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Student debt is a problem that affects millions of Americans nationwide — and no state is exempt. However, student loan debt by state isn’t distributed evenly. Factors such as the number of public schools versus private schools in the state, the number of students, available grants and the average cost of living all impact how much federal and private student debt students must take on to pay for their degree.
Below is a list of the states with the highest and lowest student loan debt using the latest available data.
Top 10 states with the most student loan debt
Although the states below have the highest overall student loan debt, ranging from $51.8 billion to a whopping $152.8 billion, their students don’t necessarily borrow more to pay for school. Some states simply carry more debt because they have more institutions and students than other states. This also contributes to state aid being more scarce, as it must be split among a larger population, forcing students to take out federal and private student loans to fill the financial gap. So, which state has the most student loan debt? We used the latest data from the Federal Reserve and the Institute of College Access and Success (TICAS) to find out.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 4,022,360
- Total student loan debt owed: $152.8 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $37,990
Although 80 percent of California college graduates attended public schools during the 2019-20 academic year, California student debt ranks as the highest on our list.
However, California offers generous student debt relief programs for graduates working in teaching, mental health, nursing and other medical fields willing to relocate to high-need areas. In 2016, the state also championed its California Promise Program, which offers free college tuition at select institutions for eligible low-income students to make college more accessible and reduce borrowing.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 3,847,400
- Total student loan debt owed: $128.3 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $33,340
Twenty percent of Texas’ graduates’ student loan debt is nonfederal debt, with 6 percent of Texas graduates carrying private student loan debt. That being said, things have been improving in the past few years thanks to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30TX initiative.
Launched in 2015, the 60x30TX initiative aims to make college more affordable so that student debt represents no more than 60 percent of first-year wages for people who graduated from Texas public institutions — a goal that has been met consistently since 2018. Additionally, the Board reported that last year, more than half of Texas graduates completed their degrees without student debt.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 2,720,440
- Total student loan debt owed: $106 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $38,960
Close to half of Florida’s college students graduate with student loans. Six percent of them have costlier private loans; these borrowers owe an average of $30,232 in private student loans.
However, the Sunshine State has multiple grants and scholarships to reduce borrowing among college students. Florida also has student loan repayment assistance programs for graduates working in the legal, medical, dental and education fields, among others, which can help graduates wipe out a significant portion of their education debt.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 2,629,860
- Total student loan debt owed: $98.5 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $37,460
In 2019-20, more than half of all college graduates in New York attended private nonprofit institutions. This may explain why the state has one of the highest student loan balances in the country. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 5 New Yorkers have some debt related to higher education, while 1 in 6 had student loans in 2020, according to a report by the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. But despite these numbers, the state of New York has more student loan repayment assistance programs than any other state in our list — and in a variety of fields, ranging from social work to farming.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 2,055,160
- Total student loan debt owed: $73.4 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $35,700
Pennsylvania is one of the states where tuition has risen starkly over the last few years. In fact, net tuition at public four-year colleges accounted for 34 percent of its residents’ median household income in 2018, as per data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The percentage of graduates with private student loan debt is also the highest in our list at a staggering 22 percent.
On the bright side, Pennsylvania is one of the states that won’t be taxing the one-time student loan cancellation announced by President Biden. The state’s Higher Education Assistance Agency also offers student loan repayment assistance options for borrowers working in certain sectors, in addition to low-cost loans for qualifying students.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 1,668,020
- Total student loan debt owed: $69.6 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $41,740
Fifty-six percent of Georgia’s college graduates had student loans in 2019-20. The state’s graduates also have the highest student loan balance in our list, with an average of over $41,000 in loans. In addition to several student loan repayment assistance programs, which mainly target those working in health care, the Georgia Student Finance Authority offers prospective students low-cost loans with a fixed interest rate of 1 percent to reduce borrowing costs.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 1,705,660
- Total student loan debt owed: $64.9 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $38,030
Student debt in Illinois has more than doubled over the last decade — and it’s not just a problem for young adults. The office estimates that more than $150,000 in student loans belong to borrowers aged 60 and up. As far as recent graduates go, roughly 60 percent left college with student loans during the 2019-20 academic year, with an average balance of $28,552.
