The Burden of Debt

2019’s Cities with the Most & Least Student Debt

Number of those with $50,000+ has more than tripled since 2000

by Adam McCann, writing for

New research from the personal financial website WalletHub also reveals an alarming default rate. Reprinted with permission. Visit here.

With graduation season upon us and student debt at an all-time high, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released a report on the Cities with the Most & Least Student Debt in 2019, along with a nationally representative Student Money Survey. WalletHub’s editors also picked the Best Credit Cards for 2019 Graduates, to help new college and high school grads build credit and maximize savings.


Most Overleveraged CitiesLeast Overleveraged Cities
Sun City West, AZBronxville, NY
Green Valley, AZSan Juan, TX
Palatka, FLSan Ramon, CA
East Liverpool, OHFremont, CA
Waycross, GASunnyvale, CA
Lady Lake, FLMorgan Hill, CA
Elizabeth City, NCMillbrae, CA
Murray, KYColleyville, TX
Austell, GASammamish, WA
Dacula, GASanta Paula, CA


Survey Results & Best Card Picks

  • 45% of students say credit card debt worries them more than student loan debt.
  • 59% of college students say their school is not doing enough to educate them about personal finance.
  • 1 in 3 college students think they’ll be worse off financially than their parents.
  • The best credit cards for 2019 graduates are Discover it® Student chrome (limited credit & EDU email), Capital One® Platinum (limited credit & no EDU email), and Discover it® Secured (damaged credit).

The Biggest Burden

Post-college debts represent one of the biggest financial burdens to Americans. In fact, student loans make up the second highest form of household debt after mortgages, totaling $1.5 trillion.

But how burdensome are the individual loans? According to one study, the share of students graduating with $50,000 or more in student loan debt has more than tripled since the year 2000. High balances combined with a payoff timeline that lasts into middle age force many graduates to significantly delay or forego other financial goals such as saving for retirement or buying a home.

That’s the unfortunate reality for many student-loan borrowers who cannot keep up with their payments. According to Forbes, 40% of borrowers may default on their student loans by 2023. Surprisingly, though, students with smaller debts are more likely to default than those with larger ones.

More Unsustainable In Some Cities Than Others

Student-loan debts are more unsustainable in some places than others. WalletHub therefore compared the median student-loan balance against the median earnings of adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree in each of 2,510 U.S. cities to determine where Americans are most over-leveraged on their college-related debts. Read on for our findings, expert advice from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.

If you’re considering borrowing money for college or are in danger of defaulting, we advise using a Student Loan Calculator to determine an affordable payment amount and realistic payoff timeline. In addition, you can set up a free WalletHub account to ensure your timely payments are reflected accurately in your credit report and score. Maintaining “excellent” credit will help you minimize unnecessary debt costs and pay your student loans in the fastest time possible.

Student Loan Debt By City

Percentile Rank*CityMedian Student DebtMedian Earnings of Bachelor’s Degree Holders**Ratio of Student Debt to Median Earnings of Bachelor’s Degree Holders**
99Sun City West, AZ$17,771$21,04684.44%
99Green Valley, AZ$20,464$24,25084.39%
99Palatka, FL$21,487$25,77283.37%
99East Liverpool, OH$18,466$22,22283.1%
99Waycross, GA$17,994$22,15881.21%
99Lady Lake, FL$27,290$33,67581.04%
99Elizabeth City, NC$24,339$30,17280.67%
99Murray, KY$21,555$27,35678.79%
99Austell, GA$25,146$31,93578.74%
99Dacula, GA$20,655$26,25078.69%
99Bloomington, IN$22,985$29,43678.08%
99Loma Linda, CA$33,996$43,75077.71%
99Starkville, MS$24,600$31,69077.63%
99Morrow, GA$19,324$24,92277.54%
99Sun City Center, FL$31,511$40,84377.15%
99Oxford, MS$23,530$30,52077.1%
99Clarkston, GA$24,967$32,39077.08%
99Forest Park, GA$15,964$20,73277%
99Athens, GA$24,672$32,12276.81%
99Ypsilanti, MI$24,627$32,06676.8%
99Avon Park, FL$19,455$25,92975.03%
99Lexington, NC$17,705$23,90674.06%
99Natchez, MS$25,366$35,09172.28%
99Stillwater, OK$22,711$31,43072.26%
99Portsmouth, OH$23,547$32,65272.12%
99Florence, SC$28,860$40,18171.82%
99Morgantown, WV$25,816$36,15171.41%
99Sandusky, OH$25,756$36,06971.41%
99Ellensburg, WA$19,180$27,17670.58%
99Great Neck, NY$31,588$44,88670.37%
*99th Percentile = Most Overleveraged**“Bachelor’s Degree Holders“ refers to adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree.


Ask the Experts

With tuition rates and other college costs rising every year, many parents struggle to finance their children’s college education. As a result, many students take on debt or forgo post-secondary education altogether. For advice on how to afford college and insight on the impact of student loans on the economy, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:

  • What are the most common mistakes people make when financing their post-secondary education?
  • What should people consider when applying for student loans?
  • What steps should someone take if they find they cannot afford their student-loan payments?
  • What impact, if any, does the large and growing amount of outstanding student-loan debt have on the economy as a whole?


In order to determine the cities where residents are most overleveraged on their student-loan debts, WalletHub divided the median student-loan balance (based on TransUnion data from October 2018) by the median earnings of adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree in each of 2,510 U.S. cities. Our sample considers only the city proper in each case and excludes cities in the surrounding metro area.

We then assigned 100 points to the city with the highest ratio of student debt to earnings and 0 points to the city with the lowest. For the cities in between, we linearly extrapolated between the two extremes.