How Much Federal Student Loan Borrowers Owe in Each State

 January 11, 2022
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The coronavirus pandemic has impacted Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to varying degrees. While payments on most federal student loans have been suspended since March 2020, hundreds of thousands of borrowers have made payments amid the federal moratorium.

Student Loan Hero researchers examined the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Education to find where borrowers have the most — and least — federal student loan debt on average. Researchers also looked at average disbursements per enrolled undergraduate at the largest U.S. schools, among other items.

Read on to learn other data and insights uncovered about U.S. federal student loan debt.

Key findings

  • The average size of federally managed student loan debt in the U.S. is $35,287. Average federal loan amounts are highest in the District of Columbia ($55,220), Maryland ($43,165) and Georgia ($41,913) and lowest in North Dakota ($29,481), Wyoming ($30,246) and Iowa ($30,751).
  • Big borrowers skew the figures considerably. More than half of borrowers with federally managed student loan debt owe less than $20,000, at an average of $8,704. Meanwhile, nearly a third of all borrowers owe less than $10,000, at an average of $4,996.
  • Students (and their parents) borrowed almost $77 billion from July 2020 through the end of June 2021. That’s a significant drop from the nearly $89 billion in the prior fiscal year and the almost $90 billion two fiscal years earlier.
  • Direct loan borrowing is down in every state. New Hampshire (40.2%) and New Mexico (28.0%) saw the biggest drop-offs, while North Dakota (4.8%) and Wyoming (6.4%) — the two states with the lowest average loan balances — saw the smallest ones.
  • City University of New York (CUNY) schools dominate the top 10 list among large schools where the average disbursement per enrolled undergraduate is lowest. The public university system has eight among the top 10, from CUNY York College ($335) to CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College ($587).

Which residents owe most student loan debt on average? Look to the South

Student Loan Hero researchers found that the average size of federally managed student loan debt in the U.S. is $35,287 among more than 45.1 million borrowers. This far outranks the $6,569 in average credit card debt among U.S. cardholders with unpaid balances, and may explain some borrowers’ stress over the eventual end of the student loan moratorium, which was recently extended through May 1, 2022.

Average federal loan amounts are biggest in the South:

  • District of Columbia: $55,220
  • Maryland: $43,165
  • Georgia: $41,913

On the other hand, the lowest student loan debt averages can be found in the Midwest and West

  • North Dakota: $29,481
  • Wyoming: $30,246
  • Iowa: $30,751

Here’s a full state-by-state look:

While average student loan debt is high, most borrowers owe less than $20,000

While the average federal student loan debt in the U.S. is alarmingly high, more than half of student loan borrowers (53.2%) owe less than $20,000. That the average amount of student debt is much higher can be attributed to some borrowers taking out six-figure loans.

There are only seven U.S. states where more than half of federal student loan borrowers owe more than $20,000 — six of which are in the South:

  • District of Columbia: 57.3%
  • Georgia: 53.0%
  • Virginia: 52.2%
  • Maryland: 52.1%
  • South Carolina: 52.0%
  • North Carolina: 51.7%
  • Oregon: 50.3%

Here’s a full look in reverse, kicking off with the states with the most borrowers who owe less than $20,000:

Most borrowers owe less than $20,000
Rank State Percentage of borrowers who owe less than $20,000 Average balance of these borrowers
National 53.2% $8,704
1 Nevada 56.9% $8,492
2 Wyoming 56.6% $8,333
3 Utah 56.1% $8,314
4 North Dakota 55.9% $8,861
5 Oklahoma 55.5% $8,638
5 Rhode Island 55.5% $9,032
7 California 55.3% $8,970
8 Alaska 55.2% $8,696
9 Texas 55.0% $8,832
10 Iowa 54.8% $8,733
11 New Mexico 54.7% $8,537
12 Louisiana 54.4% $8,692
12 Nebraska 54.4% $8,656
14 Arizona 54.3% $8,653
14 West Virginia 54.3% $8,663
16 Arkansas 53.9% $8,560
17 South Dakota 53.4% $8,970
17 Washington 53.4% $8,893
19 Kansas 53.2% $8,837
19 Wisconsin 53.2% $8,878
21 Idaho 53.0% $8,531
21 Maine 53.0% $8,978
21 New Jersey 53.0% $9,269
24 Massachusetts 52.9% $9,246
25 Hawaii 52.7% $8,744
25 Mississippi 52.7% $8,414
27 Kentucky 52.6% $8,672
28 Connecticut 52.4% $9,296
28 Indiana 52.4% $8,881
28 Montana 52.4% $8,655
31 New Hampshire 51.8% $9,242
32 Delaware 51.5% $8,976
32 New York 51.5% $8,946
34 Illinois 51.4% $9,064
35 Minnesota 51.2% $9,190
36 Florida 51.1% $8,783
37 Michigan 51.0% $8,846
38 Tennessee 50.9% $8,818
39 Missouri 50.8% $8,982
40 Ohio 50.7% $8,877
41 Pennsylvania 50.7% $9,306
42 Alabama 50.4% $8,796
43 Colorado 50.3% $8,874
44 Veront 50.3% $9,259
45 Oregon 49.7% $8,852
46 North Carolina 48.3% $9,081
47 South Carolina 48.0% $9,001
48 Maryland 47.9% $9,082
49 Virginia 47.8% $9,184
50 Georgia 47.0% $8,935
51 District of Columbia 42.7% $8,889
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2021 — latest available. Note: Includes all federally managed loans, including those not owned directly by the federal government.

