In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government took swift action to help Americans who were suffering financially. The CARES Act included a temporary pause on all federal student loan payments.
Although the measure was intended as a form of short-term relief, the temporary measure paved the way for sweeping changes.
As of the end of 2020, 60% of student loan borrowers were receiving some form of assistance on their student loans.2 Since then, the moratorium on student loan payments has been extended through mid-2023, and the Biden-Harris Administration announced the first one-time loan forgiveness program (which is currently on hold by the Supreme Court).
The administration also announced potential changes to how income-based pay programs are structured. This means that loan balances would not increase while a person was in a loan repayment program.
Nationwide Student Loan Facts
The descriptive statistics below reflect the state of student loan borrowers in the United States in 2021. In 2021, delinquencies and debt defaults fell, but overall debt burdens continued to rise. Given the payment pause, updated data won’t really be useful until 2024.
- Number of Borrowers: 43 million
- Average debt balance: $18,767
- Number of Borrowers with delinquent or delinquent loans: 3.3 million (7.5% of total borrowers)
- Number of borrowers who saw their debt decrease in 2021: 11.5 million (26.6% of total borrowers)
- Percentage of student loan borrowers who have paid off their debt: 49%
- Estimated number of borrowers eligible for loan forgiveness: 38.6 million
Keep in mind that given the pandemic and the pause on all federal student loan payments, the average student loan payment data is skewed. You can view past average student loan payment and average student loan debt by graduating class here.
Although debt levels continue to rise, some student loan borrowers are seeing their debt loads drop. Nearly half (49%) of all borrowers who took out loans to pay for their education have repaid their loans in full.
Among current borrowers, 26.6% saw their debt load reduced in 2021. Additionally, the vast majority of all current borrowers will be eligible for a certain amount of student loan forgiveness under the Biden-Harris Student Debt Relief Plan.
Student Loans by State Fast Facts
While national debt statistics paint a troubling picture, actual debt burdens vary significantly from state to state. In these quick facts, we highlight the average and median debt loads by state.
Commentators generally speak of medium debt loads because half of the borrowers have higher debt loads and the other half have lower debt loads.
But in some cases, it’s instructive to look at average and median debt levels. While the median shows the midpoint of borrowers, the average better illustrates how high debt borrowers are influencing overall debt loads in the state.
- Most Borrowers: California (4.1 million)
- Fewer borrowers: Wyoming (57,600)
- Lowest Average Balance: South Dakota ($28,218)
- Lowest average balance: Wyoming ($14,634)
- Highest Average Balance: Maryland ($42,543)*
- Highest average balance: Georgia ($21,965)
- Smallest gap between median and average balance: South Dakota (median debt load is $15,865 while average is $28,218 for a gap of $12,353)
- Largest gap between median and average balance: Maryland (median debt burden is $42,543 while median is $21,779 for a gap of $20,764) and California (median debt burden is $37,783 while median is $17,019 for a gap of $20,764)
- Lower delinquency rate: New Hampshire (4.8%)
- Highest delinquency rate: West Virginia (11%)
*Washington DC is a district rather than a state, but its average student loan balance is $53,769 and its average student debt load is $26,530.
The expected impact of the debt forgiveness plan
Right now, debt burdens are at all-time highs, but the next debt forgiveness plan it is expected to lead to billions of dollars of debt relief. Individual borrowers are receiving forgiveness ranging from $10,000 for non-Pell Grant borrowers to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.
To show the impact of this program, we estimate the proportion of estimated borrowers who are eligible for student loan forgiveness. To do this, we divided the estimated number of eligible borrowers from the Biden-Harris Administrations White House Statement, by the 2021 number of borrowers for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s detailed student loan report.
- Highest number of borrowers eligible for loan forgiveness: California (3.5 million)
- Lowest Number of Borrowers Eligible for Loan Forgiveness: Wyoming (31,400)
- Highest proportion of borrowers eligible for loan forgiveness: Mississippi and New Mexico (100%)
- Lowest proportion of borrowers eligible for loan forgiveness: North Dakota (71.93%)
- Highest proportion of borrowers eligible for $20,000 in loan forgiveness: Mississippi (76.4%)
- Lowest proportion of borrowers eligible for $20,000 in loan forgiveness: Massachusetts (38.3%)
Student Loan Debt by State Breakdown
You can see a state-by-state breakdown of your student loan debt situation below.
Borrowers Eligible for Biden Loan Forgiveness
Borrowers Eligible for $20k Loan Forgiveness
For reference, the borrowers eligible for $20,000 student loan forgiveness are a subset of the borrowers eligible for Biden student loan forgiveness (either $10,000 or $20,000).
Daniel Mangrum, Joelle Scally, and Crystal Wang, “Three Key Facts from the Center for Microeconomic Data’s 2022 Student Loan Update,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics, August 9, 2022, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2022/08/three-key-facts-from-the-center-for-microeconomic-data-2022-student-loan-update.
“Economic Well-Being of US Households in 2020 – May 2021”, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, October 7, 2022, https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2021-economic-well-being-of-us-households-in-2020-student-loans.htm
The Government of the United States. (2022, September 20). “Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Plan for Student Debt Relief Could Benefit Tens of Millions of Borrowers in All Fifty States.” October 7, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/09/20/fact-sheet-the-biden-harris-administrations-plan-for-student-debt-relief-could-benefit- tens-of-millions-of-borrowers-in-all-fifty-states/