Visualizing America’s Student Debt by State

Outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade to $1.5 trillion, surpassing auto and credit card debt and only second to housing debt. In an earlier HowMuch article, we provided a state-by-state overview of this increase. Here, we look at current student loan debt burden per capita by state.Student Debt by State

  • 84% of adults report that student loans are negatively impacting the amount they are able to save for retirement
  • A record $1.5 trillion in student loans nationwide carries a wide variance of per capita debt burden across states
  • The District of Columbia’s student debt capital is higher than any state’s at over twice the national average
  • Wyoming, Hawaii and West Virginia lead the states with the lowest student loan debt per capita

The data comes from the New York Fed’s Household Debt and Credit report. Our viz plots each state’s per capita debt burden on a map of the U.S., along with the District of Columbia (a clear outlier in the data). A darker shade and larger size indicates a higher debt burden. Student debt balance per capita is calculated as the total amount of outstanding student debt held by citizens in each state, divided by the total number of citizens in each state. To look at how much debt recent graduates alone are holding, check out this HowMuch article.

The Top 5 Student Debt by State (Compared to National Average)

1. District Of Columbia: $13,320 (+147.1%)
2. Georgia: $7,250 (+34.5%)
3. Maryland: $6,740 (+25.0%)
4. Minnesota: $6,280 (+16.5%)
5. Ohio: $6,220 (+15.4%)

The Lowest 5 Student Debt by State (Compared to National Average)

1. Wyoming: $3,610 (-33.0%)
2. Hawaii: $3,780 (-29.9%)
3. West Virginia: $4,020 (-25.4%)
4. Alaska: $4,030 (-25.2%)
5. New Mexico: $4,070 (-24.5%)

Adults are feeling the effects of this debt pileup in both their personal and professional lives. Many young people have postponed such rites of passage such as getting married and buying a first home until they can tame the tens of thousands in debt they may have -- which can take decades to pay off. 

High debt has also made it difficult for people to pursue career goals. More than half of people who owe $55,000 or more in student debt say they took a job outside of their field, compared with 29% of those with no debt. These high debt burdens could draw people away from taking on high-risk professional paths like entrepreneurship or low-compensation paths like public service. 

Student loans are also causing delays in retirement savings. A recent study from TIAA and the MIT Agelab found that three out of four (73%) adult borrowers report they are putting off maximizing their retirement savings because they want to pay off their student loans first. Among adults not saving for retirement at all, more than one quarter (26%) state to the need to pay off student loan debt as the reason.

Some areas of the country are particularly hard-hit by college debt. At over $13,000, the District of Columbia’s per capita debt exceeds any state, but should not entirely be a surprise -- the U.S. Census Bureau has named Washington, D.C. the most educated metro in the U.S

It’s clear that student loans are impacting young people’s well-being nationwide. Should something be done about it? Leading Democratic presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren have proposed student debt cancellation plans. Some critics are wary that these plans would actually support the demographic that needs it, while others question their fairness and practicality.

While the battle rages on in (coincidentally) Washington, one thing you can do about student loans is to learn more about them. To do that check out HowMuch’s Student Loan Cost Guide.

How has student debt affected people in your state? Should the government cancel student debt? If so, how? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments. 

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