Which State Has the Worst Student Loan Debt?

average student loan debt
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For lots (and lots) of graduating college students, student loan debt is an unfortunate reality.

It’s not news, and it’s not going away. If anything, it’s getting worse.

In fact, the class of 2016 was the most indebted class in history, according to student loan provider and refinancing marketplace LendEDU.

But exactly how much debt you’re in depends on a ton of factors — like whether you went to a public or private college, whether or not you were able to secure any free money through grants and scholarships, and how much you were able to pay out of pocket.

It also depends on the state where you completed your studies. As it turns out, total student loan debt varies dramatically from state to state — in ways that are sometimes surprising.

Which State Has the Most Student Loan Debt? And the Least?

average student loan debt
Image from lendedu.com

Using the Class of 2015’s financial aid data, LendEDU analyzed student loan debt totals and ranked averages by state, ordering them by the percentage of graduating seniors who carried student debt and the average amount of that debt.

Education research company Peterson’s provided the data from self-reporting public and private four-year schools in each state, and the numbers reflect the totals of the students who studied there — with no mention of state of residency.  

Short story: Maybe don’t go to college in Connecticut. It ranked number one on the list, with 59% of students graduating with an average of $36,865 in debt.

And before you start pointing fingers at its resident Ivy, check the stats: Only 17% of Yale grads are in the hole, and only by $15,521. (No wonder it’s on U.S. News’s “best value schools” list — alongside a couple of other surprising big players!)

Rather, private colleges like Quinnipiac University are responsible for pulling up the state’s total, with 67% of its graduates carrying a whopping average of $47,873 in loans — and an average of more than $60,000 if they worked with a private lender.


At the other extreme is Utah, ranked dead last with 39% of its students graduating with an average of $18,772 in debt.

Other surprising findings:

  • California, although famous for its expense, was ranked a shockingly low number 47 on the list — but maybe that’s not that surprising. After all, the majority of the state isn’t L.A. or San Francisco.
  • The average Class of 2015 borrower has about $28,400 in total debt — a hefty chunk, for sure, but a far cry from the highest reported total of $86,262. ?
  • Not surprising, but important to note: The average public lender gave its borrowers $26,872, while the average private lender’s set up to rake in even more interest payments with an average loan of $31,710. This is just another reminder to always file the FAFSA first!

How Does Your State Stack Up?

average student loan debt
franckreporter/Getty Images

So, where does your state fall in the analysis?

Check out LendEDU’s interactive map — and a comprehensive list of the schools whose data it reflects — here.

And whether you’re already in the hole or just starting to think about college options, we’ve got lots of resources to help keep you in the black while you chase that cap and gown.

Before you sign a single student loan contract (or even fill out an application), check out our must-read beginner’s guide to student loans — it’ll answer the questions you don’t even know you have yet.

Already in school? The best way to get ahead of debt is to make more money. Here are 13 jobs that pay more than $15 per hour — and they’re all online, so you can make them work around your classes.

Or, get really brave and ask someone for your dream job — this new grad did it, and she paid off her loans before she graduated. So did this blogger.

And even if your college days are long over, you can pay back your loans. Here’s our guide on how to get started today.

After all, those stacks of bills from Sallie Mae aren’t the mementos you want to hold onto.

Your Turn: Where does your state stack up in the student debt ranking?

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

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