How Much Do You Need to Earn to Pay Your Student Loans?

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A new online calculator helps consumers determine monthly student loan payments and the salary needed to afford them.

Have you fallen behind on your student loan payments? You’re not alone.

The New York Times said between 25 and 33 percent of student borrowers are late paying their very first loan bill. And it continues to get worse. As many as 35 percent of borrowers under 30 are at least three months late paying their student loan bill. The Times said:

Let us pause for a moment to state the plain fact that the entire college financing system is a national disgrace. College costs are high, universities don’t counsel undergraduates well enough, families get in over their heads, there are too many types of loans, the repayment options are dizzying, and lenders and the companies that collect the payments are sometimes bad actors.

The Times created a student loan calculator that gives you a glimpse of the reality of paying off your student loan debt after college. You can also plug in the name of a college or university, see the average student loan debt there, and see what it will take to pay that off.

When I graduated from college I had about $17,000 in student loans (after I took some post-baccalaureate classes, my student loan balance soared to $27,000).

I plugged the $17,000 loan amount into the Times’ calculator. With a 10-year payoff period, my monthly payments totaled $177.50. My first television reporting job had a $16,000 salary.

According to the Times, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, said, “The total outstanding student loan balance at graduation should be less than the annual starting salary, and ideally a lot less.” If you can’t tell, repaying my loans wasn’t looking great at that point.

I would have had to earn $28,155 a year for my total student loan payments to be less than 20 percent of my discretionary income, which is the ideal.

This probably comes as no surprise, now that you understand my former situation, but I couldn’t make the monthly payments on my loans with my measly salary, so I ended up requesting an economic hardship deferment for my student loans. The deferment was granted. It gave me some time to get on my feet before I had to start paying my loans. Meanwhile the interest continued to accumulate.

According to the Times calculator, the average graduate from my alma mater now has $29,126 in student loan debt. That gives them a 10-year term monthly payment of $304.11. Borrowers would need to earn $35,752 or more in order for the loans to be no more than one-fifth of their income, the calculator said.

Try out the student loan calculator here.

Share your comments about it below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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