Here’s the Shocking Number of People Burdened by Student Loans in Each U.S. County

cost-burdened by student loans

After you pay your rent and student loans, does it ever feel like you have almost nothing left?

It’s not your imagination.

More and more people are overburdened by their bills, according to a recent analysis by apartment search website

And when you add student loans into the mix, the numbers are staggering.

The rising number of people who are cost-burdened

Have you heard of the 30 percent rule? It says you shouldn’t spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing.

If you do, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers you “cost-burdened” — meaning you might have difficulty paying for other necessities like food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.

If more than 50 percent of your income goes toward housing, you’re considered “severely cost-burdened.”

Although it’s not flawless, the 30 percent rule provides an interesting way to compare regions and see how things have changed over time.

An example: According to, less than a quarter of people were cost-burdened in 1960; today, more than half of renters are.

How student loans factor into the equation

Going a step further, the report’s authors analyzed each region’s average earnings (for renters aged 25 to 34) and rental costs (for one-bedroom apartments). Although they acknowledged many borrowers don’t live in one-bedroom apartments, it provided an easy cross-country comparison.

And what stuck out most was how much student loan payments impact today’s renters.

Without student loans, here’s how many average college graduates are at risk of being:

  • Moderately cost-burdened: 33 percent
  • Severely cost-burdened: 11 percent

Add monthly student loan payments, and here’s how those numbers change:

  • Moderately cost-burdened: 59 percent
  • Severely cost-burdened: 13 percent

You can see it even better in the maps below. Without student loans, only about 18 percent of U.S. counties’ borrowers are cost-burdened. But with student loans, that number jumps to nearly 72 percent.

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How to balance loans and rent if you’re cost-burdened

Those are some crazy numbers. Although I wouldn’t put much stock in the exact figures, as they reveal only how many borrowers are at risk, they show how many people are struggling to afford housing and student loans.

If you’re cost-burdened, here are a few steps you can take to get your bills under control.

1. Negotiate with your landlord

If your landlord is a reasonable human, you might be able to negotiate your rent.

You’ll have to offer something in return. Perhaps you could sign a two-year lease or do yardwork and light repairs. Argue your case using comparable rates from your neighborhood and evidence of your excellent rental history.

After all, you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

2. Buy a house

It sounds crazy, I know. You can’t afford your bills, but buying a house is a good idea?

Of course, becoming a homeowner comes with a slew of unexpected costs, and the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. But when you own a property, you can make money off it by finding a long-term roommate or renting out a room on Airbnb.

If saving up for a down payment seems impossible, look into programs for first-time homebuyers that offer assistance.

3. Increase your income

A surefire way to decrease the percentage you’re paying toward bills is increasing your income.

Although it’s easier said than done, it isn’t impossible. You could ask for a raise in your current position, look for a new job, or start working a side gig.

4. Sign up for an income-driven repayment plan

If you’re struggling with your student loan payments each month, it might be time to sign up for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.

These plans stretch your repayment term to between 20 and 25 years, which means your monthly payments could drop significantly. Although an IDR plan provides immediate relief, it also increases the interest you’ll pay over the lifetime of the loan.

If you earned $40,000 per year and had $30,000 in loans at a 5.70% average weighted interest rate, here’s how things would shake out:

  • Standard repayment plan: You’d pay $328 per month, totaling $39,360 over 10 years.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan: You’d pay $183 per month, totaling $47,627 over 25 years.

Keep in mind that your payments will increase with your income too. To run your own numbers, try our Income-Based Repayment calculator.

5. Refinance your student loans

If you’re earning a high income but never see it because you’re living in a high-rent city, then refinancing your student loans might be a good choice.

Borrowers with high incomes and high credit scores often can obtain a lower interest rate — and a lower monthly payment.

Let’s say you have $75,000 of loans at a 5.70% average weighted interest rate. If you were able to refinance at a 3.00% interest rate, your monthly payments would drop from $821 to $724, and you’d save $11,663 in interest over 10 years.

Remember, though, that refinancing means you’ll no longer be able to access federal IDR or loan forgiveness programs. To check your numbers, try our student loan refinancing calculator.

If you feel cost-burdened, remember there are ways to fight back. Reduce your expenses, maximize your income, and create the breathing room you need. Then, hopefully, you can prove the statistics wrong.

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