Student loan payments can take a big bite out of the budget of recent college graduates — such a big bite, in fact, that 42% of Americans say the cost of higher education isn’t worth it. The trick to getting out from under the responsibility of student loans is to pay them off as quickly as possible. Where you live can have a big impact on your ability to do that.
GOBankingRates analyzed the cost of living and median salaries for recent college grads in 100 cities across the U.S. This information was compared with the average student loan balance in that city to determine where in the country recent graduates can live comfortably and still pay off their student loans in record time, putting 15% of their disposable income toward paying off those debts.
The best cities might not be those where recent grads make the most money, or where the cost of living is lowest. In fact, you might be surprised to see which cities topped the list of where you should live if you have student loan debt.
20. Omaha, Nebraska
- Years to repay student loans: 7.06
In Omaha, the average rent is $1,250 per month, the third lowest on the list, and the median income is $53,789 per year, or $4,482 per month, also third lowest on the list. Omaha also has the second-lowest transportation costs of any of the 20 cities.
The average student loan balance in Omaha is $33,288, putting it just about in the middle of the pack for loan balances.
19. Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Years to repay student loans: 7.05
Graduates in Colorado Springs have an average loan balance of $28,714, the fourth lowest of any of the 20 cities on this list. This city also has the second-lowest utility costs at $65.91.
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18. Oklahoma City
- Years to repay student loans: 6.95
Oklahoma City has the second-lowest rent of any of these cities at $1,000 a month, and the second-lowest grocery costs at $88.93 per month. It also has the second-lowest income at $51,581 per year or $4,298 per month.
In keeping with its second-place rankings, Oklahoma City also has the second-lowest average debt at $27,727.
17. Wichita, Kansas
- Years to repay student loans: 6.94
Of the 20 cities on this list, Wichita has the lowest average rent at just $800 per month and the lowest average transportation costs at $142.06 per month. Offsetting this is the fact that it also has the lowest average income at $4,082 per month or $48,982 per year.
Student loan balances in Wichita are the third lowest, on average, at $28,492.
16. Washington, D.C.
- Years to repay student loans: 6.78
In the nation’s capital, students have the highest loan balance of any of the 20 cities on the list at $46,360.
Washington also has a high cost of living, with the third-highest average rent at $3,000 per month and the third-highest utility costs at $75.61 per month. At $104.51, the city is tied for third-highest grocery costs, with Alexandria, Virginia, and Silver Spring, Maryland.
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15. Charlotte, North Carolina
- Years to repay student loans: 6.78
Among the 20 cities on the list, Charlotte has a relatively lower median income of $58,202 per year or $4,850 per month. Graduates here have the sixth-highest average student loan balance at $35,962.
14. San Francisco
- Years to repay student loans: 6.72
San Francisco is notorious for its high cost of living, so it might be a surprise to see it on this list. And it’s true that it has the highest average rent of any city in the top 20 at $4,500 per month. It also has the highest transportation costs at $270.65 per month and is tied with San Jose, California, for the highest grocery costs at $109.97 per month.
However, the median income is the second highest at $96,265 per year or $8,022 per month, and the high salaries offset the steep living costs.
In San Francisco, the average student loan balance is $39,435, the fourth highest on the list.
13. Bakersfield, California
- Years to repay student loans: 6.64
Bakersfield students have the lowest average loan balance of any city on the list at $25,436, making it one of the best cities for college grads. But this city doesn’t share the high salaries — or high cost of living — of many other cities in California. The median income is $60,058 per year or $5,005 per month, and the average rent is just $1,550 per month.
12. Austin, Texas
- Years to repay student loans: 6.35
Austin is about in the middle of the pack for median income, at $63,717 per year or $5,310 per month, and has an average rent of $1,700. It does have the lowest monthly grocery costs of any city on the list, at $88.03.
In Austin, the average student loan balance is $31,967.
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11. Raleigh, North Carolina
- Years to repay student loans: 6.15
In Raleigh, the average loan balance is $33,917. Rent is the fourth lowest of any city on the list at an average of $1,450, and median income comes in at $61,505, or $5,125 monthly.
10. Littleton, Colorado
- Years to repay student loans: 6.02
Graduates who live in Littleton benefit from a median income of $71,315. Rent, however, is on the higher side of these cities at $2,150. The average balance of student loan debt is $31,601.
- Years to repay student loans: 6
Seattle residents pay the fifth-highest rent of the 20 cities on this list, at an average of $2,800. Seattle does have the lowest utility costs, at an average of just $49.08 per month. Graduates in Seattle have an average student loan balance of $35,305, which will take six years to repay.
8. Spring, Texas
- Years to repay student loans: 5.73
In Spring, the average student loan balance is $31,514. Rent will cost you an average of $1,575 per month, and the median income is $66,815 per year or $5,568 per month.
