Geography matters. Where you live can have an impact on your income, expenses, and overall household budget. By extension, this can affect how much you have to put toward your student loans every month—and how quickly you’re able to pay them off.
Many Americans move around a lot, with the average person changing homes more than 11 times over his or her lifetime. Perhaps you’re contemplating a move to find a new job, be closer to family, pursue graduate school, or find a more affordable locale. When doing your research, it’s worth exploring which states boast conditions that may help you pay off your loans.
A state that lets you keep more of what you make (e.g., low income or sales taxes) is also likely to leave you with more funds to put toward your student loans.
If you use extra disposable income to accelerate your student loan payments, as opposed to extra shopping or travel, your loans have a better chance of disappearing more quickly.
Other factors can also speed up loan repayment— increasing your payments, or shortening your term by refinancing your student loans—but living in a state that offers opportunities to increase your income or reduce your bills can be a boon.
Here are some of the top states to live in that may make it easier to pay off student loans quickly, based on the perks they offer. Even if you’re not moving anytime soon, it’s worth knowing how your state stacks up.
No or Low-Income Taxes
Every working American has to pay federal income taxes. But not having to pay anything, or much, in state income taxes can go a long way toward leaving you with more cash to pay your loans off with.
Seven states don’t make you pay any income tax at all. As of 2019, these states are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee come close: You only pay state income taxes on income from dividends and investments—not wages. In contrast, the highest personal income tax state is California, which charges 12.3%.
No Sales Tax
Even if you save on income taxes in certain states, you could end up paying more at the register through sales taxes. Five states don’t charge any sales tax: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. (Alaska and Montana do allow local—rather than state-level—sales taxes).
You may have noticed that Alaska also doesn’t charge income tax, so that’s double the savings in one state. In Colorado, the sales tax is just 2.9% .
Some states charge sales taxes no higher than 5%, which in 2018 included Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The cash you save on sales tax can add up and help you pay off your student loans.
Lowest Cost of Living
Paying less for daily expenses, such as housing, transportation, food, and utilities, would potentially leave you with more cash for your student loans. According to a CNBC study from 2018 , the 10 states with the lowest cost of living are (starting with the most affordable): Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Georgia, and Indiana.
The study took into account prices of housing, food, energy, and other goods. In the cheapest state, Mississippi, the average home costs $214,217 and the average doctor’s visit will set you back $87.58. With prices like those, you could have more room in your budget for paying down your student loans.
Earning more money is the obvious way to have more funds for student loans. Although incomes obviously vary by profession, level of education, and other factors, some states have higher-than-average salaries.
These states had median household incomes that were far higher than the 2016 national median of $58,552: Washington ($67,106), California ($67,739), Virginia ($68,114), New Hampshire ($70,936), Connecticut ($73,433), Hawaii ($74,511), Massachusetts ($75,297), New Jersey ($76,126), Alaska ($76,440), and Maryland ($78,945). Of course, high incomes can come with a high cost of living, as well.
Best Job Prospects
High median incomes don’t matter much to you if you’re having trouble finding a job in the first place. According to U.S. News & World Report , these are the 10 best states for employment based on a combination of having a low unemployment rate, high labor-force participation, and high job growth: Hawaii, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. You may notice that a few of those states overlap with with the highest-income rankings, so you could be more likely to find a job there that also pays well.
Best Cost-of-Living-to-Income Ratio
A high income can disappear quickly in a place with high living costs; conversely, a cheap state becomes less affordable if you can only earn a low income there. One way to gauge true affordability is to compare the “real income” in each state by taking the median household income and accounting for cost of living.
When Money Magazine did this, it found that the states with the highest real incomes were: Alaska ($69,465), Maryland ($69,203), New Hampshire ($66,955), Massachusetts ($66,069), Connecticut, ($65,636), North Dakota ($65,609), Minnesota ($65,183), Utah ($64,858), Virginia ($64,646), and the District of Columbia ($64,639). Some of these overlap with the highest-income states, but in others the cost of living makes a big difference in making incomes stretch further.
Another study revealed the cities that offer the best combination of high wages and affordable expenses. The highest-ranking city was Oklahoma City, where the average annual income is $72,385, while the median monthly rent is $1,070, and annual necessities cost an average of $18,701.
The other cities on the list, starting from the highest ranked, are: Kansas City, Missouri; Lexington, Kentucky; Phoenix, Arizona; Durham, North Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; Bakersfield, California; Tampa, Florida; Dallas, Texas; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Living in states with the best cost-of-living-to-income ratio can help make your dollars go further.
Besides high incomes, affordability, and low taxes, some states offer other perks that can help you pay off your loans more quickly. Alaska pays each eligible resident a fixed amount of cash every year through the Permanent Fund Dividend, created to share revenues from the state’s oil reserves.
The amount was $1,600 per man, woman, or child in 2018 and could be used for anything, including paying off loans. Colorado and Kansas pay up to 4% of your first mortgage if you meet income and credit requirements.
Other states may help you pay off student loans if you enter certain fields. For example, the Washington Student Achievement Council repays up to $75,000 in student loans for health professionals in rural or disadvantaged areas, and New York repays up to $20,400 in loans for eligible residents working as public interest lawyers. The American Bar Association maintains a full list of state-level loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) for attorneys.
How Student Loan Refinancing Can Help
If you’re looking to pay off student loans more quickly, you don’t have to move across the country. Refinancing your student loans can also be a great way to potentially reduce your interest rate. When you refinance, you take out a new loan from a private lender, like SoFi, and use it to repay your existing federal or private loans.
The new loan may offer a lower monthly payment or lower interest rate, especially if you have a solid credit and employment history (among other factors). A lower interest rate can help you pay less in interest over the life of the loan.
If you qualify to refinance, you may also have the option to shorten the length of your loan term. This would likely mean higher monthly payments, but if you’re in a financial position to take on a higher monthly payment, that’s another way you could pay off your student loan debt more quickly.
At SoFi, you can apply for pre-qualification online and find out whether you qualify in two minutes. And keep in mind that if you pay off your refinanced student loan early, SoFi has no prepayment penalties.
This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
This article is originally on SoFi.