Student Loan Debt by Income Level

Last Updated: October 12, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. Households that earn between $53,413 and $106,827 fall into the middle class income bracket and owe on average $43,135 in student loan debt.

  • Americans with income over $74,000 owe on average $43,217 in student loan debt.
  • Americans with income over $74,000 hold roughly 60% of the total public student loan debt.
  • Households that earn $35,000 or less a year owe on average $34,015 in student loan debt.
  • Households that earn $35,000 or less a year hold roughly 20% of the total public student loan debt.

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
Poor (25% or lower Income Percentile) $32,048 or less $30,575
Lower-middle Class (26% to 49% Income Percentile) $32,048 – $53,413 $37,455
Middle Class (50% to 82% Income Percentile) $53,413 – $106,827 $43,135
Upper-middle Class (83% to 98% Percentile) $106,827 – $373,894 $45,965
Rich (99% and above Income Percentile) $373,894 and up $40,550

The Households with the Majority of Student Loan Debt

The total student loan debt is $1.73 trillion. Of that amount, the majority of the debt is located with those households in the higher income brackets.

  • Households with income over $74,000 hold roughly 60% of the total public student loan debt.
  • Households with income over $74,000 hold $1.26 trillion in student loan debt.
  • Households in the lowest 40% income bracket hold roughly 20% of the total public student loan debt.
  • Households that earn $35,000 or less a year hold roughly 20% of the total public student loan debt.
  • The households in the lowest 40% income bracket hold $342 billion in student loan debt.

Breakdown of Debt Share on EducationData

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 $43,135 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

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 have 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.
  • Adults 24 and younger fall into the poor income bracket.
  • Adults above the age of 24 typically fall into the lower-middle or middle class income bracket.
  • Adults 24 and younger hold on average student debt that’s less than half the amount in the poor income bracket.
  • Adults above the age of 24 hold student debt typical of their income bracket.

Income and Debt by Age Group on EducationData

Student Debt vs Income bracket by College Degree

People with higher levels of educational attainment also hold the most student loan debt. Americans from graduate school hold 56% of the total public student loan debt. In comparison, those with no degree or an Associate’s hold a combined 15% of total student debt.

  • Individuals with no college degree hold 8% of the total public student loan debt.
  • Individuals with an Associate’s degree hold 7% of the student loan debt.
  • Persons with a Bachelor’s degree hold 29% of the debt.
  • Persons with a Master’s degree hold 36% of the debt.
  • Those with a Professional or Doctoral degree hold 20% of the student loan debt.
  • Individuals with no degree or an Associate’s degree hold as much student debt as individuals in the poor income bracket.
  • Individuals with a Bachelor’s degree hold as much student debt as those in the lower-middle class.
  • Americans with a Master’s degree or higher hold more student debt than those Americans living in the rich income bracket.
Income and debt by degree status
Degree Annual Median Income Average Student Debt
No Degree $36,432 $17,474
Associate’s Degree $45,024 $19,600
Bachelor’s Degree $62,640 $36,900
Master’s Degree $74,160 $71,287
Doctorate or Ph.D. $90,672 $117,146

Student Debt vs Income Bracket by Race

For most races, except Black Americans, their individual student debt is lower than their median annual income. Along racial lines, no group held student debt typical of their income bracket.

  • Black Americans are the only race who have student debt higher than their median annual income.
  • A larger majority of Black students are at for-profit private colleges (21%) than public colleges (13%).
  • For profit colleges became popular among minority students during the 2008 recession.
  • White Americans have an income in the middle class range but hold as much student debt as those in the poor income bracket.
  • Black Americans have an income in the lower-middle class range but hold as much student debt as those in the rich income bracket.
  • Hispanic Americans have lower-middle class income yet hold as much student debt as Americans in the poor income bracket.
  • Asian Americans have middle class income yet hold as much student debt as Americans in the poor income bracket.

Racial Debt vs Income Compariosn on EducationData

Sources

  1. Brookings Institution: Who owes the most in student loans – New data from the Fed
  2. U.S. Department of Labor: Median annual earnings by sex, race and Hispanic ethnicity
  3. Federal Reserve: Survey of Consumer Finances, 1989 – 2019
  4. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRED) Economic Data: Gross National Income for United States
  5. Urban Institute: Which Households Hold the Most Student Debt?
  6. Urban Institute Graduate and Professional School Debt: How Much Students Borrow
  7. United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs: The Student Debt Burden and Its Impact on Racial Justice, Borrowers, & the Economy.
  8. Washington Center for Equitable Growth: The rising number of U.S. households with burdensome student debt calls for a federal response
  9. Pew Research Center: 5 facts about student loans
  10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Education Pays – Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, 2020
  11. U.S. News & World Report: Where Do I Fall in the American Economic Class System?
  12. United States Census Bureau: 2019 Median Household Income in the United States