Washington Student Loans: Debt Stats, Repayment Programs and Refinancing Loans

Washington Student Loans: Debt Stats, Repayment Programs and Refinancing Loans

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Washingtonians carry an average federal and private student loan debt burden of $33,342 — 9% less than the nationwide average of $36,689.

In 2017, the Student Loan Transparency Act, introduced by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, passed unanimously, requiring colleges to keep Washington borrowers apprised of their student loan debt’s status clearly and transparently. The following year, the state’s Student Loan Bill of Rights standardized requirements for loan servicers in how they support Washington borrowers.

Although these protections are a promising sign for students in the Evergreen State, Washington is still home to as many as 800,000 borrowers with student debt. And as new students enter higher education, some will rely on Washington student loans to pay for school. Here’s what you need to know about Washington student loans and your available repayment options.

Washington student loans: Borrowers owe average of $33,342 in federal, private debt — and more facts

Students in Washington state have many colleges and universities to choose from. Within its higher education system, the state offers 33 public community and trade colleges and 11 public baccalaureate colleges and universities, seven of which are research universities. Some four-year public schools include:

  • University of Washington
  • Washington State University
  • The Evergreen State College

Under the Independent Colleges of Washington higher education association, students can also consider attending one of its 10 independent, nonprofit colleges. A few notable private colleges include:

  • Gonzaga University
  • Seattle Pacific University
  • Whitman College

To help make higher education more accessible, the Washington College Grant was expanded in 2020-21 to qualify more low- and middle-income applicants. Grant recipients can receive up to full tuition and funding for school-related costs at approved public colleges or universities, depending on their family’s annual income. Similarly, former foster youth or unaccompanied homeless youth living in the state can apply for the Passport to College Scholarship. The pathway supports higher education costs, such as tuition, fees, books, housing and transportation, as well as some personal expenses.

Washington state students who are ineligible for these programs can explore the State Work Study program and other state-based scholarships and grants to avoid accumulating student debt over time. As a last resort, federal and private Washington student loans may be an option.

Student loan debt in Washington’s largest counties, from Clark to Spokane

Student loan debt by ZIP code in Washington’s 3 largest cities: Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma

Loan repayment programs for Washington residents

Student loan borrowers who’ve completed their education and are residing in Washington can still lessen their debt during repayment. Here are a few loan repayment programs for Washingtonians.

Federal Health Program (FHP)

The FHP — formerly the Federal State Loan Repayment Program, or FSLRP — is a federal program that’s available to eligible licensed health providers in Washington. It’s funded by federal and state dollars, and requires professionals to serve at least 40 hours a week at a federal health professional shortage area (HPSA). For a two-year minimum service obligation, recipients can receive a maximum award of up to $70,000.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

PSLF is another federal program that’s available to eligible public service workers residing in Washington state. The program forgives any remaining direct loan balance after 120 qualifying payments while enrolled under an income-driven repayment plan. Employees must work full time for a nonprofit or government agency for the duration of repayment.

State Health Program (SHP)

The SHP — formerly known as the State Health Professional Loan Repayment Program, or HPLRP — exclusively provides loan repayment assistance via state funds. It offers recipients up to $75,000 with a required service commitment of three years. Eligible health workers must work at a state-designated HPSA at a minimum of 24 hours a week.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Washington educators can also consider Teacher Loan Forgiveness, another federal program, as a way to lessen their debt. Teachers must be employed as a “highly qualified teacher” at a school that serves low-income students (those working for an educational service agency are also considered eligible) for at least five consecutive academic years. Depending on the subject taught, teachers can receive a maximum award of $5,000 or $17,500.

Washington federal student loan borrowers younger than 25 owe less than national average — and more comparisons

How to refinance Washington student loans

Currently, 8.6% of Washington borrowers owe $100,000 or more in student loans. Student loan refinancing is one option that can help residents get out from under six-figure debt.

During a student loan refinance, Washington borrowers can include federal or private student loans. The new refinancing lender repays the original lenders the balance they’re owed. Once all the original loans are paid in full, the refinancing lender creates a new private student refinance loan that acts as the replacement debt that the borrower repays.

Refinancing student loans can be advantageous if the borrower can secure a lower interest rate or more favorable repayment terms. This is especially true when refinancing a private student loan into another private student loan refinance. Borrowers also have a simpler loan repayment process since there’s only one loan to manage, with one monthly payment and due date to track.

However, when it comes to refinancing federal student loans into a private student loan, there are more factors to consider. Federal student loans offer benefits including loan forgiveness programs, income-driven repayment plans and extended deferment or forbearance options. Not all private student loan lenders offer this protection, and those that do may have different eligibility requirements from federal loans.


  • U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2020
  • Anonymized My LendingTree June 2020 credit reports
  • Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax as of June 2020
  • mappingstudentdebt.org

Because the latter data is from 2015, researchers estimated the increase in student loan debt per borrower in the state using statewide data from anonymized credit reports.

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