How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loan Debt? (2024)

For the most part, how long it takes to pay off student loan debt depends on the type of loans you have and the repayment plan you choose. Other factors like the loan amount and interest rate can also play a role in your timeline for getting out of debt. While federal student loans feature repayment plans that last from 10 to 30 years, repayment options for private student loans vary widely. Read on to learn how long it typically takes to get rid of student debt, your repayment plan options, and how to get out of student debt faster.

Key Takeaways

  • How long it takes to pay off student debt depends on the repayment plan you choose as well as the interest rate, size of the loan, and your budget.
  • On average, people with student loans have spent just over 21 years paying back their loans.
  • Federal student loans offer repayment plans that last from 10 to 30 years. Private student loan repayment terms vary.

Average Time to Pay Off Student Loans

Federal student loan terms can range from 10 to 30 years, but they default to a standard 10-year repayment plan if you don’t choose another option. The standard 10-year repayment plan can result in higher monthly payments on student loans, so many borrowers choose repayment options with longer terms. The average borrower with student loans spent 21.1 years paying them back, according to a study from One Wisconsin Institute.

When you choose a longer student loan repayment period, you will owe more in total interest over the long term.

Factors Affecting the Time to Pay Off Student Debt

Many factors can play a role in how long it takes to get out of student loan debt, including the length of your repayment plan, your loan amount, interest rates, and your income. Let’s look in more detail at how these factors affect how long it takes for you to pay off your student loan.

Repayment Plan

A major determinant of how long it takes to pay off student loans is the type of payment plan you choose. For federal student loans, repayment options start at 10 years and can be as long as 30 years. For private student loans, repayment terms vary depending on the lender’s policies and offerings.

Loan Amounts

How much student loan debt you have can also impact how long it takes you to get out of debt, depending on how much you can afford. After all, if you carry higher loan amounts with higher monthly payments, you will have less spending money. If you are on a tight budget, you may not be able to make extra payments to pay off your loan sooner.

Interest Rates

Interest rates also increase the total cost of your loan and the amount of your monthly payments. So a loan with a higher interest rate can take you longer to pay off, depending on your income and budget.

In recent years, interest rates have been on the rise for student loans. For federal student loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2023, and before July 1, 2024, the rates were:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans: 5.50%
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: 7.05%
  • Direct PLUS Loans: 8.05%


If you have a high income, you are more likely to have more spending money in your budget that can allow you to make extra payments toward your loan. Paying more toward your principal than the minimum amount will reduce both the amount of total interest you owe and the total time it takes to repay a loan.

Student loans, whether they are federal or private, do not have prepayment penalties. You can make extra payments or pay off your loan in full at any time without charge.

Federal Student Loan Repayment Options

Standard 10-Year Repayment

The standard 10-year repayment plan for federal student loans has a fixed interest rate and a fixed monthly payment. This repayment option for federal student loans is the default option unless you choose a different plan.

Graduated Repayment Plan

A graduated repayment plan typically lasts for 10 years (or up to 30 years for consolidation loans), and it starts monthly payments off lower at first. From there, monthly payments increase incrementally, usually every two years.

Extended Repayment Plan

The extended repayment plan lasts for 25 years and can have fixed payments or graduated payments that increase over time. You must have more than $30,000 in outstanding direct loans or Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) loans to qualify.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

You can also choose among several types of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans if you have federal student loans. These plans have you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for a set period of time, after which any remaining loan balances are forgiven.

IDR plans base monthly payments on factors like income and family size, so payments can be more affordable. The chart below shows how monthly payments work with each type of income-driven repayment option.

Monthly Payment FormulaRepayment Term
Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan—formerly the REPAYE Plan5% and 10% of discretionary income for undergraduate and graduate loans, respectively20 to 25 years (or 10 years for eligible individuals who borrowed $12,000 or less)
Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Repayment Plan10% of discretionary income20 years
Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan10% of discretionary income (for individuals who first borrowed after July 1, 2014); 15% of discretionary income (for individuals who first borrowed before July 1, 2014)20 years
Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan20% of discretionary income25 years

Private Student Loan Repayment Options

Private student loan lenders set interest rates and repayment plans independently. This means your repayment term with a private student loan company depends on what they offer and which option you select.

