Updated Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt statistics—2020–21


The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has released new data on the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP, formerly HECS) debts, covering the 2020–21 financial year.

This article summarises the ATO HELP data. Previous versions were published for the 2019–20 financial year release, 2018–19 financial year release, 2017–18 financial year release, and the 2016–17 financial year release.

All figures are at 30 June for the relevant financial year. Figures have not been adjusted for inflation. 

Total amount of outstanding HELP debt

In 2020–21, outstanding HELP debt rose to just over $68.7 billion, up from $66.4 billion in 2019–20 (Figure 1).

The change in the outstanding balance from 2019–20 to 2020–21 reflects the combination of $6.3 billion of new debt and $0.3 billion additional indexation costs incurred by borrowers, as well as a total of approximately $4.3 billion of compulsory and voluntary repayments by people living in Australia and overseas (see Table 1 of the ATO data). Relatively small amounts for debts written off and bonuses on voluntary repayments are also deducted from the total amount of debt outstanding each year.

Since 2019–20, income contingent loans for vocational education and training (VET) students have not been included in the ATO HELP data. This means the data up to 2018–19 is not strictly comparable to the last two years, as it includes loans under the former VET FEE-HELP and current VET Student Loans Schemes.

Figure 1: total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2011–12 to 2020–21 financial years ($m)

Figure 1: total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2011–12 to 2020–21 financial years ($m)

Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2020–21, (Canberra: ATO, 2021), Table 5.

The Australian Government Actuary estimates that of new debt incurred in 2020–21, 15.1 per cent is not expected to be repaid. This is a slight increase on the 14.7 per cent estimate for new loans incurred in 2019–20 (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Annual Report 2020–21, 49).

Number of people with outstanding HELP debt

There were 2.9 million people with an outstanding HELP debt in 2020–21 (Figure 2). In percentage terms, this represents a 1.7% increase from 2019–20 (there was a decline in the previous year on year period, which was to be expected due to the change in scope). Since the commencement of HECS in 1989, approximately 2.1 million people have repaid their debt in full, while 18,594 people’s debts have been written off due to death (see Table 2 of the ATO data).

Figure 2: total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2011–12 to 2020–21 financial years (‘000)

Figure 2: total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2011–12 to 2020–21 financial years (‘000)

Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2020–21, (Canberra: ATO, 2021), Table 5.  

Size of outstanding HELP debts

The average amount of outstanding debt is $23,685, up from $23,280 in 2019–20 (see Table 1).

The number of people with debts above $50,000 has continued to grow, reaching 278,069 (9.6% of all debtors) in 2020–21, up from 256,053 (9.0% of all debtors) in 2019–20. A quarter of people with debts above $50,000 owe more than $100,001. For the first time, the ATO data contains a breakdown of debtors owing more than $100,001, showing the majority (90%) owe between $100,001 and $150,000 (see Table 5 of the ATO data). However, there are also a small number of people with larger debts, including two who owe $400,000 or above. The HELP loan limit, which came into effect on 1 January 2020, now prevents people from incurring HELP debts of this magnitude. The 2021 limit is $108,232, or $155,448 for students studying medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses leading to initial registration, or eligible aviation courses.

Table 1: average debt and number of people with outstanding HELP debt by size of outstanding balance 2011–12 to 2020–21 financial years

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Average debt $15,191 $15,898 $16,925 $18,075 $19,396 $20,303 $21,557 $22,425 $23,280 $23,685
Up to $10,000 723,714 768,048 799,772 827,484 851,313 893,574 910,732 910,821 841,645 852,358
$10,000.01 to $12,000 117,981 120,642 119,501 129,860 136,734 139,944 149,823 155,742 146,131 147,408
$12,000.01 to $14,000 103,094 104,464 119,592 129,003 142,151 141,177 153,444 152,355 137,501 140,168
$14,000.01 to $16,000 99,648 104,059 109,580 116,075 124,820 129,834 138,964 140,701 129,823 128,139
$16,000.01 to $18,000 94,334 104,921 110,775 121,207 122,157 124,045 131,439 133,832 123,403 121,569
$18,000.01 to $20,000 80,624 90,900 106,938 123,654 139,835 144,259 133,292 130,733 135,020 126,612
$20,000.01 to $30,000 269,787 296,244 338,949 403,064 473,584 509,360 548,229 563,779 544,486 549,429
$30,000.01 to $40,000 114,051 131,384 157,758 195,492 242,240 281,594 328,753 350,824 347,708 359,132
$40,000.01 to $50,000 42,338 53,877 67,468 84,863 110,455 135,795 169,781 189,044 189,955 198,723
$50,000.01 to $60,000 17,444 23,705 32,258 43,096 56,919 70,265 87,380 99,389 102,829 109,483
$60,000.01 to $70,000 7,322 10,589 15,002 21,035 29,235 37,363 50,425 58,675 60,708 65,825
$70,000.01 to $80,000 3,507 5,009 7,433 10,629 15,164 19,996 27,393 33,374 35,273 38,890
$80,000.01 to $90,000 2,126 2,943 4,147 5,827 8,120 10,809 14,850 18,772 20,400 22,767
$90,000.01 to $100,000 1,391 1,851 2,527 3,563 5,216 6,996 9,369 11,477 12,299 13,866
$100,000.01 and above 3,339 4,652 6,273 8,189 10,996 14,046 18,729 22,514 24,544 27,238

Note: amounts of debt up to $10,000 have been aggregated for Table 1—more detail is available in the source tables from the ATO.

Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2020–21, (Canberra: ATO, 2021), Table 5; Parliamentary Library estimates.

The time taken to repay HELP debts has also been rising, reaching an average of 9.4 years in 2020–21, up from 9.3 years in 2019–20 (see Table 3 of the ATO data). In 2020–21, the average time to repay was more than a year longer than it was in 2011–12, when the average HELP balance was $15,191, and took on average 8.2 years to repay.

Further information and analysis

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has published some additional analysis of HELP data in the HELP debt and repayments report 2018–19. This report provides some details not available in the ATO release, such as debt incurred by year, field of education, and socioeconomic status. Totals in the DESE publication may differ from those in the ATO data due to differences in reporting times and parameters.

 

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