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Key Points

  • As of March 2019, 55% of borrowers owed less than $20,000. These borrowers held 14% of the outstanding federal debt.

Figure 10: Distribution of Borrowers and Debt by Outstanding Balance, Second Quarter of FY2019

NOTES: Includes both loans made under the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP) and loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, which ended in 2009-10. Data were as of March 31, 2019, the end of the second quarter of FY19.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid Center, Federal Student Loan Portfolio.

Also Important

  • Federal student loan default rates are highest for borrowers with low balances. For example, among borrowers entering repayment in 2010-11, the three-year default rate ranged from 24% for those owing $5,000 or less to 7% for those owing $40,000 or more. Two-thirds of those who defaulted owed $10,000 or less. (Trends in Student Aid 2016, Figure 12B)
  • The share of undergraduate students borrowing federal student loans rose steadily from 23% in 2001-02 to 38% in 2011-12. Since 2011-12, the share borrowing has declined each year, to 28% in 2018-19.