Making the Debt Transition Easier: Student Debt by State

October 22, 2019

One of the most important things to talk about when discussing financial wellness is student debt. Between federal and private student loans, America as a whole has over $1.6 trillion in student debt, and you might be wondering how to get through school without that. You can check out private student loan refinancing options.

If you want the best chance of financial freedom after college, you might actually want to pay attention to the state in which you live. With this state-by-state analysis of student debt, you’ll be more prepared.

A State With Low Debt

The first thing you’ll probably notice is the state’s overall debt average. Though this doesn’t tell the whole story, it’s sometimes a good starting point if you’re not quite sure which college you want to go to.

This debt measurement is usually extremely localized, which some people might find interesting. The five states with the highest average debt are all in New England:

  • Connecticut with $38,510
  • Pennsylvania with $36,854
  • Rhode Island with $36,250
  • New Hampshire with $34,415
  • Delaware with $34,144

On the other hand, West Coast of the country houses the lowest debt. Except for Wyoming, which is still further to the West coast, all five states with the lowest debt are in the Southwest.

  • Utah with $18,383
  • New Mexico with $21,237
  • Nevada with $22,064
  • Wyoming with $22,524
  • California with $22,785

A College With Low Debt

Next, you want to look at a college that specifically offers very low debt on average.

While average debt is an important part of the picture, it’s definitely not the entire picture. New York, which is on the higher end of the middle when it comes to average debt, offers the colleges with both the lowest and highest average debt: CUNY Lehman College at $4,410 and the New York School of Interior Design at $65,401.

Thankfully, low student debt is possible all across the country. Check out the nine states with at least one college that has an average debt below $10,000 and notice how regionally diverse they are:

  • CUNY Lehman College in New York at $4,410
  • Bethel College-North Newton in Kansas at $5,633
  • Central Connecticut State University at $5,831
  • University of the Incarnate Word in Texas at $6,271
  • The College of Idaho at $7,202
  • Pennsylvania College of Technology at $7,219
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University at $7,454
  • Berea College in Kentucky at $7,468
  • Princeton University in New Jersey at $9,005

Less Likelihood of Graduating With Debt

Even if a state has a slightly higher average debt, it might be worth it to try that state if the percentage of students graduating with debt is low. These seven states and one district all have debt percentages under 50%:

  • Utah with 38%
  • Washington, D.C. and Alaska with 46%
  • Wyoming with 47%
  • Louisiana with 48%
  • Nevada, Oklahoma, and Hawaii with 49%

Low debt percentages can mean that a state has really great student financial programs, which can be a blessing not only for tuition, but also for housing, meals, and other necessities of getting through college.

Low Debt Delinquency

This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, and yet it often goes overlooked. If you have to choose between paying off student debt and other types of debt for the next 10 years but paying off every penny as directed or paying off debt for the next 5 years with multiple late payments, you should go for the former.

Unfortunately, many low-debt states are also high-delinquency states, largely because they’re also low-income. New England has on average the highest amount of student debt, but classes it as having an “extremely low” rate of delinquency. On the other side, the South and Southwest, both low-income and low-debt areas on the whole, have an “extremely high” rate of delinquency.


Should you move to go to college just because of a lower average amount of debt? Really, it’s up to you, but it’s good to remember that the low debt won’t inherently make it easier for you to flourish after college.

Socioeconomic status is much more important than the amount of debt you have. Though you can’t change that overnight, you can make concerted long-term efforts. Focus on financial wellness, no matter the numbers on your loan, to make it through okay.

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