Sara Routhier, Managing Editor and Outreach Director, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming world o...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florida. ...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP® Joel Ohman

UPDATED: Feb 24, 2012

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The amount of student loan debt an individual should carry can’t be conveyed in an article as it’s very dependant on a case-by-case basis. Instead of providing a number everybody should adhere to, that amount will fluctuate depending on the individual and the educational path he or she is pursuing. The amount of debt borrowers should accrue for financing their education should be calculated dependant on how much they believe they will be able to manage after obtaining their degree.

That being said, averages can help prospective borrowers gain a general idea of where they stand compared to others. Averages for student loan debt are best considered when the states are divided up into quintiles—five groups ranging from lowest to highest debt averages.

The following data was compiled by the Federal Education Budget Project and Slate Magazine.

  • The top quintile has an average debt greater than $7,217.07.
  • The second quintile has an average debt of $6,772.38 – $7,217.07.
  • The third quintile has an average debt of $6,417.62 – $6,772.38.
  • The fourth quintile has an average debt of $6,048.73 – $6,417.62.
  • The bottom quintile has an average debt of less than $6.048.73.

Averages are calculated from all first-year students at all higher education institutions. Consequently, state student loan averages published elsewhere may be lower, as other sources will sometimes only include universities and full-time students.

The states that make up the quintiles are as follows:

Top Quintile Second Quintile Third Quintile Fourth Quintile Bottom Quintile
Alaska Colorado Alabama Georgia Arkansas
Arizona Illinois California Hawaii Idaho
Connecticut Indiana Maine Iowa Kansas
Delaware Michigan Maryland Kentucky Louisiana
Florida Minnesota Missouri New York Mississippi
Massachusetts Nevada Ohio North Carolina Montana
New Hampshire New Jersey South Dakota Oregon Nebraska
Pennsylvania North Dakota Texas South Carolina New Mexico
Wyoming Rhode Island Virginia Tennessee Oklahoma
  Vermont Washington Wisconsin Utah
        West Virginia


The average student loan debt a particular student should judge their personal situation by will depend on where that student is attending college. Borrowers should match their higher education insitution’s state with the average debt from the quintile it belongs in.