How Long Does It Take To Pay Off Student Loans

The biggest factor in how long it takes to pay off your student loans is the total amount you should borrow. The average student graduates with $30,000 in outstanding student loan debt, but if you attend a school with lower tuition and lower cost of living, you might not have to borrow as much.

Updated by Annany Sah on 5th February 2020

The standard repayment term on a federal student loan is 10 years. The repayment term on private student loan varies on average from 5 years to 15 years. Borrowers can choose alternate repayment terms which reduce the monthly loan payment by increasing the repayment term. Generally, students should borrow no more than they can afford to repay in 10 years or by the time they retire, whichever comes first. If total student loan debt at graduation is less that the borrower’s expected annual starting salary, the borrower should be able to repay his or her student loans in 10 years or less.

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How much should you borrow for your student loans?

The biggest factor in how long it takes to pay off your student loans is the total amount you should borrow. The average student graduates with $30,000 in outstanding student loan debt, but if you attend a school with lower tuition and lower cost of living, you might not have to borrow as much. When you take out loans to pay for an advanced degree as well as your undergraduate education, the total will be higher.

Before you sign for a loan, think about whether you’ll be able to repay the total within 10 years or before you retire, depending on which comes first. If you can work during school to reduce the amount you’ll have to borrow, you’ll graduate with less debt and pay off your loan faster. Look into grants and scholarships to help offset the cost as well. Anytime you can lessen the amount you have to borrow, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to pay the money back.

Repayment Schedule for paying off your loan

Another factor in how long it takes to repay your student loans is the repayment schedule. Most federal and private loans offer a grace period of at least six months after you graduate, leave school, or drop to half-time enrollment or less. That grace period gives you time to find a job and start saving money so you can start making your monthly payment. After the grace period ends, you’ll need to set up a regular payment plan to avoid late fees and penalties.

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The base case for federal student loans

It matters what type of student loan you have in determining how long it'll take you to pay it off. Federal loans usually come with one of three repayment schedules. The standard repayment plan gives you up to 10 years to pay down your debt, with monthly payments calculated based on the total amount you've borrowed, the prevailing interest rate, and what minimum payment amount your lender imposes on student loans generally.Graduated repayment plans give you a longer period of up to 30 years to repay your student loans. These plans usually start with a period during which all you're paying is interest on the loans, giving you time to get your financial footing at the beginning of your career. 

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Payments based on income of a borrower

More recently, government programs have responded to the difficulty that many student loan borrowers have had making repayments based on traditional schedules. New provisions have made it possible for borrowers to make payments based on their income.

These income-based repayment plans typically require you to pay a percentage of your discretionary income above certain amounts. However, they come in several different flavors:

  • Some consider only your income even if you're married, while others take your spouse's income into account as well.

  • Some have no cap to the amount you have to pay if your income skyrockets, while others cap your repayment amount at the normal monthly payment for a 10-year loan.

In addition, the period of time after which any remaining debt gets forgiven varies from loan to loan. Provisions are typically between 20 years and 25 years, with different programs offering different limits. 

Challenges for private student loan borrowers

  • Unlike federal student loans, private lenders have a lot of leeway in structuring whatever repayment terms they see fit to offer.

  • As a result, it's essential to look closely at the particular terms of your lender's private student loans, because they won't necessarily be the same as a similar lender's student loan offerings

  • One thing that does tend to be the case, however, is that lenders offer longer repayment periods for borrowers who choose to consolidate their student loan debt.

  • Lenders hope to gather all past student loans into a single loan vehicle, offering the convenience of making a single payment. By giving you more time to repay your loan, you'll be able to get a lower monthly payment than you'd get under a standard repayment schedule. 

How to repay your student loans faster?

Paying down student loan debt early doesn't always make sense, especially if many of your loans have particularly favorable provisions.

If you go that route, here are some things to watch out for:

  • Make sure that your lender credits all of your extra payment toward paying down the loan principal. Some lenders instead treat extra payments as advance payments on future-month obligations, which can end up charging you for interest that you shouldn't have to owe.

  • Conversely, even if you make an extra payment that matches a full month's normal loan payment, you typically won't get credit to extend your due date an extra month. So don't think that you can make a double payment one month and then skip the next month's payment until you clear it with your lender first.

  • If you get to the position at which you want to pay off your loan in full, contact your lender to get a full repayment amount. That way, you won't get left having forgotten half a month's worth of interest that'll require an extra payment before your loan goes away completely.


With student loans, lenders are typically working to give borrowers as long as they can to get their loans repaid. But that's not necessarily in your best interest. Financial flexibility can be useful, yet the feeling you'll get from having repaid your student loan debt in full is a whole lot nice.

It is always to be well aware of all your student loan repayment options so,that you can take control of your repayment phase.