The Best States to Save on American College Debts

Written by Karen Bryan

American student debt is a hot topic nowadays. For many graduates, student debt is one of the most troubling things about college, and it follows students for many years after graduating. If you’re planning to go to school in America, it’s important that you learn how to mitigate your debt. One of the best methods is by reviewing this state-by-state analysis of student debt.

Percentage of Students Graduating With Debt

First, it’s important to determine the likelihood that you’ll have debt when you graduate. Even if a state has a high average student debt, it might be worth it to try if it has a lower percentage of students graduating with debt. Usually that means there are more social services and other debt options.

The lowest percentage by far is Utah, with only 38% of students graduating with debt. Then, there are six more states and one district with percentages under 50%:

  • Washington, D.C. and Alaska with 46%
  • Wyoming with 47%
  • Louisiana with 48%
  • Nevada, Oklahoma, and Hawaii with 49%

Average Statewide Debt

The next important number to look at is the average amount of debt across the state. Although averages can sometimes be deceiving, this can also be a useful tool to determine whether a state tends to be more or less expensive.

Something you’ll notice as you start to look into state-by-state debt analysis is that it’s surprisingly localized. New England houses all five of the states with the highest average debt:

  • Connecticut with $38,510
  • Pennsylvania with $36,854
  • Rhode Island with $36,250
  • New Hampshire with $34,415
  • Delaware with $34,144

On the other hand, the states with the lowest student debt are on the West coast. In fact, all but one of them are in the Southwest specifically. The five states with the lowest average debts include:

  • Utah with $18,383
  • New Mexico with $21,237
  • Nevada with $22,064
  • Wyoming with $22,524
  • California with $22,785

Lowest State College Debt

If you have your sights set on graduating without much debt, consider specific college numbers. True, different colleges provide different degrees and some are more prestigious than others. However, for the biggest savings, you might want to consider a very low-cost college for at least your entry-level courses.

Surprisingly, a high statewide average doesn’t necessarily mean that every college has a very high average. In fact, while New York has a fairly high statewide average at $30,931, it houses the colleges with both the lowest and highest average debt: CUNY Lehman College with $4,410 and the New York School of Interior Design at $65,401. That’s over $61,000 in difference.

In fact, there are states all across the country that house colleges with very low average debt. Nine states offer at least one college with an average debt below $10,000:

  • CUNY Lehman College in New York at $4,410
  • Bethel College-North Newton in Kansas at $5,633
  • Central Connecticut State University at $5,831
  • University of the Incarnate Word in Texas at $6,271
  • The College of Idaho at $7,202
  • Pennsylvania College of Technology at $7,219
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University at $7,454
  • Berea College in Kentucky at $7,468

The Threat of Delinquency

Your student debt payments, or lack thereof, will follow you for probably the next decade. If you miss payments or even default on your loans, that information could stay on your credit score for up to a decade, depending on how significant the damage is. That’s why it’s so important to look at delinquency rates across states.

Interestingly, a higher state debt usually doesn’t correspond to a higher delinquency rate; in fact, it’s the opposite. New England, the area with the highest average debt, tends toward having an “extremely low” rate of delinquency according to, while the South and Southwest tends toward an “extremely high” rate. Delinquency rates are based more on the income level of an area rather than the amount of debt, which means that socioeconomic status is by far the biggest indicator.


So, how do you make it through college with the lowest amount of student debt? While there’s no magical way to determine potential student debt, you can try to avoid it by strategically choosing the right state and the right college within that state.