How Long Does It Take To Pay Off Student Loans?

7 min read

Posted on March 29, 2022

woman holding books wondering how long does it take to pay off student loans

These days, a college education doesn’t come cheap. Taking into account the cost of tuition, the cost of textbooks, the cost of supplies, and the cost of simple daily life, it’s estimated that the true cost of college for students in the U.S. is over $35,000 a year. That number can jump even higher if you opt for a private institution or out-of-state school.

For context, working full-time for $10 an hour will only earn a person $20,800 a year. This number will be even less if working for the federal minimum wage.

In other words, countless college students struggle to afford higher education. Student loans and financial aid help make college affordable, but in the long run, when accounting for student loan interest and loss of income, the true cost of a four-year degree could exceed $400,000. Thankfully, there are a multitude of student loan repayment plans available to you after graduation.

From federal student loan repayment plans to private student loan solutions to student loan refinancing, there are many possibilities at your disposal.

For this reason, when it comes time to pay your student loan debt, you should know which plan you want to use. While many borrowers wind up relying on the standard repayment plan after graduation, this route could actually wind up costing you more money in the long run. That’s the last thing anybody wants.

We’re here to help. This article outlines the various student loan repayment plans so that recent grads like you can figure out just how long it will truly take to pay back their loans. Let’s get into the basic facts you need to know about each type of loan, then discuss how long it takes to pay them off (as well as explore some tips on how to pay them off faster).

When Will I Pay Off My Student Loans?

The question of when you will have to pay off your student loans is not one that can be answered with just a single number. Simply put, the timeline of your student loan repayment plan can vary depending on factors such as your loan servicer and your loan terms. However, the biggest factor of all comes down to one thing: whether you have federal or private loans.

Federal student loans have a standard repayment term of 10 years, but there are quite a few other repayment plans besides the standard repayment plan you can qualify for depending on your total income.

Private student loans, on the other hand, generally come with a 10-year or 15-year term, but can also go up to 25 years in some cases. Let’s break down federal and private loans into specifics in order to determine each loan repayment plan’s true timeline.

Federal Student Loans

First and foremost, let’s get into the ins and outs of federal student loans. What you may or may not have known is that this option may automatically have a grace period applied.

The first monthly payment of your repayment plan may not be due until six months post-graduation, six months after you drop below half-time enrollment, or six months after you leave school. (Half-time enrollment will vary from school to school, but you should be able to discover what it is for your specific institution by splitting the hours of your expected full-time enrollment in two.)

When those six months are up, there are a variety of federal student loan repayment plans available to you. These plans include:

  • Standard: A 10-year repayment term to your federal loan servicer that starts with low payments that increase in price every two years. Graduated repayment also requires you to make minimum payments every month​​​​ for 120 months.
  • Graduated Repayment: A 10-year repayment term to your federal loan servicer that starts with low payments that increase in price every two years. Graduated repayment also requires you to make minimum payments every month​​​​ for 120 months.
  • Extended: A 25-year repayment term to your federal loan servicer that requires you to make minimum payments every month for 300 months. This is only for loans greater than $30,000.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plans: Your monthly payments will be either 10 or 15 percent of discretionary income (depending on when you received your first loans), but never more than you would have paid under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. Any outstanding balance on your loan will be forgiven if you haven’t repaid your loan in full after 20 years or 25 years, depending on when you received your first loans.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): Your monthly payment will be the lesser of 20 percent of discretionary income, or the amount you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed payment over 12 years, adjusted according to your income. Any outstanding balance will be forgiven if you haven’t repaid your loan in full after 25 years.A 25-year repayment term with monthly payments that are adjusted for your specific income and much less than what you would pay on a fixed monthly repayment plan over 12 years. ICR repayments can also be thought of as 20% of your discretionary income divided by 12.
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE): A 20-year repayment period with monthly payments equal to 10% of your discretionary income divided by 12. As a rule, the Pay As You Earn repayment plan never exceeds the 10-year Standard Repayment amount.
  • Income-Sensitive Repayment (ISR): A 15-year repayment term that lets borrowers with Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program loans reduce their monthly loan payments based on their income. The Income-Sensitive Repayment monthly amount changes annually depending on changes to your income.

Private Student Loans

Now that you have a better grasp on federal student loans, let’s break down how your private student loan repayment term is determined.

With private student loans, the length of their repayment plans can vary from lender to lender. For that reason, while private student loans do not qualify for reduced payments or income-driven repayment plans, private student loans could present a greater variety of repayment terms.

There’s also the option to explore various other ways to potentially get lower interest rates, such as refinancing. For specifics on when you have to pay off your private student loan or for information on what repayment plans are available to you for your private student loan, visit your lender’s website or reach out to their helpline.

