Feel like you’re scraping together just enough money to make your student loan payments each month? Are you close to missing payments — or even defaulting on your student loans?
Such student debt struggles are increasingly common. National trends show the following:
- Nearly a quarter of Direct Loan borrowers are on a income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, according to a Nov. 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office. That’s an increase of almost 150 percent from the 10 percent of borrowers on an IDR plan in June 2013.
- Student loan default rates are rising. A Sept. 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Education shows 11.5 percent of borrowers entering repayment in 2014 defaulted within three years, up from 11.3 percent in 2013.
But where a borrower lives can have a major impact on their ability to pay off their student debt, according to our new study.
If you’re a resident of one of the worst states to live in with student debt, you’re more likely to struggle to keep up with payments. See if your state is on the list.
How we ranked states by student loan affordability
Our 2017 student loan affordability study highlights the 10 states where student loan payments are least likely to be affordable. We compared states based on three key financial factors:
- The average student loan balance for a 2016 graduate in each state
- The average annual wage a worker earns in each state
- The cost of living in each state compared to the national average
With this information, we compared basic living costs to average incomes to find out how much a typical worker has left over each month. We then calculated student loan payments using the standard 10-year repayment plan.
Lastly, we ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia to find out the worst states to live in while repaying student debt.
Here are the nationwide averages for 2016 graduates:
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 14.57 percent
- Average student loan balance: $27,822
- Average annual wage: $49,630
The average student loan balance estimates for this study are based on borrowing statistics from Peterson’s data and might differ from other projections. For example, a different estimate of student loan debt puts the average balance for a 2016 graduate at $37,721.
Student loans more affordable overall — but not in the 10 worst states
Like the standards set by federal income-driven repayment plans, we considered student loan payments to be affordable when they were equal to 10 percent of disposable income.
Overall, student loans are more affordable for 2016 graduates compared to 2015 graduates, according to our 2016 student loan affordability survey. In 2015, graduates devoted 17.3 percent of their disposable income to student loan payments. For 2016 graduates, the average is 14.57 percent.
However, in the 10 worst states to live in, borrowers devote anywhere from 17.99 percent to 22.17 percent of their disposable income to their student loan payments.
10 worst states to live in if you’re struggling with student debt
Not only will borrowers in these states find it difficult to pay extra on student loans, but they also might struggle to make their payments each month.
Eight of the following 10 states have higher-than-average student loan balances that exceed $30,000 as well as costs of living that exceed the national average.
That means borrowers in these states are among those most likely to benefit from switching to an income-driven repayment plan for federal student loans or refinancing student loans to lower monthly payments.
Here are the 10 states where borrowers’ finances are stretched the thinnest by repaying their student loan balances.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 17.99 percent
- Average student loan balance: $30,994
- Average annual wage: $41,440
- City with highest average wage: unavailable
We couldn’t find city-level income data for Montana, but workers in pretty much any part of the state can expect to make well below the national average wage of $49,630. That amounts to about $680 less in income each month.
Montana’s 2016 graduates also borrowed $4,714 more than the 2015 class, raising payments by $48 per month to $314. Overall, this brought Montana from the middle of the pack to one of the worst states live in while paying off student debt.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 18.33 percent
- Average student loan balance: $28,739
- Average annual wage: $47,620
- City with highest average wage: Burlington, $51,600
Vermont again made it on the list of the 10 worst states to live in with student debt. However, the 2016 class is in a better position than Vermont’s 2015 graduates thanks to slightly lower costs of living in Vermont and higher wages that outpaced borrowing.
While 2016 graduates living in Vermont devote 18.33 percent of their disposable income to student loan payments, 2015 graduates paid even more toward debt at 20.42 percent.
8. South Dakota
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 18.51 percent
- Average student loan balance: $30,090
- Average annual wage: $40,070
- City with highest average wage: Sioux Falls, $43,180
Student loan borrowers in South Dakota, like those in Montana, are saddled with low incomes and high student loan balances.
