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Where Student Loan Delinquency Rates Are Highest

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Americans have never owed as much in student loans as they do today, with borrowers collectively shouldering a burden of $1.5 trillion last year. Amid all this debt, it’s unfortunate but not surprising that millions of Americans miss payments on their loans.

Delinquency on student loan payments can lead to default, causing long-term damage to credit scores and even lead to wage garnishment. While federal student loans generally allow 270 days of delinquency before default occurs, some private loans can enter default after just one missed payment.

Although the student loan crisis is a national one, LendingTree wanted to see if borrowers in some geographic areas are struggling to repay their loans more than those in others. To find out, we took a close look across the 100 largest metros to see what proportion of student loan borrowers were more than 90 days delinquent on their debt — and the results were striking.

Here’s what we found.

Where borrowers are delinquent on their student loans

Key takeaways

  • Nearly 26% of student loan borrowers in Jackson, Miss., have been delinquent on their loan repayment, taking the top spot on our list.
  • Two metro areas in Florida — Lakeland-Winter Haven and Daytona Beach — follow with the next-highest delinquency rates of 23.4% and 23.3%, respectively.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, just under 13% of borrowers in Provo, Utah, have fallen into delinquency.
  • San Jose, Calif., and Madison, Wis., have the next-lowest delinquency rates, at 14.1% and 14.4%, respectively.
  • Southern borrowers are far and away more likely to fall into student loan delinquency. A full 14 of the 15 metros at the top of the delinquency list lie below the Mason-Dixon line, and not one Southern metro made it onto the list of 25 metros with the lowest rates of delinquency.
  • Borrowers in the bottom metro of our list are half as likely to be have a delinquency than borrowers in the top — an extreme difference.

5 places where borrowers fall behind on student loan payments

1. Jackson, Miss.

Rate of delinquency: 25.6%

Among the top 100 metros in the U.S., Jackson, Miss., came in first for the highest rate of student loan delinquency, with more than 1 in 4 borrowers falling behind on their payments.

Part of the problem may be that Mississippi has a slightly lower graduation rate for college students, with 51.7% getting a bachelor’s degree after six years versus a national average of 53.8%, according to 2015 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Not having a college degree can limit earning potential, making it harder to repay student loan debt. If borrowers in these areas didn’t earn the degree for which they took out student loans, they could end up saddled with debt but without the means to pay it back on time.

2. Winter Haven, Fla.

Rate of delinquency: 23.4%

Winter Haven, Fla. came in second on our list, with nearly one out of four borrowers having gone delinquent on their student debt at some point during repayment.

Florida’s graduation rate for bachelor’s candidates is lower than Mississippi’s, at 48.5%, and only 12.3% of Winter Haven residents aged 25 or older have at least a four-year degree, below the national average of 19.7%.

3. Daytona Beach, Fla.

Rate of delinquency: 23.3%

Daytona Beach nearly tied with Winter Haven for rates of student loan delinquency, with its rate only 0.1 percentage point lower.

Rates of educational attainment among Daytona Beach residents were slightly lower than among those in Winter Haven, and among 18- to 24-year-olds, only 5.7% had a bachelor’s degree — about half that of the national figure of 10.5% for that same age group.

4. Memphis, Tenn.

Rate of delinquency: 23.2%

Coming in fourth in our list of places with the highest rates of student loan delinquency is another Southern city — Memphis, Tenn. Its nickname of Home of the Blues might refer to music, but it could also apply to its resident student loan borrowers, with nearly one-quarter of them struggling to keep up with payments.

In terms of graduation rates, Tennessee is also below the national average, with 50.4% finishing college in six years or less.

5. Toledo, Ohio

Rate of delinquency: 22.8%

Although our study revealed that borrowers in the South tend to face the highest rates of delinquency, the northern city of Toledo, Ohio, is an exception to the geographical rule.

With 22.8% of student loan borrowers falling behind on payments, Toledo has some of the highest rates of delinquency in the U.S. This is despite the fact that Ohio’s college graduation rate matches the national average.

Looking more closely at the city, however, we also found that Toledo’s unemployment rate is higher than average: 5.7% as compared with the national rate of 4.0%. Along with educational attainment, employment opportunities could be another factor that affects delinquency rates within a given metro.

10 Places Where Borrowers Fall Behind on Their Student Loans
Rank Metro % of Borrowers Who Have Been Delinquent at Least Once (90 Days Late or More)
1 Jackson, Miss. 25.6%
2 Winter Haven, Fla. 23.4%
3 Daytona Beach, Fla. 23.3%
4 Memphis, Tenn. 23.2%
5 Toledo, Ohio 22.8%
6 Chattanooga, Tenn. 22.2%
6 Jacksonville, Fla. 22.2%
6 Miami 22.2%
9 New Orleans 22.1%
10 Baton Rouge, La. 21.8%

 

 

1. Provo, Utah

Rate of delinquency: 12.8%

While student loan borrowers in Jackson, Miss., had the highest rates of student loan delinquency, residents of Provo, Utah had the lowest, with a rate exactly half that of their Jackson counterparts.