Broken down even deeper, nearly a third of borrowers (32.5%) nationwide owe less than $10,000 — 15.9% of whom owe less than $5,000.

In 40 states, at least 30% of student borrowers owe less than $10,000. The District of Columbia has the lowest share of under-$10,000 borrowers at 25.2%.

Nearly a third of borrowers owe less than $10,000
Rank State Percentage of borrowers who owe less than $10,000 Average balance of these borrowers
National 32.5% $4,996
1 Wyoming 37.0% $5,102
2 Nevada 36.0% $5,130
3 Utah 35.9% $4,880
4 Alaska 34.8% $5,172
5 Oklahoma 34.4% $5,055
6 New Mexico 34.3% $5,052
7 North Dakota 34.2% $5,172
8 Louisiana 33.9% $5,229
9 Arizona 33.7% $5,133
9 Arkansas 33.7% $4,981
9 West Virginia 33.7% $5,060
12 Mississippi 33.5% $4,990
13 Iowa 33.4% $4,993
13 Nebraska 33.4% $4,950
15 Texas 33.3% $5,193
16 Idaho 33.1% $4,937
17 Rhode Island 33.0% $5,206
18 California 32.8% $5,279
19 Kentucky 32.5% $5,060
20 Kansas 32.2% $5,041
20 Montana 32.2% $5,025
22 Washington 31.9% $5,095
22 Wisconsin 31.9% $5,015
24 Maine 31.8% $5,155
25 Hawaii 31.7% $5,026
26 South Dakota 31.5% $5,070
27 Indiana 31.4% $5,096
28 Florida 31.1% $5,150
29 Tennessee 30.8% $5,081
30 New York 30.7% $5,128
31 Delaware 30.6% $5,305
31 Michigan 30.6% $5,053
33 Alabama 30.5% $5,087
34 Ohio 30.3% $5,059
35 Colorado 30.2% $5,094
35 Massachusetts 30.2% $5,108
35 Missouri 30.2% $5,168
38 New Jersey 30.1% $5,245
39 Illinois 30.0% $5,167
39 Oregon 30.0% $5,100
41 Connecticut 29.8% $5,219
42 New Hampshire 29.7% $5,072
43 Minnesota 29.5% $5,208
44 Pennsylvania 28.7% $5,196
45 Vermont 28.6% $5,116
46 South Carolina 28.4% $5,146
47 North Carolina 28.2% $5,151
48 Georgia 28.0% $5,130
49 Maryland 27.9% $5,203
50 Virginia 27.6% $5,202
51 District of Columbia 25.2% $5,137
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2021 — latest available. Note: Includes all federally managed loans, including those not owned directly by the federal government.

Why student loan debt dropped significantly between 2020 and 2021

One of the most interesting trends researchers found was that students and parents borrowed significantly less between 2020 and 2021 than in previous years.

While borrowers acquired nearly $90 million in student debt in the 2018-19 fiscal year and almost $89 billion in student debt in the 2019-20 fiscal year, that number plummeted to nearly $77 billion the following fiscal year from July 2020 through June 2021.

With federal loan interest rates and student loan refinance rates hitting all-time lows within this period, this was an unexpected find, says Student Loan Hero senior writer Andrew Pentis. However, several factors could be at play.

“My hope is that financial aid offices at colleges and universities across the country were good about reworking award packages in the wake of the pandemic, replacing student loans with gift aid that doesn’t need to be repaid,” he says. “I’m also hopeful that we have and will continue to see steep declines in parent PLUS loan borrowing, specifically as parents everywhere wake up to the severe cost of borrowing, often at the expense of their family budget and retirement planning.”

Pentis also believes there were fewer borrowers in 2020-21 because there were fewer students.

“As COVID-19 rampaged through campuses nationwide, you could understand why many families decided to give their teen a gap year, or why many college and graduate students decided to take a break of their own, perhaps to avoid an online-only learning environment at the same sticker price,” Pentis says.

