Skip to Content

Nearly 10 Million Americans Are Behind on Their Student Debt

University Of California Students Protest 32 Percent Fee HikeUniversity Of California Students Protest 32 Percent Fee Hike
University of California Los Angeles students and supporters demonstrate outside the UC Board of Regents meeting where members voted to approve a 32 percent tuition hike next year on November 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Photograph by David McNew—Getty Images

A huge amount of Americans with student debt are finding it hard to keep up with their loans.

More than 40% of Americans with federal student loans are behind in their payments or aren’t making them at all. The data comes from a quarterly snapshot of the government’s $1.2 trillion student-loan portfolio put out by the Department of Education. That means only 12.5 million Americans are current on their federal loan repayments of the 22 million who are out of school and took out loans.

It’s a slight improvement from last year, when the Education Department reported a non-payment rate of 46%, but much of the difference is due to more borrowers entering programs that lower their monthly obligations by tying them to borrowers’ incomes. The number of borrowers in these programs jumped nearly 50% over the past year.

Of the group that is behind on their student debt, 3.6 million haven’t made payments in over a year, placing them in default. Another 3 million are at least a month behind.

In a recent blog post published earlier this week, the Education Department wrote that those who don’t pay back their federal student loans won’t be arrested—but “it’s bad for your credit and your financial future, for starters.” The department has trumpeted income-driven repayment plans as a way of responsibly addressing large student loans.