Student Loan Debt: 2022 Statistics and Outlook

The numbers are staggering—and still on the rise

As any recent college student (or parent of a student) knows, obtaining a degree requires a much bigger financial sacrifice today than it did a generation or two ago. Over the past three decades, the average cost to attend a private four-year institution climbed to more than three times the cost to attend a public four-year institution, according to the College Board.

For many Americans, footing the bill through savings and investments simply isn’t possible. The upshot is that more students and families are relying on loans to pursue higher education, and the total student loan debt keeps growing.

Key Takeaways

  • The total amount of outstanding student loan debt in the United States is $1.76 trillion.
  • Soaring college costs and pressure to compete in the job marketplace are big factors for student loan debt.
  • Student loans are the most common form of educational debt, followed by credit cards and other types of credit.
  • Delinquency statistics may be understated because of the relief provided to student loan borrowers by the White House.
  • Borrowers who don't complete their degrees are more likely to default.

The Loan Relief Extension

The student loan relief measure was again extended on Nov. 22, 2022. Payments are suspended until one of the following dates:

  • 60 days after the Supreme Court rules on lower-court orders that have prevented the federal government from implementing a separate program to forgive some student debt owed by millions of Americans.
  • 60 days after June 30, 2023, if the Court does not resolve the issue by that date.

Overall Average Student Debt

How big a role do student loans play in today's colleges and universities? Here is a snapshot of borrowing.

Student Loans Snapshot
$1.76 trillion Amount of student loan debt outstanding in the U.S.
45 million Number of borrowers with federal student loan debt.

The total amount of outstanding student loans was $1.76 trillion in Q4 2022 compared to $1.73 trillion one year prior.

Average Loan Balances

Thirty percent of all Americans who went to college took on some form of debt to do so. Student loans were by far the most common borrowing options (96% of those who hold education debt took out student loans). However, 24% of people used other forms of borrowing, including credit cards (19%), home equity lines of credit (4%), and other types of credit (11%).

Most of this debt is carried by younger adults. Borrowers between the ages of 25 and 34 had nearly $500 billion in federal student loan debt as of the fourth quarter of 2022. Adults aged 35 to 49 carried even more debt, with student loan balances totaling $634 billion. People ages 50 to 61, meanwhile, owe about $293 billion in student loan debt.

Decline in Delinquencies

Twelve percent of adults who took out student loans were behind on their payments, according to the latest figures available from the Federal Reserve, and less than 1% of all student loan debt was at least 90 days delinquent or in default in Q4 2022.

However, these numbers understate the problem due to emergency relief measures regarding student loan repayments that were put into effect in March 2020 and have since been repeatedly extended. Those measures suspended loan repayments, froze the interest amounts owed, and banned collections on defaulted student loans.

The latest student loan relief measure, announced on Nov. 22, 2022, extends the policy until one of the following two dates:

  • 60 days after the Supreme Court rules on lower-court orders that have prevented the federal government from implementing a separate program to forgive some student debt owed by millions of Americans, or,
  • 60 days after June 30, 2023, if the Court does not resolve the issue by that date.

People who get advanced degrees tend to accumulate more debt but are also more likely to make payments on their student loans on time.

Borrowers who never complete a degree are more likely to have a harder time paying off their loans. About 23% of people who took out student loans but never completed an associate's or bachelor's degree were behind on their payments in 2021.

Though people with more advanced degrees tend to take on more debt, they're more likely to make their student loan payments on time. Of the former college students who completed an associate degree in 2021, 18% were delinquent. However, just 6% and 5% of adults who completed a bachelor's degree or graduate degree, respectively, were behind on payments during this same year.

Economic Impact of Debt Cancellation

The sheer size of student debt can be characterized as a weight on the U.S. economy as well as a burden on the millions of individuals who owe it. About 92% of student loan debt is backed by the U.S. government.

The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in March 2021 includes a provision that student loan forgiveness issued between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2025, will not be taxable to the recipient. The Biden administration promised to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for Department of Education-held Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for non-Pell Grant recipients. Federal courts issued orders to block the plan on Nov. 11, 2022. As such, the Education Department stopped accepting applications until further notice. Applications already submitted were put on hold.

Pros and Cons of Debt Cancellation

Moody's Investor Service predicts wiping out student debt would yield a stimulus to economic activity that is comparable to tax cuts in the near term. Over the longer term, it could increase homeownership and boost the creation of small businesses. Outright debt cancellation would boost real gross domestic product (GDP) by $86 billion to $108 billion per year, according to one study from Bard College's Levy Economics Institute.

However, analysts warn of the risk of moral hazard caused by implying that the cost of your decisions will be borne by someone else. This could lead to even higher student debt burdens, as borrowers assume forgiveness will be forthcoming.

Another argument suggests that forgiving student loan balances will provide, at best, a weak stimulus to the economy because the savings are realized in small amounts over a long period, depending on how much a borrower pays back monthly with full or partial forgiveness.

How Much of the US Population Has Student Loan Debt?

As of 2022, about 45 million Americans were saddled with student debt. That figure reflects the growing importance of a college degree to getting a well-paying job. It also reflects just how much college costs have increased.

How Much Is the Average Student Loan Debt in the UK?

Students who graduated from U.K. universities in 2022 owed an average of £45,800 in student loan debt. By the end of March 2022, the estimated value of outstanding loans is £182 billion.

The government predicts only 20% of borrowers (full-time undergraduates) will repay them in full.

How Do You Get Your Student Loans Forgiven?

The U.S. government will forgive, cancel, or discharge some or all of an individual's student loan debt only under a few specific circumstances. Teachers in low-income schools and public service employees may be eligible for forgiveness of a portion of their debt. People who are disabled may be eligible for discharge of the debt. Those who think they may qualify for loan forgiveness should contact their student loan servicer(s).

The Bottom Line

Most students who attend college are hoping to earn a degree that will dramatically increase their earning power after graduation. Still, for many adults, much of those earnings will have to go toward paying back student loans. This is a heavy burden to carry, especially before someone has earned their first professional paycheck.

Article Sources
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  1. College Board. "Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2022 Full Report," Page 12.

  2. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Student Loans Owned and Securitized."

  3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021 - May 2022."

  4. U.S. Department of Education. "Biden-Harris Administration Continues Fight for Student Loan Relief."

  5. Federal Student Aid. "Federal Student Loan Portfolio," Download, "Portfolio by Age."

  6. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "Total Household Debt Reaches $16.90 trillion in Q4 2022; Mortgage and Auto Loan Growth Slows."

  7., citing Federal Student Aid. "The Federal Government Owns 92 Percent of Student Debt. Will Biden Wipe It Out?"

  8. U.S. Congress. "H.R.1319 - American Rescue Plan Act of 2021."

  9. The White House. "Fact Sheet: President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most."

  10. Federal Student Aid. "Student Loan Debt Relief Is Blocked."

  11. CNBC, citing Moody’s Investors Service. "Erasing Student Debt Would Be a Small Stimulus but Would Create a 'Moral Hazard,' Moody's Says."

  12. Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Student Debt Cancellation," Page 6.

  13. Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Student Debt Cancellation," Page 49.

  14. Urban Institute. "Is Student Loan Forgiveness an Effective Form of Economic Stimulus?"

  15. U.K. Parliament, House of Commons Library. "Student Loan Statistics."

  16. Federal Student Aid. "Student Loan Forgiveness."

  17. Federal Student Aid. "Who's My Student Loan Servicer?"

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