Others who elected to stay in school might have been motivated by the pandemic’s effect on the economy to tighten their belts and ramp up their searches for scholarships and grants before resorting — as is typical — to student loans, Pentis says.

Student Loan Hero analysts found that direct loan borrowing decreased between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 fiscal years — a two-year change — in every state. The states that experienced the biggest decreases in this period were:

  • New Hampshire (40.2%)
  • New Mexico (28.0%)
  • Oregon (27.9%)

“New Hampshire’s place on this list is puzzling, since our research indicates it had a very high transfer-in rate in 2020 and has similarly experienced especially high jumps in overall enrollment,” says Pentis. “Still, it has more tuition waivers and scholarship programs than most other states, so it’s possible a decline in borrowing is tied to increased awareness around those gift aid programs.”

Meanwhile, these states saw the smallest decreases over the two years:

  • North Dakota (4.8%)
  • Wyoming (6.4%)
  • Louisiana (8.5%)

North Dakota and Wyoming were also the states with the lowest average student debt balances.

Here’s a full look at student borrowing in every state between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 fiscal years:

Student borrowing is down in every state
Rank State Fiscal year 2018-19 (millions) Fiscal year 2019-20 (millions) Fiscal year 2020-21 (millions) 2-year change
National $89,883 $88,511 $76,457 -14.9%
1 New Hampshire $1,074 $1,319 $642 -40.2%
2 New Mexico $256 $241 $185 -28.0%
3 Oregon $1,143 $1,073 $824 -27.9%
4 Alaska $50 $42 $37 -26.9%
5 Washington $1,256 $1,203 $965 -23.2%
6 South Dakota $253 $225 $200 -21.2%
7 Ohio $3,172 $3,021 $2,518 -20.6%
8 Maryland $1,442 $1,395 $1,151 -20.2%
8 Washington $1,557 $1,546 $1,243 -20.2%
10 Maine $392 $377 $322 -17.8%
11 West Virginia $667 $634 $549 -17.7%
12 Vermont $268 $256 $221 -17.6%
13 Michigan $2,634 $2,483 $2,172 -17.5%
14 Rhode Island $458 $444 $379 -17.2%
15 Minnesota $2,757 $2,700 $2,289 -17.0%
16 New York $6,525 $6,394 $5,428 -16.8%
17 California $8,496 $8,461 $7,081 -16.7%
18 Mississippi $764 $705 $638 -16.5%
19 Pennsylvania $4,884 $4,687 $4,081 -16.4%
20 Georgia $2,648 $2,530 $2,233 -15.7%
21 Kansas $827 $790 $698 -15.6%
22 Delaware $257 $251 $217 -15.5%
23 New Jersey $1,715 $1,696 $1,452 -15.3%
24 Illinois $4,092 $3,980 $3,468 -15.2%
25 Hawaii $177 $165 $150 -15.1%
26 South Carolina $1,232 $1,199 $1,051 -14.7%
27 Indiana $2,007 $1,957 $1,714 -14.6%
28 Wisconsin $1,322 $1,335 $1,135 -14.2%
29 Massachusetts $2,737 $2,662 $2,356 -13.9%
30 Utah $1,104 $1,124 $957 -13.3%
31 Montana $199 $189 $173 -13.2%
32 Arkansas $655 $652 $570 -12.9%
32 Missouri $1,876 $1,850 $1,635 -12.9%
34 Arizona $3,232 $3,392 $2,837 -12.2%
34 Iowa $1,073 $1,034 $941 -12.2%
36 Colorado $1,815 $1,810 $1,597 -12.0%
37 Connecticut $1,150 $1,163 $1,015 -11.7%
38 North Carolina $2,215 $2,149 $1,979 -10.7%
39 Alabama $1,565 $1,533 $1,400 -10.5%
40 Nebraska $637 $624 $572 -10.2%
40 Tennessee $1,766 $1,721 $1,586 -10.2%
42 Texas $5,215 $5,117 $4,698 -9.9%
43 Idaho $306 $297 $276 -9.8%
44 Nevada $382 $378 $346 -9.5%
44 Oklahoma $850 $821 $769 -9.5%
44 Virginia $2,858 $2,933 $2,587 -9.5%
47 Florida $4,384 $4,405 $3,979 -9.2%
47 Kentucky $1,228 $1,238 $1,115 -9.2%
49 Louisiana $1,339 $1,335 $1,226 -8.5%
50 Wyoming $56 $58 $53 -6.4%
51 North Dakota $201 $207 $191 -4.8%
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2021 — latest available. Note: Includes direct loans disbursed within each U.S. Department of Education fiscal year (July 1 through June 30) to institutions within these states. National totals include U.S. territories.