Many private lenders will be more than happy to help you find a straightforward and affordable repayment plan that works for you and matches your financial goals.

3 Top Tips for Paying Off Your Student Loans Faster

With some specifics of federal and private student loan repayment plans made clearer, it’s worth discussing a few ways that borrowers like you can pay off their student loans faster than the maximum number of months in the repayment term.

Because the average person ends up making student loan payments for 20 years, it can be stressful trying to figure out a repayment schedule that works for you and doesn’t leave you making payments for five times longer than you were even in school to begin with. For this reason, it’s worth finding a way to pay off your student loans faster.

Some of the ways to bring down your total loan balance and reduce the total amount of accrued interest you face include:

  • Exploring student loan refinancing options
  • Considering student loan forgiveness programs
  • Making extra payments whenever possible

With each of these tips, you can potentially shorten your total repayment period and pay off your student loans faster. Let’s discuss each of these tips in detail so that you can know what works best for you.

Explore Student Loan Refinancing

If you’re looking for help paying off your student loan balance faster, student loan refinancing may be an option. You see, refinancing your student loans through a trusted financial institution — whether it be a bank, online lender, a credit union, or a student loan consultant — could both shorten your repayment term and save money on interest.

When you refinance, you replace specific student loan debt from one or more lenders into one loan from one financial institution. By definition, student loan refinancing involves combining all or some of your loans into one single new loan with a new, potentially lower interest rate and new repayment schedule.

Additionally, if you’re a borrower who has good credit, or if you’ve recently improved your credit score and personal finances and need a repayment schedule that properly reflects this, student loan refinancing is worth considering.

Consider Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

If refinancing isn’t for you, then federal student loan forgiveness may help you pay off your student loan balance faster. Of course, student loan forgiveness programs come with their own set of rules, guidelines, and regulations. Still, a student loan forgiveness program is one way to get a portion of your student debt forgiven (even if that forgiveness will only apply to federal student loans and excludes private loans).

The most common student loan forgiveness program offered by the U.S. Department of Education is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which is made for both government and non-profit workers. If you qualify for this forgiveness program, you can get a portion of your federal student loans forgiven — there are often strict requirements and only apply to qualifying employers, though.

Even so, the potential reduction in your interest rate, monthly payment, or term could allow you to pay down the balance faster than ever before.

Make Extra Payments When Possible

When all else fails, something as simple as making extra payments could help you pay off your student loan balance faster. Of course, this will only be possible if you can actually afford to do so.

The easiest and most effective way to pay off the balance of your student loans faster is to make extra payments whenever possible. If you continue to make only the minimum payments, you’ll take much longer to pay off your total balance and accrue more interest in the process.

Even if you don’t make enough to pay extra every month, there are still many opportunities throughout the year to make little additional payments here and there. For instance, some people like to put their yearly tax refund (or at least a portion of it) towards their student loan balance to help lower their total principal balance. Putting extra money towards your student loan balance whenever you can could help you pay off your loans faster and get one step closer to being debt free — a reward so great, any little bit will be well worth it.


How long does it take the average person to pay off their student loans?

The average time it takes to pay off student loans varies depending on the type of loan you have, the total amount of your student loans, and what repayment schedule you are on.

For example, a common repayment plan would take 10 years to pay off. However, an extended repayment plan will take 25 years to pay off in full.

Ultimately, though, the average amount of time it takes for someone to pay off their student loans is about 20 years.

How will a consolidation loan affect my repayment options?

Consolidating your federal student loans is one way to more easily manage your monthly payment by combining multiple loans and the associated payments into one loan with one payment. Loan consolidation could also help you work out a shorter repayment term and/or lower interest rate on your student loans to help you pay them off quicker.

What is the difference between deferment and forbearance?

Because deferment and forbearance are very similar, you wouldn’t be wrong to feel somewhat confused by the two. Both offer a temporary pause on your student loan payments for up to three years, but they differ in one important way: the interest.

Federally subsidized loans in deferment will not accrue interest, while both unsubsidized and subsidized loans will accrue interest while in forbearance.

Learn more about refinancing student loans

When all is said and done, it’s clear that student loan debt can be incredibly overwhelming — especially when you consider just how long you could be paying off that student loan debt.

Student loan refinancing is one repayment option for both private and federal student loan debt. If you’re interested in refinancing your student loans, explore today’s current rates through Splash Financial and decide if it’s the right option for you.


The information provided in this blog post is not intended to provide legal, financial or tax advice. We recommend consulting with a financial adviser before making a major financial decision.

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