The best US cities for millennials who have student debt

In the US, college is more expensive than ever before.

Moreso than any other generation, millennials are graduating with crippling student debt that may take their entire lives to pay off. Today, the average American student leaves college with $US37,172 in loans, a $US20,000 hike from 13 years ago.

After millennials earn their diplomas, they often move to cities that promise ample job opportunities, like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle.

But according to a new analysis from financial consultancy RewardExpert, these cities might not be the best places for young people with student loans, since living costs are relatively high.

The report analyses 207 cities and metro areas based on 23 metrics grouped into five categories: housing availability and costs; transportation infrastructure and transit access; availability and accessibility of jobs requiring at least a college degree; tax rates; and local trends in debt and credit. The data comes from the US Census Bureau, the Urban Institute, HUD, and the DOT.

Here are the top cities for debt-saddled millennials, defined as people born from 1982 through 1995.

10. Fargo, North Dakota-Minnesota

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota Courtesy of Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

One of the fastest growing cities in the US, Fargo has an extraordinarily low unemployment rate at 2.8%. (Nationally it’s about 4.1%.) Housing and transportation costs (as compared to the median income for the area) are also lower than 95% of all cities and metro areas in the analysis.

Note: The Fargo metropolitan area includes Cass County, North Dakota, as well as the city of Morehead and Clay County in Minnesota.

9. Mankato-North Mankato, Minnesota


Mankato’s unemployment rate of 2.4% is among the lowest in the nation, and the region’s young residents have considerably low debt loads and high credit scores.

Locals ages 23 to 34 carry an average total debt of $US26,989, of which $US2,801 is in credit card balances. (The national averages are $US32,599 and $US3,260 respectively.) Those under 23 years old have just $US8,875 in average total debt with $US1,340 on cards ($US13,812 and $US1,401 nationally).

8. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois


In recent years, the Champaign-Urbana metro area has seen rapid urban development and a burgeoning tech industry.

Housing is also inexpensive, with the median monthly rent at $US780, and the region’s average student debt load is lower than the national figure.

7. Anchorage, Alaska


Alaska residents effectively enjoy a negative income tax, since they receiving a yearly Permanent Fund Dividend payment from the state’s petroleum revenues.

And while the median rent here is $US1,163, renters have a relatively high median income of $US48,981. Combined housing and transportation costs amount to only 58.6% of annual income, which is much lower than the national average of 75.4%.

6. El Paso, Texas

Shoppers make their way down El Paso Street in downtown El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Victor Calzada)

On average, students who live in El Paso have less than half the amount of debt as others nationwide. Nearly half of the city’s residents work in industries that usually require a higher-education degree as well.

Housing costs are also low, with the median rent at $US756 and median mortgages at $US971. Texas does not impose a state income tax, enabling locals to devote a larger chunk of their income to debt.

5. Columbia, Missouri


This region is home to an educated population. Many people work or study at the University of Missouri, Stephens College, and Columbia College.

A large chunk of Columbia’s population also rents (45.83%) their homes, and renters pay a mere $US718 for their apartments on average.

4. Omaha-Council Bluffs, Nebraska-Iowa


Commutes in this metro region average just 13 miles, and unemployment stands at a low 2.85%. About a third of jobs are in industries that typically require a college education.

Compared to the rest of the nation, young people in Omaha also have slightly less debt and credit scores that are 27 points higher on average.

3. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin

In this metro area, housing is affordable, with median rent at $US740 and median monthly costs for homeowners at $US1,328.

Plus, median student debt here is $US1,072 lower than the national average, and younger residents have lower than average total debt burdens and lower credit card balances than those living elsewhere in the US.

2. La Crosse-Onalaska, Wisconsin-Minnesota

Downtown LaCrosse, Wisconsin. publichall/Wikipedia Commons

Straddling the Wisconsin-Minnesota state line, the La Crosse-Onalaska metro area boasts an unemployment of 2.7% and relatively inexpensive housing.

Millennials living here also have 33% less credit card debt than the Midwest’s average.

1. Lincoln, Nebraska


Lincoln tops the list due to its strong job market for college graduates and low unemployment rate of 2.75%.

The city performed even higher on measures of housing and transportation costs, with a median commute distance of 14 miles and an average monthly rent of $US698.