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  • Yosi Rahimi

Student Debt Per Capita - The Best and The Worst Performing States

While student debt is a nationwide crisis, different states take different approaches toward the problem, as it reflects in the student debt per capita ratio. The data published by the Federal Bank of New York in 2018 allows analyzing this interesting debt statistic. From South Carolina that ranked 48 in terms of student debt per capita in 2003 and now ranks 15, to Montana that moved in the opposite direction, from 13th place in 2003 to 40th place in 2017, some states improved their rank significantly, while other took a deep dive.



Let’s start with the national perspective. As of Q4-2017, the average student debt per capita in the US is $5,150, up by 486% from $1,060 back in Q4-2003. This jump has also brought student debt to become the second largest debt type after mortgages, with more than $1.5 trillion, leaving credit card debt way behind. When taking diving into the NYFED’s data, it can be shown that there are big differences between the states in regards to how the student debt per capita has evolved.

Low student debt per capita states

Some states have historically low rates of student debt per capita, and they’ve kept it this way in the past 15 years. These states include Nevada, Wyoming, and Hawaii.

Hawaii's student debt per capita

Hawaii is on average the 50th state in terms of student debt per capita. In Q4-2017 it had $3,620 student debt per capita, up from $3,240 back in 2016, and total debt growth of 496% from 2003. Although it has an above the average debt per capita growth, it had a very low entry point in 2003, which helps it to keep a good position among all states. However, if this growth rate remains, it will soon lose its position.

Nevada's student debt per capita

Nevada gets an average rank of 49, as in recent years its debt growth rate has accelerated. In 2017 it was ranked in the 48th place, with $4,040 student debt per capita, which is almost double than its 2009 statistic of $2,080. Nevada’s student debt per capita has grown at a yearly pace of 13% since 2003, which is higher than the national average and might result in further decline in the student debt per capita rank.

Wyoming student debt per capita

While its average rank is only 47, according to the 2017 stats it is ranked 51, with $3,210 of student debt per capita. It is actually one of a handful of states where the 2017 statistic is lower than 2016 one, $3,210 in 2017 compared to $3,300 in 2016, a 3% decrease.


Unlike the states above some states rank has dramatically changed in the past 15 years, some for the better, some for the worse.


Georgia - from a mid-table position to the 2nd highest student debt per capita

Georgia was a mid-twenties state back in 2003-2006 but then started to accumulate debt at a much higher pace. With a growth rate of 605% between 2003 and 2017, GA is now the state with the second highest student debt per capita with more than $6,700 of student debt balance per capita, up from only $1,110 back in 2003.

South Carolina - the (ex) top performer that has the worst growth rate

South Carolina was among the states with the lowest debt per capita stats back in 2003 with only $710. Since then, the debt per capita has increased eightfold, and it’s now at $5,570. SC has lost its 48 rank and is now ranked as the 15th state with the highest debt ratio. With delinquency rates edging closer to 14%, SC student debt trends aren’t looking bright.

Mississippi - hiking debt at the state with the worst student debt delinquency statistics

Dropping in the student debt per capita ranking is one thing. Combine it with taking the “lead” as the worst delinquency state, and you get a recipe for a big problem. MS used to be the 42nd state in the ranking with only $810 of student debt per capita in 2003. Since then, it has accumulated debt in the 2nd fastest pace of all states with an increase of 14.6% per year or a total of 678%, until its debt per capita reached $5,490 in 2017. Worse than that, its student debt 90+ delinquency rate has reached 16.84% in 2017, positioning Mississippi as the state with the highest delinquency rate in the US.

North Dakota - from worse to OK

ND isn’t one of the top performer states in terms of student debt per capita, but it has made a lot of improvement. Back in 2003, with an average of $1,840 of student debt per capita, it was ranked 3rd. However, with the lowest growth rate of student debt in the country, only 7.4% per year, it is now ranked at the 30th place, a 27 positions improvement. In addition, ND has one of the lowest student loans delinquency rates compared to the rest of the US, with 7.6% in 2017.

Montana - the most improving state in student debt per capita and delinquency rate

In 2003, Montana had the worst student debt delinquency rate and the 13th place of highest student debt per capita. Since then, thanks to a lower than average increase in student debt and improvement in student debt delinquency rate, MT has left the “worst states” group and reached a solid mid-table position. Ranked 32nd in delinquency rate (10.38%) and 40th place in student debt per capita ($4,380), MT has a good trend in handling student debt compared to the rest of the states.

Looking forward

The current student debt is estimated at $1.5T and keep growing at a high pace year over year. While some states have more favorable terms than others, it is at the hands of the borrowers to take control over their situation.