Conversations about the sky-high rates of student loan borrowing often include how debt impacts millennials.
But according to a new study by Student Loan Hero, 40-year-old Americans owe as much, if not more, than 20-something college graduates. Whether they’re borrowing for pricey graduate school programs or have fallen behind on their payments, 40-year-old Americans face high balances and hefty monthly bills.
We also discovered that adults in some cities tend to owe a lot more than borrowers in other locations. What’s more, Americans in some metros were more likely to default on their student loans than in others.
Read the full results of this study to learn how student debt is impacting U.S. student loan borrowers who are 40 years old.
- Forty-year-old borrowers nationwide owe an average of $43,970 to 3.98 creditors, pay an average of $173 a month and have balances that are nearly 9 years old.
- Fewer than 2 in 3 borrowers — 64% — have a 100% on-time payment record on their loans.
- Among 40-year-old borrowers in the 25 largest metro areas, borrowers in Atlanta owe the most, while those in San Diego owe the least. The average monthly student loan payment is highest in San Francisco and lowest in Portland, Ore.
- Boston has the best record among borrowers with unblemished payment records, while San Antonio has the worst.
40-year-old Americans with student debt owe more than $40,000
When you borrow federal student loans, they assume a 10-year repayment plan. So with many students graduating college at age 22, we might expect most student loan borrowers to make their last student loan payment at 32.
But, according to our survey, 40-year-old Americans are still dealing with student debt — and not a small amount. Those who owe student loans have an average balance of $43,970 and a median balance of $26,918.
They’re also juggling multiple payments, with borrowers paying back an average of 3.98 creditors, though more than half only have one or two student loan creditors. On average, their monthly student loan bill totals $173.
We also found that fewer than 2 in 3 borrowers have a 100% on-time payment record on their loans. Given that most student loans accrue interest on a daily basis, falling behind on payments could cause your balance to grow and keep you in debt for longer than you need to be.
Age-40 borrowers have carried a balance for almost 9 years
Surprisingly, most 40-year-olds with student loans haven’t been carrying this debt for two decades. The average borrower has had their balance for nearly nine years, suggesting that they typically received their first student loan bill at age 31.
With the cost of tuition higher than ever, it may be that many of these borrowers took on debt to cover the costs of earning an advanced degree. Although earning an advanced degree can qualify you for high-paying jobs, these borrowers still have high balances after nine years of repayment.
If you’re considering taking on debt for graduate school, make sure to consider the return on investment of your degree. If it doesn’t boost your earning potential, you might reconsider whether it’s worth the loans you’d have to borrow for it.
Borrowers in some cities owe a lot more than others
When breaking down 40-year-old student loan borrowers by location, this survey revealed that people in some of the 25 largest metros owed significantly more than those in others.
Borrowers in Atlanta owed the most, with a staggering average of $65,799. Their median amount of student debt was also the highest, though a bit lower than the average at $42,182. San Diego borrowers had the lowest balance, though it was still hefty at $43,483 — that’s only slightly less than the national average of $43,970.
Overall, it seems that 40-year-old borrowers in major cities have more debt than their rural or suburban counterparts. It could be that big cities attract highly skilled workers with graduate degrees with their availability of industry and jobs.
San Francisco, for instance, is a global center for technology and attracts tech workers from all over the world. Perhaps correspondingly, we see that 40-year-old borrowers in San Francisco have the highest average monthly student loan payment of $296.
That monthly bill is nearly double that of their neighbors to the north in Portland, Ore., where borrowers make an average monthly payment of $165. If you’re managing high student loan bills, you might take job availability and cost of living into account when deciding where to live while you pay them off.
Rates of delinquency vary by location, too
If you miss payments on your student loans, your account could go into delinquency or default. Not only will your loans keep accruing interest, but skipping payments could harm your credit score. You could even face garnishment of your wages or tax refund or, if you have private student loans, have to go to court.
According to our study, fewer than 2 in 3 borrowers have a 100% record of on-time payment on their loans; this behavior varied by geographic location.
San Antonio borrowers had the lowest record of on-time payment, with 58.1% of borrowers having always made on-time payments. Boston had the best record of borrowers with unblemished payment records: 73.4% had no delinquencies on their payments.
This disparity could again tie into the job opportunities available in each city. With a higher income, it’s a lot easier to keep up with student loan bills than if you’re struggling to get by.
If you’re in danger of missing a payment, consider putting your federal student loans on an income-driven repayment plan. If you have private loans, speak with your loan servicer about possibly adjusting your monthly payments or postponing them until you get back on your feet.
Ready to say goodbye to your student debt? Tips for paying it off faster
With Americans owing more in student loans than ever before — $1.48 trillion at the latest count — people of all ages are struggling with debt. According to the AARP, student loan debt among Americans 60 and older quadrupled between 2005 and 2015.
And this Student Loan Hero study reveals that 40-year-old Americans are facing large amounts of debt, too. What’s more, they might take on more as their kids approach college age and head off to school.
If you’re struggling with debt, here are some tips for managing it better — or even paying it off ahead of schedule.
- Make sure you’re on the right repayment plan. Even if your loans go on a certain repayment plan, you don’t have to stay on it forever. If you need relief, you could put federal student loans on the extended repayment plan or an income-driven plan. If you’re willing and able to pay off your balance faster, you can pay more each month. If your goals or needs aren’t lining up with your plan, figure out if you can make changes.
- Consider making extra payments each month. Making extra payments is a surefire way to chip away at your balance faster and save money on interest. Take a look at your budget and figure out if there are any spending areas in which you could cut back. You might also find ways to boost your income — for instance, you could start a side hustle. If you can find room in your budget, throw extra payments at your loans to conquer your debt ahead of schedule.
- Make biweekly payments instead of monthly ones. By splitting your bill in half and paying on a biweekly schedule, you’ll make an extra payment on your loans each year without even realizing it. Any extra payment you can make will get your balance that much closer to zero.
- Find out if you qualify for loan forgiveness or repayment assistance. Depending on your profession and workplace, you might qualify for a student loan forgiveness program. Make sure to explore your options for student loan repayment assistance programs, too, which are often state-run and only require a few years of qualifying service.
- Refinance for lower rates and new terms. Through student loan refinancing, you could qualify for a lower interest rate, adjust your monthly payments and choose new repayment terms. Just remember that refinancing federal student loans turns them private, so you lose access to federal plans and programs. But if you don’t need those, refinancing could be a savvy way to restructure your debt.
Even though it’s tempting to ignore your student loans completely, taking a proactive approach will help you more in the long run. Write down the details of each loan and come up with a plan for repaying your debt.
Maybe you can pay it off faster, or perhaps you need to lower monthly payments to give your finances some breathing room. Whatever you decide, it’s important to take control of your student loans now so they don’t end up controlling you for another decade of your life.
In October 2018, Student Loan Hero examined anonymized credit report data of My LendingTree borrowers who recently turned 40 to see how long student loan borrowers had been servicing their debts, and how much they still owe on average. The data does not include former student loan borrowers who have since paid off their loan. LendingTree is Student Loan Hero’s parent company.