Among the funds borrowed last fiscal year, more than $42 billion were through subsidized, unsubsidized and parent PLUS direct loans for undergraduates. Meanwhile, the remaining $34 billion was through subsidized and graduate PLUS direct loans for graduates.

CUNY accounts for many of top schools with lowest average disbursements

Student Loan Hero analysts found that City University of New York (CUNY) colleges take up most of the top 10 large schools with the lowest average disbursements per enrolled undergraduate.

The New York public university system has eight colleges among the top 10. Other schools that made the top 10 include Southwestern College in California ($30) and Massachusetts’ Harvard University ($650).

Among the 18 schools where the average disbursement is less than $1,000, the remainder of the list is a mix of public and private schools. Here’s a closer look:

18 large schools with less than $1,000 borrowed per enrollee (2020-21)
Rank Institution name State Type Undergraduate fall enrollment Disbursements to and on behalf of undergraduates Average disbursement per enrolled undergraduate
1 Southwestern College CA Public 17,621 $523,734 $30
2 CUNY York College NY Public 7,529 $2,524,639 $335
3 CUNY New York City College of Technology NY Public 15,513 $5,286,551 $341
4 CUNY City College NY Public 12,587 $5,190,188 $412
5 CUNY Hunter College NY Public 17,943 $7,531,741 $420
6 CUNY Queens College NY Public 16,702 $7,463,135 $447
7 CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice NY Public 13,662 $6,688,042 $490
8 CUNY Brooklyn College NY Public 14,969 $8,069,846 $539
9 CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College NY Public 15,774 $9,264,576 $587
10 Harvard University MA Private-nonprofit 8,527 $5,545,478 $650
11 Stanford University CA Private-nonprofit 6,366 $4,147,611 $652
12 CUNY Medgar Evers College NY Public 5,237 $3,611,818 $690
13 Brigham Young University-Provo UT Private-nonprofit 33,376 $23,535,903 $705
14 College of Staten Island CUNY NY Public 11,755 $8,473,671 $721
15 CUNY Lehman College NY Public 12,833 $9,466,827 $738
16 Excelsior College NY Private-nonprofit 19,624 $15,368,010 $783
17 Weber State University UT Public 28,685 $25,577,097 $892
18 Brigham Young University-Idaho ID Private-nonprofit 44,481 $43,377,097 $975
Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of U.S. Department of Education data as of June 30, 2021 — latest available. Notes: This list is limited to institutions designated as primarily offering bachelor’s degrees (or higher) with at least 5,000 students enrolled in fall 2020 and excludes for-profit institutions. Includes direct loans disbursed within each U.S. Department of Education fiscal year (July 1 through June 30) to institutions within these states.

CUNY’s ranking shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to Pentis.

“New York was the pioneer of the ‘free college’ movement‘free college’ movement that New Mexico picked up on when it attempted, unsuccessfully to this point, to make all of its state schools tuition-free in 2019,” Pentis says.

New York’s trendsetting Excelsior Scholarship program became the first of its kind in 2017. Though it doesn’t cover room and board, the program makes a postsecondary education more accessible.

“To this day, it waives tuition for lower-income families attending the state’s public colleges and universities, including within the sprawling CUNY system,” Pentis says. “Excelsior makes attending the CUNYs especially attractive for native New Yorker students who are of modest means. And data like this shows that it’s also lessening their need for student loans, federal direct or otherwise.”

Here’s the full list of schools that met Student Loan Hero’s criteria:

Tips for students, parents borrowing for school expenses

Even without the economic challenges that the coronavirus pandemic brings to the table, it can be difficult to know how to financially support a student through their postsecondary education.

Here are some things to know about how to decide whether to take on student loans, refinancing options and how to choose which loan options might be the best fit:

  • Weigh whether to take out federal or private loans: There are two types of student loans: federal and private. Research various lenders and check to see whether you prequalify to compare rates. Federal loans offer more flexibility than private loans, but private loans may be helpful should you need to cover a lot of debt. Standard repayment plans on federal loans are typically 10 years, but you can apply for income-driven repayment plans if you struggle financially after graduation.
  • Consider refinancing if struggling to make payments: Refinancing student debt can come with pitfalls, but this route may be a good option if you have private loans with high interest rates. However, if you have federal loans, you’ll want to consider refinancing a little more carefully — refinancing options are privatized, so you may lose federal support programs.
  • Decide whether taking out loans is worth it: Before signing on the dotted line, you’ll want to carefully weigh out whether taking out a loan is in your best interest. If you’re a student, you’ll want to ask yourself whether your degree can lend itself to making a big enough salary to pay off your loans. You’ll also want to examine whether your school’s tuition is worth the degree you’re pursuing and pursue any potential scholarships and grants to cut back on costs.

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