However, Illinois residents working in certain sectors, including education, health care and public law, can get up to four years of student loan repayment assistance through the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 1,815,100
- Total student loan debt owed: $63.4 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $34,910
To minimize the burden of student debt, some colleges in the state, including Columbus State Community College and Ohio University, have created programs that include scholarships and even free tuition. Several institutions across the state are also currently offering student debt relief programs for students who didn’t finish their degrees due to financial hardship and wish to return to college.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 1,422,640
- Total student loan debt owed: $52.3 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $36,760
Although Michigan has one of the highest student loan debt balances in the country, that may be changing soon. According to a statement released by the Governor’s Office, up to 50 percent of Michiganders with federal student loans owe less than $20,000. The state offers debt relief programs for professionals working in high-need areas in fields like health care and education, in addition to scholarships and grants.
- Number of student loan borrowers: 1,384,800
- Total student loan debt owed: $51.8 billion
- Average student debt per borrower: $37,440
In North Carolina, more than half of college graduates left school with student debt during the 2019-29 academic year. The current average debt per borrower nears the $40,000 mark.
In an effort to reduce borrowing among future college students, the state has established a Promise Tuition Plan. Under this plan, students will pay only $500 per semester for in-state tuition and $2,500 for out-of-state tuition at four University of North Carolina System campuses. North Carolina also offers several student loan repayment assistance programs for health care professionals and social workers, some of which offer up to $50,000 in debt relief.
States with the least student loan debt
The following states have the lowest overall student loan balance. However, it’s worth pointing out that they also have substantially fewer borrowers than the states listed above. For instance, according to the Federal Reserve, Wyoming only had 56,820 borrowers in 2022, while California had more than four million.
Additionally, Angelique Palomar, a spokesperson for The Institute for College Access and Success, stresses that a low overall debt balance doesn’t mean that students in these states graduate with less debt than the states mentioned above.
“For example, the 2019-20 in-state tuition and fees for four-year and above institutions in California was $15,982, compared to $45,145 for D.C.,” Palomar says. “There is also a big difference in total cost of attendance for students living on campus in these states: $37,955 for California versus $65,087 in D.C.”
These factors may help explain why D.C. borrowers carry an average student loan balance that’s 42 percent higher than California borrowers, even though the state carries substantially less debt overall.
|State||Total student debt(in billions)||Average debt per borrower|
|District of Columbia||$7.13||$58,940|
Source: The Federal Reserve
The bottom line
All states have student loan debt. How high that number is can be due to factors like the number of institutions, the number of public vs. private schools, the cost of living and the number of students. The state with the highest student loan debt is California and the state with the lowest student loan debt is Wyoming. State student loan debt runs from $152.82 billion to 1.78 billion in Q4 in 2022.
Frequently asked questions
Federal student debt affects some 45 million Americans as of August 2022, as per the White House’s fact sheet.
President Biden has extended the federal student loan payment pause until October 2023. To find out your specific due date, contact your student loan servicer.
Student loans are divided into two main categories: federal and private. They essentially share the same structure: You take out a specific amount to cover the costs of attending college (tuition and fees, room and board, books and other materials), and payments typically don’t start until six months after you graduate.
If you need to borrow money to pay for school, federal Direct Loans should be your first option. Unlike private student loans, which are issued based on credit, federal student loans don’t have a minimum credit score requirement to be approved for the loan. They also tend to have lower interest rates than private student loans, and they offer protections like income-driven repayment and student loan forgiveness programs that private loans lack.
Federal student loans have a standard repayment term of 10 years, though refinancing, consolidation or income-driven repayment plans could extend that repayment term to up to 20 years. Private student loans often offer terms ranging from five to 20 years.
Although a longer repayment period can lower your monthly bill, you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan. That’s why you should consider using a student loan calculator to ensure that you’re choosing the right payoff strategy for your circumstances.