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7. Silver Spring, Maryland
- Years to repay student loans: 5.66
Silver Spring has a high cost of living, including the third-highest grocery costs at $104.51 (tied with Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Virginia), second-highest utility costs at $78.04 and third-highest transportation costs at $249.99.
Graduates in Silver Spring also have the third-highest average student loan balance at $39,617. But they benefit from a median income of $76,608 per year or $6,384 per month, the seventh highest of any city on the list.
6. San Jose, California
- Years to repay student loans: 5.14
Despite having the second-highest rent at $3,600 per month, being tied with San Francisco for highest grocery costs at $109.97 per month and having the second-highest transportation costs at $261.31, you’ll spend just over five years paying off student loans in San Jose.
That’s because this city enjoys the highest median income at $96,662 per year or $8,055 per month, and the average loan balance is only the sixth highest, at $29,307.
5. Katy, Texas
- Years to repay student loans: 5.13
In Katy, the median income is $73,865 per year or $6,155 per month, and the average rent is $1,750, putting this city near the middle of the pack for both. Katy does have the third-lowest utility costs on the list at $66.27.
Graduates who live in Katy can expect to pay back the average loan balance of $31,380 in a little over five years.
4. Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Years to repay student loans: 5.12
If you earn the median income of $5,875 per month or $70,500 per year and pay the average rent of $1,500 per month in Virginia Beach, Virginia, you’ll be in good shape to pay off your loans in just over five years. This assumes you have the average student loan balance of $30,266.
3. Nashville, Tennessee
- Years to repay student loans: 4.81
In Nashville, the average rent is $1,700, just about in the middle of the cities on this list. Nashville has the third-lowest grocery costs, however, at $89.62. The median income is $75,998 per year or $6,333 per month, which is on the higher end of the list.
With an average loan balance of $37,158, you’ll be able to pay your student loans in under five years in Nashville.
2. Alexandria, Virginia
- Years to repay student loans: 4.56
Alexandria has the third-highest income of any city in the top 20 at $93,370 per year or $7,781 per month. It has one of the highest rents at $2,850 per month. It’s tied with Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Maryland, for the third-highest grocery costs at $104.51 per month.
Alexandria has the second-highest student loan debt at $40,085. Even so, you’ll have it paid off in about four and a half years.
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1. Plano, Texas
Years to repay student loans: 4.07
If you live in Plano, you could be free of student loan debt in just over four years. That’s because Plano has the fourth-highest income of the cities on this list, at $88,578 per year or $7,382 per month. Rent is $1,993 per month, and transportation costs are the third lowest at $153.08 per month.
The average student loan balance in Plano is $34,047.
How To Pay Off Your Student Loan Debt
How long it takes to pay off your student loans depends heavily on where you live. The 20 cities on this list could be the best places to live if paying off student debt is your top priority, but you can make a dent in your debt no matter where you live. Here are some tips on how to pay off student loans faster:
- Pay as much as you can as soon as you can. These numbers are based on paying 15% of disposable income toward student loan debt. If you can pay even more, do it. The sooner you pay, the less interest you’ll be charged — and that’s the best way to pay off student loans fast.
- Pay your highest interest loan first. If you have multiple loans with different interest rates, make the required payments on all of them, but throw all of the rest of your payments at the one with the highest rate.
- Put any windfall you get toward your loans. This includes tax refunds, gifts and raises.
Keep reading to find out how you can still buy a house with student loan debt.
More on Student Loan Debt
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- Many Americans Regret Taking On Student Debt – Including Me
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Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed 100 cities across the United States to find the top cities where recent graduates can pay off their student loans quicker. GOBankingRates used the following criteria: 1) median rent list price for a single-family residence for February 2019, sourced from Zillow; 2) monthly grocery cost, based on “Food at home” annual expenditure for a person under 25 years, sourced from the 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey; this cost was then adjusted to each city’s local cost of living using Sperling’s Best Places grocery index; 3) monthly utilities cost, based on “Utilities, fuels and public services” annual expenditure for a person under 25 years, sourced from the 2017 BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey; this cost was then adjusted to each city’s local cost of living using Sperling’s Best Places utilities index; 4) monthly transportation cost, based on “Gasoline, other fuels and motor oil” plus “Other vehicle expenses” plus “public and other transportation” annual expenditure for a person under 25 years, sourced from the 2017 BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey; this cost was then adjusted to each city’s local cost of living using Sperling’s Best Places transportation index; 5) median monthly income for each city, based on median household income, sourced from the 2017 American Community Survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau. This leftover was then was multiplied by 15% to give a monthly student loan payment. To see how many months it would take to pay off an average student loan debt in each of the cities analyzed, this monthly payment was then divided by the national student debt average as sourced by Debt.org’s 2018 data.
About the Author
Karen Doyle is a personal finance writer with over 20 years’ experience writing about investments, money management and financial planning. Her work has appeared on numerous news and finance
websites including GOBankingRates, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, USA Today, CNBC, Equifax.com, and more.