What does this rule of thumb recommend regarding how much student loan debt to take on?

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When it comes to student loans, it’s crucial to make informed decisions about how much debt to take on. One commonly used guideline is the rule of thumb, which provides a general recommendation for managing student loan debt. This article will explore what the rule of thumb suggests regarding how much student loan debt to take on and why it is important to consider.

Understanding the Rule of Thumb

The rule of thumb for student loan debt advises that borrowers should aim to keep their total student loan debt below their expected annual starting salary after graduation. In other words, the amount of debt should be manageable and not excessively burdensome in relation to future income.

Reasoning behind the Rule: The rule of thumb is based on the idea that borrowers should be able to comfortably repay their student loans without sacrificing their financial well-being. By limiting the amount of debt to a reasonable level, graduates have a better chance of meeting their loan obligations and avoiding financial hardship.

Factors to Consider

While the rule of thumb provides a helpful guideline, it’s important to consider various factors when determining how much student loan debt to take on. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:

Expected Income: Consider your chosen career field and the average starting salary for graduates in that field. This will give you an idea of your potential income after graduation and help you determine a reasonable debt-to-income ratio.

Loan Repayment Terms: Understand the terms of your student loans, including interest rates, repayment periods, and any available repayment plans or forgiveness options. This information will help you estimate your monthly loan payments and evaluate whether they are manageable based on your expected income.

Living Expenses: Take into account your anticipated living expenses after graduation, including rent, utilities, transportation, and other necessary costs. It’s important to have a realistic understanding of your financial obligations beyond student loan repayment.

Other Financial Goals: Consider your long-term financial goals, such as saving for retirement, buying a home, or starting a family. Taking on excessive student loan debt may hinder your ability to achieve these goals, so it’s essential to strike a balance between investing in your education and planning for the future.

Benefits of Following the Rule of Thumb

Adhering to the rule of thumb for student loan debt offers several advantages:

Manageable Payments: By keeping your debt within a reasonable range, you are more likely to have manageable monthly loan payments that fit comfortably into your budget.

Financial Flexibility: Having a lower debt burden allows you to have more financial flexibility, enabling you to pursue other opportunities or handle unexpected expenses without feeling overwhelmed by loan obligations.

Reduced Stress: Excessive student loan debt can lead to significant stress and anxiety. By following the rule of thumb, you can minimize financial stress and focus on other aspects of your life and career.


The rule of thumb recommends that borrowers aim to keep their student loan debt below their expected annual starting salary. While this guideline provides a helpful framework, it’s essential to consider individual circumstances, such as expected income, loan repayment terms, living expenses, and other financial goals. By carefully evaluating these factors and adhering to the rule of thumb, borrowers can make informed decisions about how much student loan debt to take on, ensuring a manageable financial future.


– Federal Student Aid: studentaid.gov
– Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: consumerfinance.gov
– Investopedia: investopedia.com