Study: Where Student Loan Borrowers Are Most Likely To Miss Their Payments

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A perfect payment history on a student loan is a powerful thing. It could help you qualify for cosigner release with your private lender. Better yet, it could pave the way for student loan forgiveness via the federal government.

For many borrowers, however, making every single payment on time and in full can be difficult. Due to accruing interest, increasing payments and common snafus like a job loss, it’s not always possible to stay perfect.

But tell that to borrowers in the western U.S.

We analyzed which of 100 major metropolitan areas had the highest rates of resident borrowers with perfect payment histories — meaning they were never late on a single payment. We found that six of the top eight places represented Utah, California and Washington.

Below are our study’s full results.

Key takeaways:

  • Student loan debtors in Provo, Utah, have the best record when it comes to paying their student loans on time: 85.6% of borrowers there have never been late on a bill.
  • San Jose, Calif., and Madison, Wis., followed in second and third place, with 84% and 83.1% of student loan borrowers, respectively, sporting perfect payment histories.
  • Zooming out, we saw California cities take 4 of the top 6 spots among our rankings. Western region cities overall grabbed 6 of the top 8 places.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, borrowers in the South were the most likely to struggle. Nine of the bottom 10 metro areas with the lowest percentage of prompt repayers hailed from Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina.
  • Jackson, Miss. has the lowest rate of perfect student loan payment histories, at just 71.8%.
  • The Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla., metro area and Daytona Beach, Fla., tied for second to last place, as only 74.9% of student loan borrowers in each of those metros have perfect payment histories.
  • Phoenix, Ariz., and Wichita, Kan., represent the average: They tied to rank 50th among the 100 metro areas we studied, each with 79.2% borrowers hitting their payment deadlines.

Places where borrowers usually pay their student loans on time

1. Provo, Utah

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 85.6%

Provo sits atop our rankings, as almost 9 out of 10 residents there haven’t missed any student loan payments. It helps that its residents don’t borrow as much for school as their peers in other states: Utah ranks 50th in the U.S. with an average per-student loan debt of $18,838, according to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

Ogden, Utah, (42) also cracks the top 50 in our rankings, possibly because the Beehive State as a whole — besides having a lighter average debt load — has a smaller percentage of students carrying debt. Only 38% of Utahans are burdened by education loans, also the smallest proportion in the nation, according to TICAS.

2. San Jose, Calif.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 84%

The first of four California metro areas to fall into our top 10, San Jose might not be a surprise. The Silicon Valley hub is home to high-wage earners who manage their student loan payments right alongside the country’s highest cost of living: It’s 160% more expensive to live in San Jose than it is in the average American city, according to Sperling’s Best Places index.

Having a degree helps when seeking a high-paying tech job. About 64% of California students graduate from college within six years, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, the ninth-best mark in the country.

3. Madison, Wis.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 83.1%

Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin, checked in third on our list, thanks in part to its graduation rates. More than 65% of the 25-and-older residents here hold an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

These degree holders are also finding jobs within the city more easily than elsewhere. Madison’s unemployment rate of 4.1% trumps that of the U.S. average (6.6%).

4. Oxnard, Calif.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 82.3%

The Southern Californian seaside city placed fourth in our rankings, narrowly beating Harrisburg, Pa. More than 82% of the residents here haven’t missed a student loan payment, either because they paid on time or enjoyed a respite such as a deferment or forbearance.

5. Harrisburg, Pa.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 82.2%

Students in Pennsylvania carry the second-highest average student loan debt in the union, a whopping $36,854. Two-thirds of these students leave school with debt, according to TICAS.

Of course, it’s easier to repay your debt when you have a degree that helps you land a salaried position. Pennsylvania students graduate within six years 62.9% of the time, the 11th-best mark nationally.

Pennsylvania is also represented by Allentown among our top 10.

Places where many borrowers don’t pay their student loans on time

100. Jackson, Miss.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 71.8%

There’s never just one explanation for a problem, but Jackson’s dubious distinction here could be at least partly related to the city’s unemployment rate. After all, it’s harder to stay current on your student loan balance without regular income. With this in mind, note that Jackson’s unemployment rate (12.4%) dwarfs that of the country’s average (6.6%).

In a similar study, Jackson was found to have the highest delinquency rates on education debt. More than 1 in 4 borrowers based here have fallen behind in repayment.

98. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla., and Daytona Beach, Fla.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 74.9%

Two of the three Florida metro areas in our bottom 10 — Lakeland-Winter Haven and Daytona Beach — drew a tie. About 1 in 4 of borrowers living here have missed at least one payment due date on a student loan.

That said, only half of Florida students leave school with debt, according to TICAS, so there’s a sizeable proportion of college grads in the state that don’t face this issue at all.

97. Toledo, Ohio

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 75%

With high unemployment (10.8%) and middling graduate rates, it’s no wonder Toledo, Ohio, ranked 97th out of the 100 metro areas we studied.

Another factor working against the city: On average, University of Toledo 2017 graduates left campus $28,260 in the hole on their student loan debt. More than seven out of 10 grads from the school have debt to repay, according to TICAS.

96. Memphis, Tenn.

Borrowers with perfect payment histories: 75.1%

Double-digit unemployment is just one reason why Memphis rounds out the five metro areas with not-so-sterling track records in student loan repayment.

Also probably to blame is the fact that just 31% of 25-and-older residents hold a degree of some kind, compared with 39% nationally.

Dropping out could be at the root of the problem. Less than half of Tennessee students (47.9%) graduate from college within six years of starting their freshman campaign. That fact undoubtedly helped pushed Chattanooga (93rd) and Nashville (80th) down our rankings as well.

Paying student loans promptly: How the top U.S. metros compare

How to keep pace with your student loan payments

Setting up autopay is the simplest way to ensure you never miss a payment. It automatically sends your dues directly from your bank account to your lender or loan servicer. Enrolling also typically comes with an interest-rate reduction that subtracts your APR by 0.25%.

On the other hand, autopay might not be a feasible option if you’re struggling to make payments or just learning how repayment works. Depending on your stage of repayment, here are some strategies to help you keep pace:

  • If you’re new to student loans: Pay attention during entrance counseling as you borrow a federal student loan to learn how the repayment process works. For example, you typically receive a six-month grace period on your debt after you leave school, during which you don’t need to submit payments. The same goes if you’re considering taking out a private student loan. Get to know your (potential) lender to learn about your responsibility before reality hits.
  • If you’re starting repayment: If you don’t remember the details of your federal loans’ exit counseling or haven’t touched base with your servicer or private lender, now is the time to open the lines of communication and get on the same page about next steps. Not sure how much you owe and to which lenders? Start by accessing your loan information via the National Student Loan Data System.
  • If you’re struggling to meet your monthly payment: For federal loans, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan or, in more serious situations, applying to pause your repayment via deferment or forbearance. Lowering your monthly payments with a private lender can be more tricky, so reach out to your lender to review your options. For more permanent fixes, consider two other levers you could pull to ease your repayment: budgeting to trim your expenses and climbing the career ladder (or starting a side hustle) to increase your income. Both strategies will give you more breathing room.
  • If you’re ready to put your repayment into overdrive: With months or years of prompt payments under your belt, a credit score on the rise and steady income, consider student loan refinancing to lower your interest rate. That could potentially help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars of interest during repayment. Refinancing would also allow you to consolidate your federal and private loans into one single debt with the lender of your choice. Just be sure you’re OK giving up the safeguards attached to your federal loans (such as pathways to loan forgiveness), as you’ll lose access to those if you refinance.

No matter where you stand in your repayment, there’s a way to avoid sinking. Choose the route that helps you stay prompt with your payments so you can leave delinquency, default and the extra cost behind.


Using a sample of anonymized credit reports from June through August 2018 taken from over 435,000 My LendingTree users with student loan debt, we calculated the percentage of people who have never had a payment status of 30 days or more late on any loan during the period covered by the reports (usually six years).

Loans in deferment or forbearance were included in this data, meaning that some borrowers wouldn’t have had a payment due for every month during the period under review. Our data isn’t limited to students — it also includes parents and others who borrowed on behalf of students.

My LendingTree is a free credit monitoring service available to the general public, regardless of their debt and credit histories, or whether they’ve pursued loans on a LendingTree platform. My LendingTree has over 9 million users.

LendingTree is the parent company of Student Loan Hero.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.89% – 5.99%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.99% – 6.84%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.91% – 5.25%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.25% – 6.53%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.17% – 4.47%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of Feburary 1, 2021.

2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 26, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/26/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 02/17/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.91% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: 1. Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.99% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.53% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.12% plus 2.38% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the interest savings are applied to the principal loan balance, which may help pay the loan down faster. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score.Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.99%-5.15% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.17%-4.47% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.