Surprisingly, Utah’s graduation rate is a relatively low 46.7%, less than Florida’s. But on the other hand, educational attainment is above the national average: Among those 25 and older, 28.5% have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 19.1% for the country as a whole.

2. San Jose, Calif.

Rate of delinquency: 14.1%

San Jose had the second-lowest rates of delinquency in the country, less than 2 percentage points behind Provo. The strong showing comes within the context of California’s 66.3% six-year graduation rate for bachelor’s degree programs, putting in at No. 6 in the nation.

This metro area’s success with student loan repayment might also have something to do with its overall wealth. According to a 2018 study by 24/7 Wall Street, the San Jose metro area topped the list of wealthiest urban areas in the U.S., with a median household income of $110,040 and a hefty 22.8% of households earning $200,000 or more.

3. Madison, Wis.

Rate of delinquency: 14.4%

Student loan borrowers in Madison, Wis. are generally able to keep up with their student loan payments, with a delinquency rate of 14.4%. Home to University of Wisconsin, Madison, a school with more than 44,000 students, Madison has a population with relatively high rates of educational attainment. Within the metro area, 27.1% of those who are 25 and older graduated with their bachelor’s.

4. Harrisburg, Pa.

Rate of delinquency: 15.3%

Fewer than 1 out of 6 borrowers in Harrisburg, Pa. have fallen behind on their student loan payments.

Perhaps the city’s relatively low cost of living — 8% below the national average — helps student loan borrowers save enough money each month to keep up with their student loan bills. Likewise, Pennsylvania ranks just behind California in college graduation rates, at 65.9%.

5. Oxnard, Calif.

Rate of delinquency: 15.9%

Oxnard, Calif. rounds out the list of metro areas with the lowest rates of delinquency among student loan borrowers. This southern Californian city also made the list of wealthiest areas in the U.S., coming in at No. 8 on 24/7 Wall Street’s list.

Among its residents, the median household income is $80,135, and 11.4% of households earn $200,000 or more. Oxnard adults aged 25 and over earn their bachelor’s at a rate of 21.9%, and 11.6% have a graduate degree or higher.

10 Places Where Borrowers Keep Up on Their Student Loans
Rank Metro % of Borrowers Who Have Been Delinquent at Least Once (90 Days Late or More)
100 Provo, Utah 12.8%
99 San Jose, Calif. 14.1%
98 Madison, Wis. 14.4%
97 Harrisburg, Pa. 15.3%
95 Oxnard, Calif. 15.9%
95 San Francisco 15.9%
92 Allentown, Pa. 16.0%
92 Boston 16.0%
92 San Diego 16.0%
91 Seattle 16.2%

Rates of student loan delinquency: How the top U.S. metros compare

How to keep up with your student loan payments

Keeping up with student loan payments can be a big challenge, especially if you’re a recent graduate or are struggling to find a job. But falling into delinquency can cause even more problems, especially if your loan goes into default.

To avoid harming your finances, consider taking one or more of these steps with your student loans:

  • Change your student loan repayment plan. If your bills are too high, find out if you can switch repayment plans. Federal student loans, for instance, are eligible for income-driven plans, which adjust your monthly payment along with your income. If you still have a balance after 20 or 25 years, it could even be forgiven. Although private student loans aren’t eligible, you can speak with your lender about your options. Lowering your bills might be the solution you need to avoid delinquency.
  • Find ways to decrease your spending or boost your income. Once you’ve checked in with your student loan repayment plan, it’s time to take a close look at your budget. Figure out if there are areas where you can lower your monthly expenses. At the same time, look for opportunities to earn more, whether through switching jobs or starting a side hustle, such as driving for Uber or working for TaskRabbit.
  • Refinance your student loans for new terms. Through refinancing, you can choose new repayment terms, often between five and 20 years. Going with a longer term could reduce your monthly bills, taking some of the pressure off your wallet. You might also qualify for lower interest rates than you have now, thereby saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The main downside is that refinancing federal student loans turns them private, meaning you lose access to federal plans and programs, so make sure you understand what you’d be giving up before you refinance with a private lender.

Even though student loans can be stressful, ignoring them will only make a tough situation worse. Instead, look for ways to adjust them into a more reasonable range. And if you start making more money, consider throwing extra payments at your loans to pay them off even faster.

Methodology

Using a sample of credit reports from June through August 2018, taken from more than 435,000 anonymized My LendingTree users with student loan debt, we calculated the percentage of people who had been at least 90 days late paying at least one loan during the period covered by the reports (usually six years), as well as the percentage who had loans go into collection or/and written off by the loan’s holder.

My LendingTree is a free credit monitoring service available to the general public, regardless of their debt and credit histories, or whether they’ve pursued loans on a LendingTree platform. My LendingTree has over 9 million users.

 

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