Overall, South Dakota’s 2016 graduates took out $726 more on average than the 2015 class. Despite incomes that crawled up by $1,250, South Dakota is once again among the worst states to live in if you’re struggling with student debt.
7. Rhode Island
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 18.96 percent
- Average student loan balance: $31,497
- Average annual wage: $51,920
- City with highest average wage: Providence, $51,100
Rhode Island is No. 7 in this year’s rankings after being No. 5 last year. It appears borrowers in the state are putting less disposable income toward student debt: 18.96 percent compared to last year’s 22.64 percent.
That’s thanks in part to 2016 graduates who borrowed $1,423 less on average than Rhode Island’s 2015 class.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 19.19 percent
- Average student loan balance: $31,217
- Average annual wage: $56,710
- City with highest average wage: Anchorage, $57,770
Despite an average annual wage that’s $7,080 more than the national average, Alaska has high living costs and student debt levels that make it one of the least affordable states. Since residents of Alaska pay 22.4 percent more than the national average for basic expenses, they have less to work with each month.
Alaska’s graduates also have some of the highest levels of borrowing: 12.20 percent higher than the average balance of $27,822.
5. New Jersey
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 19.35 percent
- Average student loan balance: $35,143
- Average annual wage: $56,030
- City with highest average wage: Trenton, $62,150
It might appear that New Jersey workers get a leg up from higher incomes since they earn 12.9 percent more than the average American.
But their steep cost of living is 13.8 percent higher than the national average. Plus, after Pennsylvania, New Jersey’s average student loan balance is the highest in the nation.
Bottom line: New Jersey residents face some of the highest student debt with less money in their bank accounts.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 19.35 percent
- Average student loan balance: $35,196
- Average annual wage: $47,540
- City with highest average wage: Philadelphia, $53,590
With the highest average student loan balance of any state, Pennsylvania’s college graduates start out owing $7,374 more than the U.S. average. Even worse, Pennsylvania workers have to repay student debt on below-average incomes.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 19.90 percent
- Average student loan balance: $32,211
- Average annual wage: $57,960
- City with highest average wage: Bridgeport, $64,800
Connecticut’s college graduates carry the fourth-highest student loan balance in the nation thanks to significant payments of $326 per month.
Workers in this state are also up against costs of living that exceed the national average by a whopping 24.1 percent. Despite also earning higher wages, Connecticut’s student loan borrowers are in a tough spot.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 20.45 percent
- Average student loan balance: $30,586
- Average annual wage: $44,180
- City with highest average wage: Portland, $47,770
Maine moved from No. 6 to No. 2 this year. The state has living costs that are 10.6 percent higher than the national average and incomes that fall $5,450 short of the national average.
That means Maine residents pay higher living costs while earning less. Add an average student loan balance that surpasses $30,000, and Maine borrowers are among the most likely to struggle with student debt.
- Disposable income devoted to student loan payments: 22.17 percent
- Average student loan balance: $25,851
- Average annual wage: $49,430
- City with highest average wage: Honolulu, $51,080
The average student loan debt for residents living in Hawaii is one of the lowest in the nation, and workers earn wages near the national average. However, that’s not enough to make up for costs of living that are 34 percent higher than the national average.
High costs of living stretch Hawaii workers’ paychecks thin and leave them with far less disposable income than residents in other states, making it the worst state for student loan affordability.
How to manage student loans when you live in one of the ‘worst’ states
While borrowers living in these states are more likely to stretch their paychecks to make their student loan payments, they can take action and see results if they focus on paying down their student debt.
Here are some steps you can take if your state made this list:
- Focus on increasing your income. The more money you make, the more you’ll have to put toward your student debt. Work toward a raise or consider switching jobs to get higher pay. Starting a side hustle can be another way to bring in more cash.
- Be realistic about your spending. It’s important to understand the costs in your area and set your personal budget accordingly. Be practical and keep expenses modest when possible.
