How Long Do Student Loans Last? 10-30 Years

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Stanley Tate

#1 Student Loan Lawyer

Updated on December 8, 2022

Predicting how long your student loans will last is challenging. The repayment terms for student loans differ from a home or auto loan. Those types of loans have fixed payment schedules with few forbearances, even fewer opportunities to change the repayment period, and nearly no programs that reduce or forgive the remaining balance. The limited repayment options let you reasonably forecast how long it’ll take you to pay off your home or car.

It’s hard to do the same for student loans — especially federal student loans. The U.S. Department of Education lets borrowers shorten or extend their repayment terms by changing plans or consolidating their debt into a new loan. It also lets them freely pause payments for several months at a time with deferments and forbearances. And it even lets people switch from a repayment plan that requires they pay the loan balance in full to one that forgives the remaining balance after 20 or 25 years of making student loan payments.

Private student loans have fewer repayment options than federal loans. But predicting how long they’ll last can still be difficult. Many lenders let borrowers make interest-only payments for years, keeping them in debt for much longer than expected. Plus, borrowers can also refinance their loans several times. Every time they do so, their repayment term may shorten or lengthen.

Basically, forecasting how long your student loans will last depends on the choices you make throughout the life of the loan.

Related: Student Loan Pause Extension 2023

Are student loans for 10 years or 20 years?

The repayment term for federal student loans is generally 10 years through the Standard Repayment Plan. But it can last from 20 to 30 years, depending on whether you consolidate your debt into a new loan or switch to one of the income-driven repayment plans.

Here’s how long federal student loans last under the different payment plans:

  • Standard Repayment Plan – 10 years (up to 30 years for FFEL and Direct Consolidation Loans).

  • Extended Repayment Plan – Up to 25 years, depending on the loan balance.

  • Graduated Repayment Plan – Up to 10 years (up to 30 years for FFEL and Direct Consolidation Loans).

  • Income-Driven Repayment Plans – 10 years if you qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness; 20 years if you only borrowed loans for undergrad; 25 years if you borrowed federal loans for grad school. When you consolidate, the new loan term can be up to 30 years, depending on your loan balance and the payment plan you choose.

Private student loans typically last 5 to 25 years, depending on the loan balance and lender. Check your promissory note or contact the loan servicer to find the loan terms.

Related: How to Get a Copy of a Student Loan Promissory Note?

Are student loans 30-year loans?

Some federal student loans can have a 30-year term, but most will start with a 10-year term. You can extend that term by consolidating or enrolling in one of the income-driven repayment plans. Consolidating your student debt won’t lower your interest rate, but it may qualify you for loan forgiveness programs. It may also give you a lower monthly payment amount, especially if you have Parent PLUS Loans.

Related: Can’t Pay Parent PLUS Loans? Here are 6 Options

Each IDR Plan — Income-Based Repayment, Income-Contingent Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Revised Pay As You Earn — stretches your repayment term to 20 or 25 years, caps your monthly at 10-20% of your discretionary income,* and wipes out your remaining student loan debt after you’ve made your final student loan payment.

Related: Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness

Many private lenders offer terms between 5 and 20 years. You may be able to extend the term by refinancing with a new lender. To get a lower interest rate and better terms through student loan refinancing, you’ll need a good credit score and stable income or a cosigner with both. Use an online marketplace like Credible to shop with several lenders simultaneously.

* President Biden announced that the Education Department is working on a new IDR plan that will cap payments for many federal student loan borrowers at 5% of their discretionary income.

Bottom Line

The amount of time it takes to pay back your debt from college depends on several factors. The biggest, though, is the student loan repayment plan you choose. If your goal is to get rid of your loans quickly, you’ll need to switch to a plan with the shortest repayment term or pay more than the minimum payment due.

UP NEXT: How to Apply for Student Loan Forgiveness

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