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The average student loan debt by household income, school type, and race

Average student loan balance
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The average student loan debt among borrowers was $29,000 among bachelors degree students who took on debt during the 2017 to 2018 school year, according to data from CollegeBoard.

But, the amount of student loan debt borrowers take on depends on several factors. 

Average student loan debt by household income

According to data from the Urban Institute representing all student loan borrowers, families earning more than $173,000 per year have student loan balances almost double that of families earning less than $27,000 per year, including debts from both graduate and undergraduate degrees. 

Income levelAverage student debt balance
Less than $27,000 per year$26,000
$27,001 to $52,000 per year$34,200
$52,001 to $97,000 per year$34,700
$97,001 to $173,000 per year$41,200
$173,001 or more per year$46,700

According to the Urban Institute's data, 48% of student debt is held by households with graduate degrees. While graduate school means more time in school, it also tends to mean more debt, this time higher interest rates — federal student loans for undergraduate students carry a 2.75% interest rate for the 2020 to 2021 school year, while graduate loans are higher at 4.3%. 

Households with larger incomes tend to spend more on education. Students from higher-income families are less likely to have student loan debt, but those who do have it tend to have a lot.

According to CollegeBoard data on the class of 2016, an undergraduate degree recipient from a family earning an income over $120,000 was 11 percentage points more likely to have no loan debt than a recipient from a family earning between $70,000 and $119,999 per year. 

Income levelPercent with no student loan debt
Less than $35,000 per year 25%
$35,000 to $69,999 per year26%
$70,000 to $119,99930%
$120,000 or more41%

Average student loan debt by race

Student loans disproportionately impact Black student loan borrowers and their families.

According to data from the Urban Institute, Black student loan borrowers face significantly more student loan debt than white or Hispanic borrowers do. Here's how the average student loan debt breaks down by race for student loan borrowers between 25 and 55 who borrowed loans for themselves:

RaceAverage student loan balance
Black $32,047
White$18,685
Hispanic$15,583
Other$12,935

CollegeBoard points out that the racial wealth gap contributes to this. According US Census data, the average Black family has a median net worth of $9,600 when white families have a median net worth of $130,800. 

Average student loan debt by school type

Private schools tend to be more expensive, and as a result, students at private colleges and universities tend to borrow more. Here's the debt amount of the average student who attended public versus private college, according to data from CollegeBoard on undergraduate students for the 2017-2018 school year: 

School typeAverage debt 
Public college or university$27,200
Private nonprofit college or university$33,500

How to pay off student loan debt

Paying down student loan debt can be a challenge, but there are several moves to make if you want to make a dent in your student loan debt.

Make a plan for debt repayment

If you don't have a plan to pay off your student loan debt, making one could be very helpful. Using a debt repayment method like the debt snowball, where you prioritize loans from smallest to largest and build up momentum, or debt avalanche, where you prioritize loans from highest to lowest interest rate to reduce payments over the years, can help you divide your loans into manageable parts to start making progress. 

These methods aren't the only debt-tackling methods out there, but they are two of the most common. Both start by listing out all of your debts and income, and then choosing which debt to put all of your resources towards first. Either is an effective method to start paying off student loan debt, no matter how large your loans are. 

Consider refinancing your student loans

If you have student loan debt from several years ago and haven't considered refinancing, now might be the time. 

Interest rates are lower than they have been in the past, and refinancing could help you lower your interest rates. People who borrowed federal student loans when interest rates were higher several years ago could lower interest rates and save on interest by refinancing. 

For borrowers with private student loans, there's nothing to lose by consider refinancing, financial planner Anna N'Jie-Konte says. However, federal student loan borrowers should be careful before they refinance: By refinancing their public loans into private, they will lose some of the protections of federal student loans like the CARES Act forbearance and interest rate suspension, as well as access to income-driven repayment plans.

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