Cities where student loan borrowers struggle with debt the most

CREDIBLE–If you’re struggling under a load of student loans, you already know how hard it is to make ends meet.

So it’s important for borrowers, especially recent grads, to think about the best places to live — the cities in which they’re not only likely to find a well-paying job, but also where rents and other living expenses aren’t so exorbitant so as to add to their pile of debt.

To figure out which cities student loan borrowers struggled the most in, we took a look at the top 23 most populous cities in the U.S. based on U.S. Census data. We then compared the average income of our borrowers in each of those cities with the average monthly housing payment and their average monthly student loan payment, to see how affordable student loan payments actually are for borrowers across the country.

The key indicator for affordability was how much of a borrower’s monthly income would go towards their student loan payments and monthly housing costs.

In the cities that topped our ranking for the most affordable cities for recent grads —  Dallas, Jacksonville, and Houston — borrowers have more of their income left over after paying their monthly loan and housing bills as compared to the other cities on the list.

But even in these cities, nearly 27 percent of borrowers’ average monthly income is eaten up by their monthly housing payment and their monthly loan payment alone. That doesn’t even take into account other expenses such as taxes, food, or transportation.

That’s not all that different from the cities at the very bottom of our list — San Jose, Fort Worth, and Boston — where more than 30 percent of borrowers’ average monthly income is dedicated to loan and housing payments.

The following are the average monthly loan payment, monthly housing payment, and annual income for the nearly 9,000 borrowers in the cities we analyzed:

Where borrowers struggle the most – compare all cities

The chart below visualizes the differences among all 23 cities we analyzed. Toggle through the metrics to see each city’s average borrower monthly payment, average monthly housing payment, average annual income, and average student loan and housing costs as a percentage of income.

The average student loan debt load among those who borrow is $37,173.

Among the cities that are the least affordable, monthly housing costs do tend to be slightly higher as compared to the other cities, but not by much. This makes sense — while affordability might be one factor that grads take into account when choosing where to live, a lack of affordability doesn’t necessarily prevent people from flocking to cities like San Jose, Fort Worth and Boston, where jobs are plentiful.Additionally, recent grads are likely to take into account a variety of other factors when moving to a new city. Smaller cities like Columbus or Jacksonville are less likely to be (or be near) hotbeds of industry or cultural attractions.

Seventy percent of college grads borrow to obtain their degree, and the average debt load among those who borrow is $37,173, according to publisher Mark Kantrowitz.

Credible offers borrowers the opportunity to compare student loan refinancing offers from multiple lenders with a simple, free tool. Borrowers who have refinanced their loans through Credible save an average of nearly $19,000 over the life of their loans.

Cities with highest student loan debt burden

1 San Jose, California $572 $1,661 $85,129 31.47%
2 Fort Worth, Texas $548 $1,209 $67,042 31.45%
3 Boston, Massachusetts $689 $1,226 $73,186 31.40%
4 Los Angeles, California $690 $1,383 $79,630 31.24%
5 Denver, Colorado $636 $1,231 $71,847 31.18%
6 New York, New York $831 $1,629 $94,806 31.14%
7 Indianapolis, Indiana $597 $812 $55,041 30.71%
8 San Diego, California $614 $1,340 $78,333 29.92%
9 San Antonio, Texas $579 $1,168 $70,630 29.69%
10 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania $701 $1,020 $69,757 29.61%
11 Seattle, Washington $638 $1,353 $81,293 29.39%
12 Phoenix, Arizona $528 $1,115 $67,431 29.24%
13 San Francisco, California $798 $1,684 $102,987 28.92%
14 Washington, District of Columbia $674 $1,461 $88,819 28.85%
15 Nashville, Tennessee $550 $1,047 $66,843 28.68%
16 Memphis, Tennessee $549 $980 $65,206 28.13%
17 Chicago, Illinois $694 $1,167 $80,198 27.85%
18 Charlotte, North Carolina $534 $963 $64,522 27.85%
19 Austin, Texas $587 $1,187 $76,478 27.84%
20 Columbus, Ohio $663 $956 $70,977 27.38%
21 Houston, Texas $628 $1,247 $83,528 26.94%
22 Jacksonville, Florida $671 $1,083 $78,982 26.65%
23 Dallas, Texas $688 $1,237 $88,001 26.24%

*Cities are ranked from highest to lowest student loan & housing costs as a percentage of monthly income (i.e. highest to lowest student loan and housing costs burden).


To conduct the analysis above, we used actual (but anonymized) data submitted by 8,981 applicants living in the 25 largest U.S. cities seeking to refinance student loan debt through the Credible platform.

We only considered borrowers with a monthly student loan payment of between $50 and $10,000, a monthly housing payment of less than $10,000, and those with an annual income between $1,000 and $300,000.

We limited our analysis to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. El Paso, Texas and Detroit, Michigan were omitted from our analysis due to insufficient student loan borrower data.