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The Cost of Education: How Graduate Degrees Affect Debt and Credit

It's no secret that getting a four-year degree can mean racking up a lot of debt. And what happens if you decide to tack on a graduate degree?

Americans with graduate degrees carry an average 61% more total debt than the national average. Compared only with people who have student loan debt, those with graduate degrees carried 23% more total debt. Their credit scores, however, don't appear to be suffering as a result of their high balances.

To find out more about how a graduate degree affects Americans' debt and credit, Experian analyzed consumer credit data from the fourth quarter of 2018 to see how advanced degree holders compared with their peers. Read on for our insights and analysis.

Debt Overview of Graduate Degree Holders

American consumers overall carry an average of $34,906 in student loan debt, according to Experian data from the fourth quarter of 2018. Consumers with a graduate degree, unsurprisingly, carry over 30% more—with a total of $46,798 in student loan debt.

When it comes to total average debt across all open tradelines, or accounts, consumers with graduate degrees had $150,824 in total average debt. Compared with the national average of $93,446 in average total debt, those with advanced degrees owed over $57,000 more across all their accounts.

Broken down by debt product, consumers with graduate degrees had higher average balances in every category except retail cards. They carried 44% higher than average personal loan balances, 34% higher student loan debt and 26% higher credit card balances than the national average.

Average With Graduate DegreeNational AverageDifference
Average Credit Card Balance $8,115 $ 6,44526%
Average Retail Card Balance $1,076 $ 1,205-11%
Average Student Loan Balance $46,798 $ 34,90634%
Average Auto Loan Balance $20,012 $ 19,1175%
Average Personal Loan Balance $23,443 $ 16,24944%
Average Mortgage Balance $275,713 $ 201,00237%

FICO® Scores* Easily Top National Average

When it comes to credit scores, consumers with graduate degrees have an average FICO® Score of 741—which is 40 points higher than the national average. That score is also 63 points higher than the average of 667 held by people who have student loan debt.

When compared with the average score of consumers with a student loan, the considerable difference shows that even though people with graduate degrees carry higher total debt and student loan debt amounts, it's still possible for them maintain a top-tier credit score.

Californians With Graduate Degrees Have the Highest Total Debt

Of the top five states where people with graduate degrees carried the most total debt, California came in first, with an average of $226,290. The total average debt amounts among graduate degree earners across the top three states were all more than double the national average of $93,446.

Rank StateAverage Total DebtFICO® Score
1California$226,290749
2District of Columbia$208,832739
3Hawaii$196,610753
4Maryland$185,708738
5Virginia$185,575745

People With Graduate Degrees Had Least Debt in Mississippi

Of the top five states where people with graduate degrees carried the least total debt, Mississippi came in first, with an average of $92,485. While total debt amounts in these states were considerably lower than in other states, graduate student earners' debt in these states still hovered around the national average of $93,446.

Rank StateAverage Total DebtFICO® Score
1Mississippi$92,485706
2West Virginia$99,326722
3Kentucky$105,877732
4Oklahoma$106,408724
5Iowa$109,253751

If you have a graduate degree and want to find out more about your debt and credit, consider getting a free copy of your credit reports and scores from Experian to see what appears in your credit file.


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Methodology: The analysis results provided are based on an Experian-created statistically relevant aggregate sampling of our consumer credit database that may include use of the FICO® Score 8 version. Different sampling parameters may generate different findings compared with other similar analysis. Analyzed credit data did not contain personal identification information. Metro areas group counties and cities into specific geographic areas for population censuses and compilations of related statistical data.

FICO® is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the U.S. and other countries.

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