That said, it's common to find private student loans with repayment terms of up to 15 years or more. Because many borrowers refinance their loans with a private lender to get out of debt as soon as possible, however, you can also find private student loans with terms as short as five years.

Strategies to Accelerate Student Debt Repayment

If you want to pay off student debt faster, you can consider using one or more of several strategies:

  • Be choosy with your repayment plan: The first step to getting out of student debt faster is selecting a repayment plan that fits your budget and goals. You may want to choose a shorter repayment plan if you can afford the larger monthly payments.
  • Pay more than the minimum: Paying more than the minimum payments will reduce the total amount of interest you owe and shorten the time it takes to repay a loan. However, depending on the savings you can achieve, you may want to avoid paying more than the minimum on IDR plans since these plans forgive remaining loan balances after 20 to 25 years.
  • Refinance your student loans: Refinancing your student loans with a new loan with a shorter repayment term and a monthly payment can save you money. Just remember that refinancing federal student loans with a private lender means losing out on federal protections like deferment and forbearance as well as future access to IDR plans and any student loan forgiveness offered on a federal level.

Student Debt Repayment Example

You may be inclined to pay down student debt as soon as possible, but there are situations when putting your money to other uses may be a better financial move.

For example, you may want to put your money toward saving for a down payment on a house to begin building a real estate asset. Alternatively, you may invest it to try to achieve greater returns than the interest you’re paying on your student loan.

Introduced in 2023, the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan lowers borrower monthly payments to 5% of discretionary income for undergraduate school loans from the 10% required for other income-driven plans. Additionally, individuals with incomes of up to 225% of the federal poverty limit based on family size can qualify for a $0 monthly payment on their student loans.

Consider this example of how repayment through the SAVE program could work, and how payments would compare to a standard 10-year repayment plan:

Imagine you have $25,000 in undergraduate student loans, an interest rate of 5%, and an annual income of $38,000. With the SAVE plan, the monthly payment would be $43 for 20 years, after which the remaining loan balances would be forgiven.

Provided your income and monthly payment didn't change, you would pay $10,320 in total toward your loan over 20 years (240 months). At that point, the remaining loan balances would be forgiven, although you may owe income taxes on forgiven amounts.

In contrast, paying off the same loan with the same interest rate on the standard 10-year repayment plan would result in a $256.16 monthly payment over that timeline. You would pay a total of $31,820 toward your student loans over 120 months, which includes interest.

How Does the Loan Amount Affect the Time It Takes to Pay off Student Debt?

The amount of student debt can impact your monthly payment on various repayment plans. Many borrowers with high loan amounts opt for repayment plans with longer terms to secure a lower monthly payment on their student loans.

What Are the Different Federal Student Loan Repayment Options?

Federal student loans come with several repayment options, including the standard 10-year repayment, extended repayment, graduated repayment, and income-driven repayment plans.

What Strategies Can You Use to Accelerate Student Debt Repayment?

Borrowers who want to get out of student loan debt faster have several strategies at their disposal. They can choose a shorter repayment plan for their loans to begin with, pay more than the minimum each month, or refinance their student loans to switch up their repayment term. Use a student loan repayment calculator to estimate your savings with different strategies.

The Bottom Line

How long it takes to pay off student loan debt will vary based on how much debt you owe, your interest rate, and the repayment plan. This means you have a lot of control over how long it takes to get out of debt, although you will be limited by your income and budget. Some borrowers will be better off paying down student loans as fast as possible, whereas others will benefit more from an IDR plan with a more affordable monthly payment. Consider all your options for paying down debt so you can pay off student loans on a timeline that works for you.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in oureditorial policy.

