Student Loans in North Carolina: Debt Stats, Repayment Programs and Refinancing

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The average balance for federal and private student loan borrowers in North Carolina is $36,293, just behind the U.S. average of $36,689. There are 1.3 million borrowers with student loans in North Carolina, so this debt affects 12% of the state’s 10.5 million residents.

Parent borrowers with children attending High Point University take out a median $97,311 in loans, according to research from The Wall Street Journal. While that number only represents the debt that parents accumulate from one North Carolina university, it helps illustrate the financial burden that borrowers — whether parents or students — can potentially carry.

North Carolina borrowers owe average of $36,293 in federal, private student loan debt — and more facts

North Carolina student debt overview
Average balance $36,293
Total outstanding debt $47.9 billion
Number of borrowers 1.3 million
Average total monthly payment $282
Note: Averages include federal and private student loan debt.

There are 16 campuses in the University of North Carolina System and 59 campuses in the North Carolina Community College System from which to choose, in addition to numerous private options.

Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) undergraduate students attending a University of North Carolina System campus use financial aid. But for students attending Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke or Western Carolina University within the system, tuition costs are $500 a semester through the NC Promise plan.

For those attending other colleges within the state, there are an array of financial aid opportunities, including:

  • NC Community College Grant
  • NC Education Lottery Scholarship
  • NC Need-Based Scholarship
  • UNC Need-Based Grant

Student loan debt in North Carolina’s largest counties, from Cumberland to Wake

Student loan debt in most populous North Carolina counties
County Average student loan balance Average monthly student loan payment
Cumberland $36,328 $235
Durham $39,958 $338
Forsyth $34,876 $287
Guilford $36,845 $266
Mecklenburg $37,646 $310
Wake $38,204 $297
Note: Limited to counties with a population of at least 300,000 residents; averages include federal and private student loan debt.

Student loan debt by ZIP code in North Carolina’s 3 largest cities: Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro

Loan repayment programs for North Carolina residents

For those with a hefty amount of student loans to repay, there are loan repayment programs specifically designed to help North Carolinians.

Forgivable Education Loans for Service

Students who commit to working in critical employment shortage professions may qualify for Forgivable Education Loans for Service. To qualify, they must have had a minimum weighted GPA of 3.0 as a high school student or 2.8 as an undergrad. They must have also attended an eligible school and have enrolled in an approved medical or teaching program.

The program forgives one year of loans for each year of full-time employment. Students can borrow:

  • Up to $3,000 a year — or $6,000 total — for certificate and associate degree programs
  • Up to $7,000 a year — or $20,000 total — for bachelor’s degree programs
  • Up to $10,000 a year — or $20,000 total — for master’s degree programs
  • Up to $14,000 a year — or $56,000 total — for doctoral degree programs

The interest rate on these loans are 8%, so students who may be unsure of whether they can fulfill the requirements should proceed with caution.

North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation (NC LEAF)

NC LEAF provides student loan assistance to licensed prosecutors, public defenders and nonprofit public interest attorneys in the state. To qualify, applicants must have earned a Juris Doctor degree from an American Bar Association-accredited law school within the past 10 years. Monthly assistance payments max out at $400, or $4,800 annually.

North Carolina Loan Repayment Program (NC LRP)

The North Carolina LRP offers student loan repayment assistance to qualifying providers at eligible rural and underserved facilities. Physicians and dentists are eligible for up to $100,000 for an up to four-year service commitment. Nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, nurse midwives, physician assistants and dental hygienists are eligible for up to $60,000 for an up to four-year service commitment.

North Carolina State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)

The North Carolina SLRP offers loan repayment to primary or psychiatric behavioral health providers in rural and underserved areas. Qualifying sites include:

  • Community mental health facilities
  • County health departments
  • Federal community health centers
  • State mental health hospitals
  • State-sponsored rural health centers

Recipients, who can be awarded up to $50,000, must make a two-year service commitment in a team-based setting, with the option for an additional one-year service commitment if funding is available.

North Carolina federal student loan borrowers younger than 25 owe more than national average — and more comparisons

How to refinance student loans in North Carolina

Nearly 8% of borrowers in North Carolina owe $100,000 or more in student loans, so refinancing their federal and private student loans may help them save money.

When borrowers refinance student loans, they obtain a new loan at a new (and hopefully better) interest rate. Borrowers will also only have one loan payment each month instead of multiple.

While the benefits of refinancing can be appealing, there are also some downsides — especially if you have federal student loans. Losing federal student loan protections means you won’t have access to income-driven repayment options or loan forgiveness, and you may lose deferment and forbearance opportunities depending on the private lender.


  • 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

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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