How Long Does It Take To Pay Off Student Loans?

Poll: Most of us don't know

Student Loan Survey Hero

By Jeff Smith

When asked, most Americans will tell you that student loan debt is a large-scale societal problem. While Americans collectively now owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, when pressed for details people often can’t answer simple questions about how this debt works.

Most Americans simply don’t understand how student loans can impact their finances for decades to come. Since an estimated 20 million people are expected to enroll in college each year, it’s crucial that Americans understand the impact of their college financing.

To test this theory, we polled 1,000 Americans and asked them what they knew about student loans.

We found that 90% of Americans have no idea how long people have to pay off their student loans, a staggering number considering over 44 million Americans have student loan debt.

Some other findings included:

  • When asked, only 16% of Americans were able to guess the correct average monthly student loan payment of recent grads ($351)
  • 82% of millennials don’t know how long they have to pay off their student loan debt (10 to 25 years)
  • 1 in 10 millennials don’t know the average monthly student loan payment of recent grads

9 in 10 Americans Have No Idea How Long it Takes to Pay Off Student Loans

We surveyed 1,000 Americans of all ages and backgrounds and asked them how long they think it takes to pay off student loan debt. We found that 90% of people have no idea what the correct answer is to this question. While most student loans need to be paid off within 10 to 25 years, the majority of people answered “none of the above,” indicating that they did not believe that the correct option was listed or they had no idea.


Only 10% of those polled knew that Americans with student loan debt typically have 10 to 25 years to pay it back. This finding shows that many people are simply unaware of how student loans work—and how long it will likely take to pay these loans back.


Of all age groups polled, those younger than 25 were the most likely to know how long they had to pay off loans. While many people in this age group are in college and haven’t yet had to take responsibility for paying their student loans back, it’s interesting to find that many people in this age group are very aware of the logistics of student loan debt.


When looking at those younger than 25, we found that this age group was surprisingly knowledgeable when asked how long they had to pay off their student loans. It’s likely they are aware of the preceding college generation’s circumstances - the average millennial owes $32,900 in student loans, making understanding the payment timeline critical.


82% of millennials answered incorrectly when asked how long they have to pay back loans. Despite large amounts of debt and general skepticism about financial institutions, many of those in this age group may be uninformed about how the financial decisions they are making will affect them for years to come.

Less Than 2 out of 10 Americans Can Guess the Average Monthly Student Loan Payment of Recent Graduates

We found that most Americans can’t tell you what the average student loan payment is for recent graduates ages 20 to 30. The responses to this question were varied, with only 16% of people correctly answering the average monthly payment amount of $351.


The majority of millennials also answered incorrectly when asked what the average student loan payment was for those their age. This is an interesting disconnect, given that 63% of millennials have more than $10,000 of student loan debt.


Our findings showed that much misunderstanding exists for Americans of all ages when it comes to the student loan payment process. This finding is highly problematic, as this lack of awareness may indicate college graduates’ don’t realize student loans can affect their credit score, which can impact other parts of their financial lives.

Those who pay their student loans back in a timely manner may find that they see a positive boost to their credit score since payment history and length of credit are important factors in the credit score calculations. But if you make late payments or default on your loans, your credit score can suffer.

Additional source: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

About the Author

Jeff Smith is VP of Marketing at Self.

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Written on September 21, 2018
Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings. Comments? Questions? Send us a note at

Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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