How Long it Takes to Pay Off Student Loans

Understanding the student loan repayment timeline is crucial. This article goes into details about what your timeline might look like.

How long should it take to pay off student loans? While the answer depends on the type of loans you have, your repayment timeline, and your priorities for student loan payoff, typically ten years. 

Remember, typically, the longer it takes, the more you pay. Here's what you need to know to make an assessment of exactly how long it will take to pay off student loans based on your borrowing details. 

How long does it take to pay off student loans if you have federal loans?

If you have federal student loans from the Department of Education, the standard repayment plan will result in your debt being paid back over ten years. 

After graduation, you'll have a six months grace period before you need to begin making payments. Each payment will be calculated, so you pay enough principal and interest to pay off your loans over a decade. So, if you don't change your payment plan, the answer to the question, how long do student loans take to pay off, will be ten years. 

However, if you put your loan into deferment or forbearance, you will extend the time it takes to become debt-free. You also have the option to choose other repayment plans, which could result in a longer payoff time. 

How long will it take to pay off student loans if you change your repayment timeline?

One of the best things about federal student loans is you have your choice of repayment timelines. But opting for a different payoff plan besides the standard one would change the answer to the question, how long do student loans take to pay off?

Here's how long the payoff times could be if you opt for a different repayment plan:

  • Income-based repayment: Up to 20 years for borrowers who took out loans after July 1, 2014, or up to 25 years for borrowers who took out no loans after that date
  • Income-contingent repayment: Up to 25 years
  • PAYE: Up to 20 years
  • REPAYE: Up to 20 years for undergraduate loans or 25 years for graduate loans
  • Consolidated loans: Up to 30 years

With income-based payment options, payments are capped at a set percentage of discretionary income (between 10% and 20%, depending on the plan you choose). If there is a remaining loan balance at the end of the 20 or 25-year repayment timeline, that outstanding loan balance would be forgiven. 

How long should it take to pay off student loans if you're in public service?

Another benefit to federal student loans is that Public Service Loan Forgiveness is available for qualified borrowers.  

If you work for an eligible non-profit organization or government agency and you qualify for PSLF, you can have any remaining balance of your loans forgiven after making 120 qualifying payments.

This means your total loan balance could be repaid in as little as ten years, provided you follow the steps to qualify for forgiveness. 

How long will it take to pay off student loans if you have private student loans? 

It can be a little trickier to answer the question, how long do student loans take to pay off if you have private student loans. That's because different private loan lenders set their own payoff times.

In general, private student loans could take anywhere from five years to 20 years to pay back. The specific timeline will depend on what you agreed to with your lender when you initially took out your student loans. 

Juno can help you to get an affordable rate for student loans with a repayment timeline that works for you. We get groups of borrowers together and negotiate with refinance lenders on their behalf to help them qualify for the most affordable student loan options. 

How long should it take to pay off student loans if you refinance?

If you have private student loans, you cannot change your payoff terms as easily as you can with federal student loans. If you want to modify your monthly payment or your payoff time, you will need to refinance.

When you refinance, you'll get to shop around for quotes with new lenders. You can look for one offering a lower interest rate and a repayment timeline of your choosing. Again, you'll generally get to choose between paying off your student loan refinance loan over five to 20 years. 

If you make your repayment timeline longer when you refinance, you will lower your monthly payments. But, of course, this changes the answer to the question, how long do student loans take to pay off.  And you could end up paying more interest over time, even if you can drop your rate, simply because you end up paying interest for more years. 

Juno can also help you explore your options for refinancing your student loans. 

Choosing your student loan payoff time? 

Borrowers have some control over the question, how long does it take to pay back student loans. That's because borrowers can decide on their repayment timeline when applying for private student loans and when making a decision about whether to refinance and what loan repayment term to choose. 

When you're deciding on a repayment schedule, you need to consider the tradeoffs. A shorter repayment time will result in higher monthly payments -- even at a lower interest rate -- because you don't have as many payments to make.  Of course, you will be debt-free sooner and will pay less interest over time with a loan that has a shorter repayment schedule. 

As you're determining how long it should take to pay off student loans, you also need to consider that these loans generally come at a low-interest rate. And, for most people, up to $2,500 in student loan interest is tax-deductible each year -- as long as your income isn't too high and you qualify for the deduction. 

As a result, it may make sense to prioritize paying off other debt, such as credit card debt, rather than paying off student loans early or choosing an accelerated payment schedule.

Before you make your decision on your ideal repayment timeline, be sure to research all of your student loan options or your student loan refinance options. Juno can help you to get the most affordable interest rates by forming groups of borrowers and negotiating with lenders on their behalf. Join Juno today to learn more.

Christy Rakoczy Bieber
Written By
Christy Rakoczy Bieber

Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbooks and serving as a subject matter expert.

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