10 Worst States Where People Are Struggling to Pay Off College Debt

Money for broke college student

Spare some change for a broke college student? | Source: iStock

College debt is now synonymous with higher education. If you plan on earning a degree, it’s almost a given that student loans will be a part of your college experience. How big of a role college debt plays after graduation may depend on where you live.

More millennials have gone to college than any other prior generation, as almost a quarter of 18- to 34-year-olds hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, this comes at a steep cost. The average graduate in 2016 carries a college debt load of about $37,000. As a nation, we have almost $1.3 trillion in college debt, more than all other types of household debt with the exception of mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve. In fact, student loans are the nation’s fastest growing debt and are on track to double by 2025.

Forty-three million Americans have college debt. The financial severity of this burden is an ongoing debate. Cleveland Fed economist Joel A. Elvery notes that while the average student loan payment is $351, a small fraction of borrowers with very large college debt loads are propping up that amount, and an encouraging 50% of borrowers have payments of $203 or lower. Yet, statistics from the New York Federal Reserve suggest millions of Americans are struggling to pay off college debt. The 90+ day delinquency rate for student loans is 11.5%, far higher than credit cards (7.7%), auto loans (3.4%), or mortgages (2.2%).

Adding more salt to the college debt wound, student loan delinquency rates haven’t retreated in recent years as significantly as other types of loans, and the New York Fed itself admits its reported delinquency rate is likely much worse than it appears. In the fine print, the central bank explains: “Delinquency rates for student loans are likely to understate actual delinquency rates because about half of these loans are currently in deferment, in grace periods or in forbearance and therefore temporarily not in the repayment cycle. This implies that among loans in the repayment cycle delinquency rates are roughly twice as high.”

Where is the worst college debt?

Nonetheless, everybody’s financial situation is different. Among several other factors, where you live can greatly affect how well you manage your college debt. Schools.com recently analyzed all 50 states to find out where Americans are struggling to pay off college debt the most, based on seven data factors, including median annual income adjusted for inflation for degree holders, percentage of graduating class with student debt, and job prospects.

Let’s take a look at the 10 worst states for repaying college debt.

10. Florida

 Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Florida Gators | Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Unfortunately, sunshine is not one of the factors in the report. Florida ranks as the No. 10 worst state where people are struggling to pay off college debt. The Sunshine State suffers from a lower-than-average median annual salary when adjusted for inflation, and a large portion of graduates have not started to pay off their student loans within three years of receiving a degree. Only 56.7% of graduates have started to make college debt payments, the lowest percentage on the list. On the positive side, Florida’s job growth is an estimated 16.7% from 2012 to 2022.

9. New York

Aerial photo of New York City at night

New York City | Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Big Apple is widely considered the greatest city in the world, but it comes at a cost. New York ranks as the No. 9 worst state to pay off college debt. Yearly in-state tuition and fees come in at an average of $17,546, ranking as one of the least affordable states in the nation. Sixty-one percent of graduates have college debt, while the average amount owed in New York is above average. However, unemployment is low and almost 80% of graduates have started repaying their college debt within three years.

8. Oregon

Source: https://www.facebook.com/travelportland

Oregon | Source: Travel Portland via Facebook

Oregon ranks as the No. 8 worst state to pay off college debt. The state’s median annual salary is only $37,450. In comparison, neighboring Washington has the highest median annual salary at $50,898. Nevada and Idaho have median annual salaries of $41,644 and $44,075, respectively. Sixty-two percent of graduates have college debt, but 78% started repaying their student loans within three years. The average yearly in-state tuition and fees is $15,530, higher than any of the 10 best states. Oregon’s average job growth rate for all jobs ranks high, at 15.4% for 2012-2022.

7. Vermont

Diploma and money

High cost of diploma | Source: iStock

Vermont ranks as the No. 7 worst state to pay off college debt. Graduates earn a poor-ranking median annual salary of $37,429 that’s nearly identical to Oregon, but have an average yearly tuition and fee bill of $26,559, the second highest in the nation. Yet, unemployment is low and 84% of graduates started making payments on their college debt within three years. Residents will be hard pressed to find relief in Rhode Island or Connecticut, as both states rank worse than Vermont.

6. Rhode Island

Providence skyline

Providence, Rhode Island | Source: iStock

The nation’s smallest state could provide some big financial problems to graduates. Rhode Island ranks as the No. 6 worst state to pay off college debt. The state has the highest average yearly tuition and fee bill in the country at $27,850, leading to the third worst debt load after graduation among all 50 states. Despite this steep price load, graduates are fulfilling their financial obligations. A whopping 89% of graduates started making payments on their college debt within three years, the highest percentage in country. Rhode Island’s median annual salary is $40,498.

5. Connecticut

Source: Yale

Yale University in Connecticut | Source: Yale

Staying in New England, Connecticut ranks as the No. 5 worst state to pay off college debt. The state’s median annual salary is only $37,920 (second-lowest of any upper Atlantic state), while the average yearly tuition and fee bill amounts to almost $18,000. Connecticut’s unemployment rate is also slightly above average. Sixty-two percent of graduates have college debt, and a better-than-average 82% started making payments on that debt within three years. The state’s average job growth rank is below average.

4. South Carolina

Gamecocks College

South Carolina Gamecocks | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

South Carolina ranks as the No. 4 worst state to pay off college debt. The state doesn’t bottom out in any one category, but its income, employment opportunities, and average college debt figures are all below average. Only 59% of graduates have started to repay their college debt within three years.

Schools.com notes the follow:

The Palmetto State ranked at No. 32 nationwide for unemployment rate, No. 38 for median yearly college graduate salary, No. 42 for total job openings per capita and No. 39 in our three-year loan repayment category. The moderately affordable cost of living in South Carolina might help offset some of the strikes against it, but even in the 23rd-most affordable state in the U.S. you might find your loan payments stretching your salary somewhat thin.

3. Mississippi

past due bill

Mississippi college debt not being paid back | Source: iStock

Mississippi is no stranger when it comes to being the worst at something, especially when it comes to education. On top of recently being recognized as having the worst school system (K-12) in America, the state ranks as the No. 3 worst state to pay off college debt. A high unemployment rate and dismal job growth projections sink the affordability appeal. Mississippi has a respectable median annual salary of $42,274 and a low average tuition and fee bill of $8,131. However, you get what you pay for. Only 59% of graduates have started repaying their college debt within three years.

2. West Virginia

West Virginia

West Virginia | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

West Virginia ranks as the No. 2 worst state to pay off college debt. Once again, the jobs picture is the main issue. The state is only expected to experience 1% job growth from 2012 to 2022. That does not bode well for the 69% percent of graduates leaving school with college debt. In comparison, the mean of state averages for job growth came to 11.6% for the same period. West Virginia’s median annual salary is also below average at $39,092. On the positive, the yearly average tuition and fee bill is only $10,495, so if you can take your degree and run to a better job environment, you could land on solid financial ground.

1. Maine

Maine scenery

Maine | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Heading back to New England, Maine ranks as the No. 1 worst state in America where people are struggling to pay off college debt. A combination of factors place Maine at the bottom of the list. The state’s median annual salary for college graduates is the fifth-lowest in the nation, college debt per borrower is relatively high, and job growth is estimated to be a meager 2.3% from 2012 to 2022. The average tuition and fee bill of $16,793 is the lowest in New England, but still higher than 80% of states in the country.

Follow Eric on Twitter @Mr_Eric_WSCS

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