With more and more students borrowing student loans every year, many of those students want to know how long it takes to pay off the average student loan. It’s hard to give one answer to this question because it depends on how much students borrow, whether they make their payments on time if they default on those loans and the total interest due. Students who attend graduate school and those who earn doctoral degrees may borrow even more money, which extends the amount of time it takes to pay off their loans.

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Types of Student Loans

One thing students should consider is the type of loans they take out. The federal government offers both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans go to students in undergrad degree programs and allow them to attend college without worrying about interest building up on their loans. Graduate and doctoral students can get unsubsidized loans that will collect interest while they’re in college. Some students also take out alternative loans. Private lenders offer those loans to students with a good credit history and score and those who apply with a co-signer. Alternative loans usually have high-interest rates and take more time to pay off.

Payment Programs

Government loans provide students with a short break of six months. Once they either drop out of school or graduate, they have a full six months before they need to make a loan payment. If the payments seem too high they can request that the government limit their loans based on how much they make. One program allows students to make graduated payments that will slowly increase over time because the government believes their income levels will rise at the same rate. Students have the option of paying one set amount each month too.

Repayment Length

According to Allie Bidwell of U.S. News and World Report, the average length of time it takes students to pay off their loans is between 10 and 20 years, with the average student taking 21 years to pay off their loans. Bidwell points to a survey, which found that more than 20% of students couldn’t afford to pay their loans and more than 40% of students were in default. Once a student defaults on government loans, they cannot borrow more money until they enter a new payment program. As students focus on paying down their loans, they have less money to spend on homes and vehicles.

Forgiveness Options

The federal government offers several loan forgiveness programs for students in need. Teachers can get free money for school when they sign a contract and agree to work in a low-income school district. Those who work in other public sectors can get a portion of their loans forgiven for each year that they work. The government also offers a forgiveness program for students who make regular payments on their loans for a full 10 years. At the end of the decade, they can have the government forgive their balances and get new loans if they want to go back to school.

Student loans provide help to students who cannot afford the cost of going to college. Though they can borrow thousands of dollars, they’ll need to pay off the amount they borrowed and the interest charged. Those looking at how long it takes to pay off the average student loan will find that it can take more than 20 years.