- Take advantage of federal student loan protections. With options like income-driven repayment plans, deferment, and forbearance, you can avoid missing payments or defaulting.
Getting ahead of student debt is a daunting task if you live in one of the 10 worst states — but it’s possible. Although you might have a little more working against you than the average student loan borrower, it’s a gap you can close with some extra determination and smart debt strategies.
Full rankings: Student loan affordability by state
Below are the full rankings for student loan affordability in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. States are ranked from worst to best.
|Rank||State||Disposable income devoted to student loan payments||Average annual wage||Average student loan balance||Monthly student loan payment||City with highest wages||City’s average wage|
|8||South Dakota||18.51%||$40,070||$30,090||$305||Sioux Falls||$43,180|
|11||District of Columbia||17.68%||$82,950||$33,650||$341||—||—|
|35||New York||14.48%||$58,910||$21,280||$215||New York City||$63,320|
|51||Utah||10.01%||$45,490||$18,969||$192||Salt Lake City||$48,850|
This study compared average earnings in each state and the District of Columbia to costs of living and average student loan balances to find the states where student loan repayment is most affordable.
Average student loan balances in each state were calculated from Peterson’s data on indebtedness averages at four-year colleges. Colleges were excluded that did not report a dollar average for the average indebtedness number or if the figure was for a year before 2015.
Disposable income of an average worker in each state was calculated based on the following factors:
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reported 2016 mean wage in the state, released in March 2017
- LESS basic living expenses, including housing, transportation, food, and health care, based on national Consumer Expenditure data for 2016 and adjusted for local cost of living, sourced from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index
Disposable income was then compared to typical payments on the average student debt balance of a 2016 graduate in each state based on the following criteria:
- Each state’s average student loan debt was amortized over a standard 10-year repayment period, assuming an interest rate of 4.00%.
- The average payment was compared to disposable income to find the portion of disposable income needed to cover these basic payments.
The study was modeled on federal standards for student loan affordability. Income-driven repayment plans set affordable student loan monthly payments at 10 percent of monthly discretionary income. However, our methodologies differ and might not be reflective of results using income-driven repayment plan formulae.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2021!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
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|2.50% – 6.85%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
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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 June 1, 2021.
2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Interest Rate Disclosure
Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.59% APR to 5.79% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.88% APR to 5.64% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance 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 2.04% and 5.8% to the one month LIBOR. Earnest rate ranges are current as of 6/8/2021, and are subject to change based on market conditions.
Auto Pay Discount Disclosure
You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay.
Student Loan Refinancing Loan Cost Examples
These examples provide estimates based on payments beginning immediately upon loan disbursement. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 5.89% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,042.39. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 6.04% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,249.77. Your actual repayment terms may vary.Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest. com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Earnest Loans are made by Earnest Operations LLC or One American Bank, Member FDIC. Earnest Operations LLC, NMLS #1204917. 535 Mission St., Suite 1663, San Francisco, CA 94105. California Financing Law License 6054788. Visit earnest.com/licenses for a full list of licensed states. For California residents (Student Loan Refinance Only): Loans will be arranged or made pursuant to a California Financing Law License.
One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC with support from Navient Solutions LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
© 2021 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved.
3 Important Disclosures for Navient.
4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
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.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
Fixed rates from 2.74% APR to 6.74% APR (with autopay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.39% APR (with autopay). All variable rates are based on the 1-month LIBOR and may increase after consummation if LIBOR increases; see more at SoFi.com/legal/#1. If approved for a loan your rate will depend on a variety of factors such as your credit profile, your application and your selected loan terms. Your rate will be within the ranges of rates listed above. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers, or may become available, such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license #6054612; NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org). Additional terms and conditions apply; see SoFi.com/eligibility for details. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com 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 LendKey.com. 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 LendKey.com 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 04/07/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
7 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
8 Important Disclosures for PenFed.
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 2.89%-4.78% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.13%-5.25% 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.