Last Updated on May 23, 2022
Student loans are an important part of your financial life, and you need to understand how they work.
A student loan is a loan that you take out to pay for school. You can use these funds to pay tuition, housing, books, food, travel—anything that’s related to going to school.
But how long do student loans last?
The answer depends on the type of loan you get:
Federal student loans are offered through the federal government and can be used at any accredited college or university in the country. They come in two forms: subsidized and unsubsidized.
Subsidized loans allow you to defer payments while you’re in school and during grace periods after graduation (as long as you’re enrolled in school). This means that your payments won’t start until after graduation. The government pays the interest on your loans while you are in school.
Unsubsidized loans don’t have this benefit; the government doesn’t pay interest on them while you’re enrolled in school or in a grace period after graduation (if applicable).
How Many Years Student Loans
The standard repayment term on a federal student loan is 10 years. The repayment term on private student loans vary from 5 years to 15 years.
Borrowers can choose alternate repayment terms which reduce the monthly loan payment by increasing the repayment term. These repayment terms range from 12 years to 30 years.
- Income-contingent repayment (ICR) and income-based repayment (IBR) involve repayment terms of up to 25 years
- Pay-As-You-Earn repayment (PAYE) and Revised Pay-As-You-Earn repayment (REPAYE) involve repayment terms of up to 20 years
- Extended repayment (without consolidation) offers a 25-year repayment term for $30,000 or more in federal student loan debt
- Extended repayment (with consolidation) offers repayment terms of 12, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years, depending on the amount of federal student loan debt
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.
When students graduate with too much debt, they usually choose a longer repayment term, so that the monthly payment represents about the same percentage of income as borrowers with less debt. For example, a borrower who graduates with one-third more debt than income might choose a 15-year repayment term instead of a 10-year term to keep the monthly loan payment about the same percentage of income. Thus, increases in debt are manifested in the length of the repayment term, not the percentage of income devoted to repaying the debt.
The next table shows the number of years until the student loans are repaid, assuming a 6.0% interest rate and monthly payments equal to 10% of monthly income. N/A indicates that the loan will never be repaid because the monthly payment is less than the new interest that accrues. The diagonal shows where total debt equals annual income.
|Payment = 10% of income|
|Debt vs. Years in Repayment|
This table is similar, but with a monthly payment equal to 15% of monthly income.
|Payment = 15% of income|
|Debt vs. Years in Repayment|
student loan forgiveness
If you are employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization, you might be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Keep reading to see whether you might qualify.
To ensure you’re on the right track, you should submit a Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) & Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF) Certification & Application (PSLF Form) annually or when you change employers. We’ll use the information you provide on the form to let you know if you are making qualifying PSLF payments. This will help you determine if you’re on the right track as early as possible.
*This provision will be waived through October 31, 2022 as part of the limited PSLF waiver. Learn more.
Suspended Payments Count Toward PSLF and TEPSLF During the COVID-19 Administrative Forbearance
If you have a Direct Loan and work full-time for a qualifying employer during the payment suspension (administrative forbearance), then you will receive credit toward PSLF or TEPSLF for the period of suspension as though you made on-time monthly payments in the correct amount while on a qualifying repayment plan.
To see these qualifying payments reflected in your account, you must submit a PSLF form certifying your employment for the same period of time as the suspension. Your count of qualifying payments toward PSLF is officially updated only when you update your employment certifications.
Digital signatures from you or your employer must be hand-drawn (from a signature pad, mouse, finger, or by taking a picture of a signature drawn on a piece of paper that you then scan and embed on the signature line of the PSLF form) to be accepted. Typed signatures, even if made to mimic a hand-drawn signature, or security certificate-based signatures are not accepted.
Note: In-grace, in-school, and certain deferment, forbearance, and bankruptcy statuses are not eligible for credit toward PSLF.
Have questions? Find out what loans qualify and get additional information about student loan flexibilities due to the COVID-19 emergency.
Qualifying employment for the PSLF Program isn’t about the specific job that you do for your employer. Instead, it’s about who your employer is. Employment with the following types of organizations qualifies for PSLF:
- Government organizations at any level (U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal) – this includes the U.S. military
- Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
Serving as a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteer also counts as qualifying employment for the PSLF Program.
The following types of employers don’t qualify for PSLF:
- Labor unions
- Partisan political organizations
- For-profit organizations, including for-profit government contractors
Contractors: You must be directly employed by a qualifying employer for your employment to count toward PSLF. If you’re employed by an organization that is doing work under a contract with a qualifying employer, it is your employer’s status—not the status of the organization that your employer has a contract with—that determines whether your employment qualifies for PSLF. For example, if you’re employed by a for-profit contractor that is doing work for a qualifying employer, your employment does not count toward PSLF.
Other types of not-for-profit organizations: If you work for a not-for-profit organization that is not tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, it can still be considered a qualifying employer if it provides certain types of qualifying public services.
For PSLF, you’re generally considered to work full-time if you meet your employer’s definition of full-time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.
If you are employed in more than one qualifying part-time job at the same time, you will be considered full-time if you work a combined average of at least 30 hours per week with your employers.
If you are employed by a not-for-profit organization, time spent on religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing as a part of your job responsibilities may be counted toward meeting the full-time employment requirement.
Any loan received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program qualifies for PSLF.
Loans from these federal student loan programs don’t qualify for PSLF: the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program and the Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program. However, they may become eligible if you consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan.
Student loans from private lenders do not qualify for PSLF.
Under normal PSLF Program rules, if you consolidate your loans, only qualifying payments that you make on the new Direct Consolidation Loan can be counted toward the 120 payments required for PSLF. Any payments you made on the loans before you consolidated them don’t count. However, if you consolidate these loans into a Direct Loan before October 31, 2022, you may be able to receive qualifying credit for payments made on those loans through the limited PSLF waiver.