Student Loan Debt by Income Level

Report Highlights. Borrowers with higher degrees are more likely to owe larger student loan debt balances compared to their household income; the average indebted borrower with a professional doctorate borrows the equivalent of 211.7% of the average income among doctorate degree holders.

  • Borrowers from households in the middle-class income bracket owe on average $43,090 in student loan debt.
  • Americans with income higher than the national average owe an estimated 65% of the nation’s outstanding student loan debt.
  • Households in the lowest income quartile owe an estimated 12% of all student loan debt.
  • Loan acceptance among financially independent students increased 80% in 15 years.

Bar Graph: Student Loan Debt-to-Income Ratios by Annual Income Level, under $20,000 has a 25% DTI, $20K-$39.9K has a 36.1% DTI, $40-$59.9K has 38.8% DTI, $60-$79.9K has 47.8% DTI, $80-$89.9K has 51.4% DTI, and $90-$100K has 40.6% DTI

Related reports include Federal vs. Private Student Loans | Total Student Loan Debt | Average Student Loan Debt | Average Student Loan Payment | Student Loan Debt Statistics | Student Loan Debt by Race

Income Bracket and Student Debt Comparison
Income Bracket Annual Income Average Student Debt
25th Percentile up to $33,769 $32,518
26th to 50th Percentile $33,770 – $65,036 $42,774
51st to 75th Percentile $65,037 – $121,318 $43,399
76th to 90th Percentile $121,317 – $216,371 $51,529
≥90th Percentile $216,372+ $58,408

Student Loan Debt by Household Income

The total student loan debt is $1.75 trillion, and federal debt alone exceeds $1.62 trillion; households in higher income brackets are more likely to hold high amounts of debt.

  • Households with income in the 90th percentile held 11% of all student loan debt prior to 2020.[1]
  • Households in the highest income quartile (76th percentile and higher) owe 34% of student loan debt.
  • Households with income in the 51st to 75th percentile hold 29% of student loan debt.
  • 26st to 49th percentile households owe 24% of all outstanding student debt.
  • The lowest income quartile (25th percentile and lower) owe 12% of all student loan debt.
  • Households in the 60th percentile and higher owe 60% of all student loan debt.
  • Households in the 40th percentile or lower owe 20% of student loan debt.
Income and Debt by Degree Status
Degree Median Annual Income** Average Borrowed†
Some College, No Degree $46,748 $15,236
Associate’s Degree $50,076 $21,123
Bachelor’s Degree $69,368 $28,708
Master’s Degree $81,848 $75,333
Research Doctorate $99,268 $123,695
Professional Doctorate $100,048 $211,817

*Among workers aged 25 years and over; based on average weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers.[2]
Cumulative student loans only (no Parent PLUS); data collected between 2015 and 2018, currency inflated to 2021Q2 values to match income data collection period; amount borrowed is not equivalent to current debt.

Student Debt vs Income by Age Groups

Among the age groups, adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely to have student loan debt. Meanwhile, adults between the ages 35 and 49 years old on average owe the most student loan debt.

  • 34% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 owe student loan debt.
  • 22% of adults between the ages of 30 and 44 owe student debt.
  • 7% of those between the ages of 45 and 59 owe student debt.
  • Finally, 1% of adults age 60 or older owe student loan debt.
  • The average adult aged 24 and younger has a median annual income of $29,712, which is roughly in the 25th percentile.
  • The average student loan debt among borrowers 24 and younger is $15,027.78 or roughly 50.6% of their annual income.
  • Employees aged 25 to 34 years make an annual median income of $48,256.
  • Student borrowers aged 25 to 34 years owe an average of $33,429.53 or roughly 69.3% of their annual income.
  • Workers aged 35 to 44 make a median annual income of $58,188.
  • Employees aged 45 to 54 make a median annual income of $58,968.
  • The average student loan borrower aged 35 to 49 years owes $43,241.38 or roughly 74% of their annual income.
  • Employed adults aged 55 to 64 make a median annual income of $58,760.
  • Student loan borrowers aged 50 to 61 years owe an average $44,781.25 or roughly 76% of their income.
  • Employees aged 65 years and older make a median annual income of $51,428.
  • Borrowers aged 62 years and older owe an average of $40,560 in student loan debt, which is roughly equivalent to 79% of their annual income.

