your student loans and other debts that can get you on the right path to lowering your debt.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, and you’re not alone. Use the resources you have at your disposal, and prove to all the people who asked if your degree was really worth it that, in fact, it was.
The Short Version
- Student loan repayment can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years, depending on a few factors
- There’s no one-size-fits-all repayment plan. You can find the one that works for YOU
- Even though you may not have taken advantage of office hours in college, get help when it comes to paying off your loans
Education Data Initiative. “Average Time to Repay Student Loans.” Retrieved December 2021 from https://educationdata.org/average-time-to-repay-student-loans
Education Data Initiative. “Average Student Loan Payment.” Retrieved December 2021 from https://educationdata.org/average-student-loan-payment
Indeed. “What Is the Average Salary for College Graduates?” Retrieved December 2021 from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/pay-salary/average-salary-for-college-graduates