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If you’re struggling under a load of student loans, you already know how hard it is to make ends meet.

So it’s important for borrowers, especially recent grads, to think about the best places to live — the cities in which they’re not only likely to find a well-paying job, but also where rents and other living expenses aren’t so exorbitant so as to add to their pile of debt.

To figure out which cities student loan borrowers struggled the most in, we took a look at the top 23 most populous cities in the U.S. based on U.S. Census data. We then compared the average income of our borrowers in each of those cities with the average monthly housing payment and their average monthly student loan payment, to see how affordable student loan payments actually are for borrowers across the country.

Key highlights

5 cities where student loans borrowers struggle the most with debt:

  • 1. San Jose, California
  • 2. Fort Worth, Texas
  • 3. Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4. Los Angeles, California
  • 5. Denver, Colorado

5 cities where student loans borrowers struggle the least with debt:

  • 1. Dallas, TX
  • 2. Jacksonville, FL
  • 3. Houston, TX
  • 4. Columbus, OH
  • 5. Austin, TX

The key indicator for affordability was how much of a borrower’s monthly income would go towards their student loan payments and monthly housing costs.

In the cities that topped our ranking for the most affordable cities for recent grads —  Dallas, Jacksonville, and Houston — borrowers have more of their income left over after paying their monthly loan and housing bills as compared to the other cities on the list.

But even in these cities, nearly 27 percent of borrowers’ average monthly income is eaten up by their monthly housing payment and their monthly loan payment alone. That doesn’t even take into account other expenses such as taxes, food, or transportation.

That’s not all that different from the cities at the very bottom of our list — San Jose, Fort Worth, and Boston — where more than 30 percent of borrowers’ average monthly income is dedicated to loan and housing payments.

The following are the average monthly loan payment, monthly housing payment, and annual income for the nearly 9,000 borrowers in the cities we analyzed:

Average borrower monthly student loan payment
Average borrower monthly housing payment
Average borrower annual income

Where borrowers struggle the most – compare all cities

The chart below visualizes the differences among all 23 cities we analyzed. Toggle through the metrics to see each city's average borrower monthly payment, average monthly housing payment, average annual income, and average student loan and housing costs as a percentage of income.

The average student loan debt load among those who borrow is $37,173.

Among the cities that are the least affordable, monthly housing costs do tend to be slightly higher as compared to the other cities, but not by much. This makes sense — while affordability might be one factor that grads take into account when choosing where to live, a lack of affordability doesn’t necessarily prevent people from flocking to cities like San Jose, Fort Worth and Boston, where jobs are plentiful.

Additionally, recent grads are likely to take into account a variety of other factors when moving to a new city. Smaller cities like Columbus or Jacksonville are less likely to be (or be near) hotbeds of industry or cultural attractions.

Seventy percent of college grads borrow to obtain their degree, and the average debt load among those who borrow is $37,173, according to publisher Mark Kantrowitz.

Credible offers borrowers the opportunity to compare student loan refinancing offers from multiple lenders with a simple, free tool. Borrowers who have refinanced their loans through Credible save an average of nearly $19,000 over the life of their loans.

Cities with highest student loan debt burden

Ranking*CityAverage borrower monthly student loan paymentAverage borrower monthly housing paymentAverage borrower annual incomeStudent loan & housing costs as a percentage of monthly income
1San Jose, California$572$1,661$85,12931.47%
2Fort Worth, Texas$548$1,209$67,04231.45%
3Boston, Massachusetts$689$1,226$73,18631.40%
4Los Angeles, California$690$1,383$79,63031.24%
5Denver, Colorado$636$1,231$71,84731.18%
6New York, New York$831$1,629$94,80631.14%
7Indianapolis, Indiana$597$812$55,04130.71%
8San Diego, California$614$1,340$78,33329.92%
9San Antonio, Texas$579$1,168$70,63029.69%
10Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$701$1,020$69,75729.61%
11Seattle, Washington$638$1,353$81,29329.39%
12Phoenix, Arizona$528$1,115$67,43129.24%
13San Francisco, California$798$1,684$102,98728.92%
14Washington, District of Columbia$674$1,461$88,81928.85%
15Nashville, Tennessee$550$1,047$66,84328.68%
16Memphis, Tennessee$549$980$65,20628.13%
17Chicago, Illinois$694$1,167$80,19827.85%
18Charlotte, North Carolina$534$963$64,52227.85%
19Austin, Texas$587$1,187$76,47827.84%
20Columbus, Ohio$663$956$70,97727.38%
21Houston, Texas$628$1,247$83,52826.94%
22Jacksonville, Florida$671$1,083$78,98226.65%
23Dallas, Texas$688$1,237$88,00126.24%

*Cities are ranked from highest to lowest student loan & housing costs as a percentage of monthly income (i.e. highest to lowest student loan and housing costs burden).


To conduct the analysis above, we used actual (but anonymized) data submitted by 8,981 applicants living in the 25 largest U.S. cities seeking to refinance student loan debt through the Credible platform.

We only considered borrowers with a monthly student loan payment of between $50 and $10,000, a monthly housing payment of less than $10,000, and those with an annual income between $1,000 and $300,000.

We limited our analysis to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. El Paso, Texas and Detroit, Michigan were omitted from our analysis due to insufficient student loan borrower data.

We encourage you to provide honest and thorough feedback about your experience (not the experiences you’ve heard from other people), the good as well as the bad. But, we also want you to follow these content guidelines. The comments or responses that Credible posts under its official account are not provided, reviewed or endorsed by any of the financial institutions unless specifically stated otherwise in the response. Please keep in mind that the financial institution has no obligation to monitor any comments, questions or reviews you post and is therefore not responsible for ensuring your posts and/or questions are answered.