Grouped Bar Graph: Student Loan Acceptance Among Dependent & Independent Students, among All Dependent Students (23.2% used student loans in 1999-2000 and 29.1% used student loans in 2015-2016), Low-Income (lower than 25th Percentile) Dependents (27.3% used loans in 1999-2000 and 27.8% used loans in 2015-2016), Middle-Income (25th to 75th Percentile) Dependents (23.5% in 1999-2000 and 30.3% in 2015-16), High-Income (higher than 75th Percentile) Dependents (17.8% and 27.7%) and Independent Students (16.2% and 29.2%)

Dependent vs. Independent Students & Loans

Dependent students are 26.3% more likely than independent students to use student loans. Part-time students borrow in roughly equal rates and dollar amounts.

  • 43.2% of dependent and 34.2% of independent students use student loans.
  • Among dependent students, 94.2% use federal loans and 19.0% use private loans (13.2% use both federal and private student loans).
  • Financially independent students increased their acceptance of student loans 80.2% between the 1999-2000 and 2015-2016 academic years.
  • Students who are dependent on their families and whose families have an annual income between $40,000 and $59,000 have the highest student loan acceptance rate at 48.1%.
  • Part-time, independent students who use loans borrow 0.27% less funding than part-time students who are dependent on their families for financial support.
  • Among students attending postsecondary school part-time, independent students are 0.34% more likely to use student loans than dependent students.

Income vs Student Debt by State

The median annual income in the United States is $65,712. As this amount corresponds with the middle income bracket, Americans on average hold $43,090 in student debt.

  • Mississippi is the state with the lowest median annual income at $45,792.
  • Mississippi has an average student debt of $37,080.
  • Mississippi’s annual income and average student debt is closest to the lower-middle class bracket.
  • Maryland is the state with the highest median annual income at $86,738.
  • Maryland has an average student debt of $43,219.
  • Maryland’s annual income and average student debt is closest to the middle class bracket.
Income vs Student Debt State Table
State Median Annual Income Average Student Debt
Alabama $51,734 $37,348
Alaska $75,463 $34,431
Arizona $62,055 $35,431
Arkansas $48,952 $33,525
California $80,440 $36,937
Colorado $77,127 $37,120
Connecticut $78,833 $35,448
Delaware $70,176 $37,338
Washington D.C. $92,266 $55,077
Florida $59,227 $38,481
Georgia $61,980 $41,843
Hawaii $83,102 $36,575
Idaho $60,999 $33,100
Illinois $69,187 $38,071
Indiana $57,603 $33,106
Iowa $61,691 $30,848
Kansas $62,087 $33,130
Kentucky $52,295 $33,023
Louisiana $51,073 $34,683
Maine $58,924 $33,352
Maryland $86,738 $43,219
Massachusetts $85,843 $34,549
Michigan $59,584 $36,295
Minnesota $74,593 $33,822
Mississippi $45,792 $37,080
Missouri $57,409 $35,706
Montana $57,153 $33,953
Nebraska $63,229 $32,138
Nevada $63,276 $33,863
New Hampshire $77,933 $34,353
New Jersey $85,751 $35,730
New Mexico $51,945 $34,237
New York $72,108 $38,107
North Carolina $57,341 $37,861
North Dakota $64,577 $29,446
Ohio $58,642 $34,923
Oklahoma $54,449 $31,832
Oregon $67,058 $37,251
Pennsylvania $63,463 $35,804
Rhode Island $71,169 $32,212
South Carolina $56,227 $38,662
South Dakota $59,533 $31,858
Tennessee $56,071 $36,549
Texas $64,034 $33,123
Utah $75,780 $32,781
Vermont $63,001 $38,411
Virginia $76,456 $39,472
Washington $78,687 $35,521
West Virginia $48,850 $32,272
Wisconsin $64,168 $32,272
Wyoming $65,003 $30,246

Sources

  1. Federal Reserve: Survey of Consumer Finances
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Education Pays: Earnings and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment
  3. Brookings Institution, Who Owes the Most in Student Loans – New Data from the Fed
  4. Urban Institute: Which Households Hold the Most Student Debt?
  5. Pew Research Center, 5 facts about student loans
  6. United States Census Bureau: 2019 Median Household Income in the United States
  7. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Consumer Credit – G.19
  8. U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid, Federal Student Loan Portfolio
  9. U.S. Department of Education National Center of Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics: Current Data Tables
  10. BLS, The Economics Daily: Median Weekly Earnings by Age and Sex
  11. BLS, Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator