Student Loan Debt Reaches All-Time High in 2018

Student loan debt in the U.S. more than doubled in the past 10 years, hitting an all-time high of $1.36 trillion in the third quarter of 2018, according to the Experian data. That's an increase of 129% since 2008 and represents one of the country's most significant and widespread financial burdens to date.

Student loans represent the second largest credit debt for Americans, trailing only mortgage loans. Nationwide, there are more than 145 million outstanding student loan accounts spread across an estimated 43.2 million borrowers.

Average Student Loan Debt in the United States

Student loan balances have been on the rise and, in some cases, have more than tripled since 2008. Americans carry, on average, $22,600 per person in student loan debt. That's a 20% increase since 2015.

Since 2015:

  • Average balances in the South Atlantic grew 23% to $24,259
  • Average balances in the West grew 21% to $23,163
  • Average balances in the Midwest grew 20% to $21,709
  • Average balances in the South Central grew 18% to $21,190
  • Average balances in the North East grew 16% to $22,565

Student Loan Debt by State

With overall student loan debt up 23% over the past three years, each state has seen an individual increase in total debt. Florida saw the most growth, with total loans increasing 35% to $89 billion. Georgia came in second, growing by 33% to $57 billion, while Nevada came in third, growing 32% to $9.6 billion.

The three states with the lowest growth in total loan debt were Alaska, which grew 10% to $2.2 billion; Iowa, which grew 13% to $12.5 billion; and North Dakota, which grew 14% to $2.8 billion.

Looking back 10 years, several states saw extreme growth, in some cases more than doubling or tripling their total student debt amounts. Since 2008, South Carolina saw its total student loan debt increase by 315%, growing from $5.5 billion to $23 billion. North Carolina's student loan debt increased 252% to $41 billion and Kentucky's grew 228% to $16 billion.

When it comes to the states with the most student loan debt, California topped the list with more than $132 billion in student loans. Texas came in second with $103 billion, and Florida was third place with $89 billion. States with the lowest student loan amounts were Wyoming with $1.5 billion, Alaska with $2.2 billion and North Dakota and Vermont with $2.9 billion.

Student Loan Debt by City

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. cities with the largest populations also had the highest amounts of student loan debt. In 2018, New York City had the most student loan debt, with $89 billion. Los Angeles came in second with $51 billion, while Chicago trailed closely behind with $48 billion.

Cities with the lowest student loan debt were Las Vegas with $7.5 million, Sacramento with $8.2 million and Kansas City with $10 billion.

Student Loan Debt Delinquencies

With more student loans in the U.S. than ever before, the good news is that borrowers seem to be on the right track when making their monthly payments. Just 5.67%, or approximately $77 billion, of all student loans, were delinquent as of third quarter 2018. Of this, the majority—5.4% of the 5.6%—were 90 or more days past due.

In the past three years, the total number of delinquent loans shrank by 4%. For loans that were 30 to 59 days past due, delinquency rates decreased by 50%. For loans 60 to 90 days past due, delinquency rates shrank by 48%. The only delinquencies that did not show drastic signs of changing were loans 90 or more days past due, which went down by just 2%.

When it came to late and missed payments, the South Atlantic was one of only two regions where delinquency rates increased since 2015. More than 9.6% of accounts in the region were 30 to 90 days past due, while 9.4% of accounts were over 90 days past due—both increases since 2015. Delinquency rates in the South Central region also increased, with more than 8.5% of all accounts at least 30 days past due.

While balances in all regions grew in the past three years, delinquency rates have actually gone down in most areas—a signal that a low unemployment rate might be boosting Americans' ability to pay back their debt.

How to Manage Your Student Loans

Student loans are a type of installment loan, and any missed or late payments can have a serious impact on your credit scores. Payment history is the most important aspect of your FICO® Score, and even one late or missed payment can cause your score to drop.

If you have student loans and are struggling with repayment, several options may be able to help you. If your loans were issued by the federal government, you may be able to adjust your repayment based on what you can afford and you might also be able to consolidate your debt. Loans issued by private banks often have different options, so check with your lender for more information.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.

This article was originally published on December 21, 2018, and has been updated.

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