If you’re one of the more than 44 million student loan borrowers in the US, we think it’s pretty safe to say that paying off your education — and doing it quickly — is a persistent stressor in your life. It’s no secret that the student loan crisis is a growing problem in this country, and since women shoulder a majority of our national educational debt, we don’t blame you for losing sleep over when your share of the $1.3 trillion that we owe as a country will be repaid. You’re packing lunches instead of buying them, skipping out on vacations with friends, and tracking down coupon codes for everything you buy online — and we applaud you for it. According to a new study from the team at Student Loan Hero, though, the city in which you choose to live also plays a big role in your ability to pay back those necessary, but oh-so-pesky loans.

student on campus with laptop

Earlier this month, Student Loan Hero released lists of the best and worst cities to live in when you’re struggling with educational debt, assembled based on a variety of factors that would affect a single worker including average local income, taxes paid on that income level, and average basic living costs.

“Where you live has a huge impact on your earning potential, income, and costs — the factors that we looked at,” says Student Loan Hero lead researcher Elyssa Kirkham. “Not everyone can or should move based on these rankings. But the findings can be helpful to set your expectations for getting out of debt where you live and to find ways to do more.”

Here are the 10 best and 10 worst cities to live in if you’re struggling to pay off debt from your college days, according to Student Loan Hero’s research:


1. Durham, NC

2. Kennewick, WA

3. Houston, TX

4. Des Moines, IA

5. Austin, TX

6. Kalamazoo, MI

7. Memphis, TN

8. San Antonio, TX

9. Knoxville, TN

10. Huntsville, AL

10 worst cities to live in if you’re in debt

1. San Jose, CA

2. San Francisco, CA

3. Honolulu, HI

4. New York, NY

5. Anaheim, CA

6. Washington, DC

7. San Diego, CA

8. Oakland, CA

9. Los Angeles, CA

10. Bridgeport, CT

If the city you call home falls into the second category, resist the urge to start breathing into a paper bag. “Don’t panic!” Kirkham says. “Simply being aware of where your city falls on this list can inform how you view your debt and your living situation.”

People who live in one of the so-called “worst” cities should set more modest expectations for their lifestyle and discretionary spending. If your job or relationship — or simply your love for where you live! — has you staying put for the time being, you will likely need to be more meticulous and diligent about budgeting and saving than you would if you were living in a place that’s more friendly to people in debt. Basically, what we’re trying to tell you is that there’s no need to start booking moving vans and interviewing for jobs hundreds of miles away just so you can more easily pay off your loans.

“Not everyone will be able to move in order to lower their living costs and pay off debt,” Kirkham says. “Moving is a huge life change, and can be prohibitively expensive. The study highlights the benefits of living in a different city, but only you can weigh your personal costs and benefits to know if it’s actually wise in your situation. You might decide that the trade-off of living in an expensive city or lower-income area is worth the lifestyle benefits or career opportunities.”

No matter where you live, you can chip away at your student debt little by little by prioritizing regular payments ahead of shopping and other fun spending. You might also consider consolidating credit card debt or refinancing your student debt so you can incur less interest.

Do you think your city makes it easier or more difficult to manage your debt? Tell us more! Tweet us @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)