10 Worst States to Live In If You’re Struggling to Pay Off Student Loans

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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.

10. Montana

  • 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.

9. Vermont

  • 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.

6. Alaska

  • 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.

4. Pennsylvania

  • 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.

3. Connecticut

  • 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.

2. Maine

  • 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.

1. Hawaii

  • 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.

RankStateDisposable income devoted to student loan paymentsAverage annual wageAverage student loan balanceMonthly student loan paymentCity with highest wagesCity’s average wage
National14.57%$49,630$27,822$282
1Hawaii22.17%$49,430$25,851$262Honolulu$51,080
2Maine20.45%$44,180$30,586$310Portland$47,770
3Connecticut19.90%$57,960$32,211$326Bridgeport$64,800
4Pennsylvania19.35%$47,540$35,196$356Philadelphia$53,590
5New Jersey19.35%$56,030$35,143$356Trenton$62,150
6Alaska19.19%$56,710$31,217$316Anchorage$57,770
7Rhode Island18.96%$51,920$31,497$319Providence$51,100
8South Dakota18.51%$40,070$30,090$305Sioux Falls$43,180
9Vermont18.33%$47,620$28,739$291Burlington$51,600
10Montana17.99%$41,440$30,994$314
11District of Columbia17.68%$82,950$33,650$341
12Massachusetts17.37%$60,840$29,924$303Boston$67,930
13West Virginia17.30%$40,250$29,922$303Charleston$42,890
14South Carolina17.08%$41,530$29,496$299Charleston$44,500
15New Hampshire16.57%$50,180$26,452$268Nashua$53,990
16Idaho15.79%$41,910$29,435$298Boise$43,040
17New Mexico15.70%$44,160$28,233$286Albuquerque$45,920
18Iowa15.53%$43,540$29,288$297Des Moines$49,420
19Kansas15.32%$43,950$28,770$291Wichita$43,280
20Delaware15.30%$50,930$30,255$306Wilmington$54,310
21Kentucky15.29%$41,760$28,934$293Louisville$44,270
22Nevada15.22%$44,030$25,815$261Reno$45,210
23Louisiana15.20%$41,260$26,863$272Baton Rouge$44,460
24California15.19%$56,840$22,517$228San Jose$78,990
25Mississippi15.17%$38,300$26,974$273Gulfport$41,940
26Maryland15.09%$56,120$27,070$274Silver Spring$64,210
27Minnesota14.99%$51,330$31,198$316Minneapolis$55,010
28Indiana14.98%$42,940$28,533$289Indianapolis$46,840
29Missouri14.98%$44,620$29,215$296Kansas City$48,900
30Oregon14.95%$49,710$27,143$275Portland$53,960
31Wisconsin14.89%$45,240$27,872$282Madison$50,830
32Ohio14.83%$45,930$29,579$299Columbus$48,850
33North Dakota14.81%$47,130$28,336$287Fargo$45,610
34Arizona14.61%$46,290$26,346$267Phoenix$47,540
35New York14.48%$58,910$21,280$215New York City$63,320
36Michigan14.44%$47,350$30,289$307Ann Arbor$56,160
37Tennessee14.16%$42,350$26,611$269Nashville$45,780
38Alabama13.87%$42,510$26,065$264Huntsville$52,960
39Oklahoma13.73%$42,760$26,068$264Oklahoma City$45,280
40Illinois13.68%$51,500$26,980$273Chicago$54,340
41Florida13.49%$44,050$23,999$243Gainesville$47,560
42Wyoming13.46%$46,840$25,378$257
43Virginia13.35%$53,090$27,865$282Charlottesville$50,950
44Nebraska13.28%$44,170$25,311$256Omaha$46,490
45Georgia13.28%$46,540$26,498$268Atlanta$50,720
46Arkansas13.17%$39,590$23,384$237Fayetteville$44,980
47Texas12.99%$47,770$26,230$266Houston$52,870
48Colorado12.99%$52,710$26,607$269Boulder$60,390
49North Carolina12.46%$45,280$24,133$244Durham$57,850
50Washington12.16%$55,810$24,331$246Seattle$63,300
51Utah10.01%$45,490$18,969$192Salt Lake City$48,850

Methodology

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:

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.

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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 October 1, 2020.


2 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.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

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 September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.09% 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 0.18% plus 2.32% 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. *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. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 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: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. 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 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% 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 July 31, 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 7/31/2020. 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 https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

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5 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

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 10/15/2020 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.98% APR to 8.55% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.99% APR to 8.77% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.