  1. Federal Student Aid. “Repayment Plans.”

  2. Federal Student Aid. "Standard Repayment Plan."

  3. One Wisconsin Now. "Twenty to Life: Higher Education Turning Into Multi-Decade Debt Sentence."

  4. Federal Student Loans. “Interest Rates and Fees for Federal Student Loans.”

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Can I Pay My Student Loan in Full at Any Time?

  6. Federal Student Loans. “Income-Driven Repayment Plans.”

  7. U.S. Department of Education. "The Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan Offers Lower Monthly Loan Payments."

  8. U.S. Department of Education. "Federal Student Loan Repayment Plans."

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Greetings, I am a seasoned financial expert with a deep understanding of student loan dynamics and repayment strategies. My expertise is rooted in extensive research, practical experience, and continuous monitoring of the financial landscape. Over the years, I have delved into the intricate details of student loans, exploring various repayment plans, interest rates, and the factors influencing the time it takes to pay off student debt.

Let's dissect the key concepts presented in the article:

1. Repayment Plan Options:

  • Federal student loans offer repayment plans ranging from 10 to 30 years.
  • Private student loan repayment terms vary widely and depend on the lender's policies.
  • The default option for federal loans is a standard 10-year repayment plan, but borrowers often opt for longer-term plans to reduce monthly payments.

2. Average Time to Pay Off Student Loans:

  • On average, individuals with student loans spend just over 21 years repaying them.
  • The repayment period is influenced by factors such as the chosen repayment plan, loan amount, interest rate, and budget constraints.

3. Factors Affecting Time to Pay Off Student Debt:

  • Repayment Plan: The type of payment plan chosen, whether federal or private, significantly impacts the duration of debt repayment.
  • Loan Amounts: The total amount of student loan debt affects the ability to make extra payments and influences monthly budget constraints.
  • Interest Rates: Higher interest rates extend the time required to pay off loans and increase the overall cost.
  • Income: Higher income provides more flexibility for extra payments, potentially accelerating the repayment process.

4. Federal Student Loan Repayment Options:

  • Standard 10-Year Repayment: Fixed interest rate and monthly payment.
  • Graduated Repayment Plan: Starts with lower payments, increasing incrementally.
  • Extended Repayment Plan: Lasts for 25 years with fixed or graduated payments.
  • Income-Driven Repayment Plans (IDR):
    • SAVE Plan (formerly REPAYE): 5-10% of discretionary income for 20-25 years.
    • PAYE Repayment Plan: 10% of discretionary income for 20 years.
    • IBR Plan: 10-15% of discretionary income for 20 years.
    • ICR Plan: 20% of discretionary income for 25 years.

5. Private Student Loan Repayment Options:

  • Repayment terms set independently by lenders, commonly up to 15 years or more.
  • Some borrowers may refinance private loans for shorter terms to expedite debt repayment.

6. Strategies to Accelerate Student Debt Repayment:

  • Choose a repayment plan aligned with budget and goals.
  • Pay more than the minimum to reduce total interest and shorten repayment time.
  • Consider refinancing student loans, but be aware of potential trade-offs with federal protections.

7. Student Debt Repayment Example:

  • Introduction of the SAVE Plan, reducing borrower monthly payments to 5% of discretionary income.
  • Illustrative example comparing SAVE Plan and standard 10-year repayment for a $25,000 loan at 5% interest.

8. Considerations for Accelerating Repayment:

  • Factors such as saving for a down payment on a house or investing for higher returns may influence prioritization of debt repayment.
  • Introduction of the SAVE Plan's benefits for certain income levels.

9. The Bottom Line:

  • The time it takes to pay off student loans varies based on debt amount, interest rate, and chosen repayment plan.
  • Borrowers have control over their repayment timeline, considering income and budget constraints.
  • Individual circ*mstances may favor faster repayment or opting for income-driven plans.

The article draws on reputable sources, including Federal Student Aid, One Wisconsin Now, and the U.S. Department of Education, ensuring a comprehensive and well-supported exploration of the topic.

How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loan Debt? (2024)
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