How Long Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans?

Student loans are intimidating at first glance, but how long does it take to pay off student loans? Learn more about different student loan payback periods.

Updated by Annany Sah on 12th August 2023

If you’re an American college student or graduate, you’re likely familiar with the daunting nature of student loans. With the average American graduating with $30,000 in debt, people might wonder, “how long does it take to pay off student loans.” And honestly, $30,000 is nothing. Some students graduate with even more debt, like $50,000 or $100,000. If you’re wondering what the average student loan payoff time is, here’s the truth: it varies. 

While you might wonder, “how long does it usually take to pay off student loans,” the exact amount of time depends on many factors. 



Table of Contents


  • How Long Are Student Loans For?
  • How Much Should I Borrow?
  • How Many Years Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans: $30K, $50K, and $100K
  • Income-Based Repayment Plans
  • What Happens If I Speed Up My Monthly Payments and Pay Back My Student Loan Early?
  • Conclusion


How Long Are Student Loans For?

Wondering, “how many years does it take to pay off student loans?” A big factor is your loan term, or how long your loan is for. Student loans can be active for various loan terms. Many federal loans have standard repayment periods of 10 years, as well as longer repayment plans that can last up to 30 years. 


Private lenders offer a range of loan terms for borrowers, usually ranging between 5 and 25 years. One thing to remember about loan terms is this: longer terms equal more interest paid over time. Shorter terms mean higher monthly payments, but less interest paid over time. 


How Much Should I Borrow?


Your loan amount is a big factor in the length of time you’ll need to pay off your debt. Usually the bigger the loan, the longer the student loan payback period. Here are some things to consider when deciding on how much to borrow:

    1. Living Expenses

If you’re moving to a different state, you’ll have to plan for increased living expenses, like rent (if you’re moving out of your parents’ house), utility bills, groceries, and more. On-campus housing might have different costs than off-campus housing, so try to estimate your costs based on your choices for housing. 

Other living expenses, like hygiene products, groceries, entertainment, and transportation vary from state-to-state, and should also be considered. 

    2. Tuition

Some schools have higher tuition fees than others for the same program. And, some programs are more specialized than others, resulting in higher tuition fees. Consider your tuition fees, including costs for textbooks, before deciding on a loan amount. 

    3. Grants and Scholarships

If you’re strong academically or have financial need, you’ll likely be eligible for many scholarships. If you’re eligible for a large chunk of change through grants and scholarships, you can limit your loan amount.  



Will you have time to work while you study? How much do you think you can make each month? Consider opportunities for employment throughout your program, as well as after. If your field isn’t known for high-paying career prospects, you won’t have as much income coming in after graduation. 


How Many Years Does It Take to Pay Off Student Loans: $30K, $50K, and $100K


Wondering, “how long does it take to pay off student loans on average?” Remember, the time limit depends on many factors, such as:


  • Employment
  • Repayment Plans
  • Grace Periods
  • Interest Rates
  • Refinancing
  • Default/Delinquency
  • ...and more. 


Here are a couple of statistics for you to consider, that show average repayment periods for loans of varying values. 


How Long Does it Take to Pay off 30K in Student Loans?

In 2021, the average associate degree holder that took on about $30,100 in debt took 7 years and 3 months to pay it off. 


How Long Does it Take to Pay off 50K in Student Loans? 

In 2021, the average undergraduate student who took on $45K in debt took between 6-12 years to pay it off. Similarly, the average graduate student who took on $58K in debt took 8 years and 9 months to pay it off. 


How Long Does it Take to Pay off 100K in Student Loans?

In 2021, the average master’s student who took on about $96K in student debt took 19 years and 3 months to pay off the debt. The average doctoral student, who took out $100,000 in debt, took about 14 years to pay off the debt. 


Looking to refinance your student loans? Choose from our list of best companies to refinance your student loan.


Income-Driven Repayment Plans


Borrowers of federal student loans are eligible for income-driven repayment plans. These repayment plans base your monthly payments on your income, and usually require payments to be valued at 10 or 15% of your discretionary income. 


There are currently four income-based repayment plans available, each with varying eligibility requirements. Some require proof of graduation, while others might account for your spouse’s income in calculating your payment amount. Loan repayment terms vary greatly, as do monthly payments. Some borrowers might even be eligible for $0 payments, which will certainly extend the length of time they need to pay off the loan. 


What Happens If I Speed Up My Monthly Payments and Pay Back My Student Loan Early?

Paying down student loan debt early doesn't always make sense, especially if many of your loans have favorable provisions like low interest rates and flexible loan terms. Sometimes, lenders might even charge you extra for paying your student loan debt too quickly (We know — how cruel!)


If you want to reduce your student loan payback period length and decide to pay your student loan debt early, here are some things you should consider:

Make Sure Extra Payments Go to the Principal

Make sure that your lender credits all of your extra payments toward paying down the loan principal. Some lenders instead treat extra payments as advance payments on future-month obligations. This often means that you’ll be paying in advance for interest that you shouldn’t have to pay anyway. 


Extra Payments Don’t Cancel Out Future Monthly Payments

If you have inconsistent income, you might benefit from having some better cash flow months than others. You might think that if you made a lot of money in one month, you could get away with paying more now to experience a break in your monthly payments later. 


Newsflash: student loans don’t work like that. If you make an extra payment, you typically won't get credit to extend your due date an extra month. However, sometimes a lender might consider making temporary allowances for extra payments. Be sure to contact them with any questions about this before assuming anything. 


Talk to Your Lender Before Paying Back Your Loan in Full

Paying back a student loan in full might be an exciting prospect, especially since you’ll save on all that interest! But, you shouldn’t do anything rash. 


If you’re in a position to pay off your loan in full, contact your lender to get a full repayment amount. Ask them about any fees they charge for paying off the debt early. 



Student loans usually have payment periods of 10 years. However, since there are so many factors that dictate how quickly you pay off your student loans, the average student loan payoff time varies greatly. 


If you’re wondering, “how long does it take to pay off student loans,” you might be dismayed that we can’t give you an exact answer, though we can give you some estimates. You’ll need to assess your situation to figure out the most accurate estimate of your student loan payback period.