2018’s Best And Worst Cities For Student Debt

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“Location, location, location” are the three most important words in real estate. But the saying applies to young college graduates choosing the right place to launch their careers, too. For those who will be graduating with student loans, and for those who are still chipping away at their debt many years post-graduation, the city in which they choose to live and work could help them become financially independent and debt-free much sooner – or it could hold them back. RewardExpert, a free service that helps users maximize their credit card rewards, released its ranking of 2018’s Best and Worst Cities for Millennials with Student Debt to help debt-saddled grads make informed decisions on where they can successfully kick off their careers and work their way to becoming debt-free.

Analyzed 207 cities and metropolitan areas based on 23 data indicators to determine which locations are best for debt-saddled college graduates to start their careers.


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New York, N.Y. – With the end of the school year creeping up, college graduates across the country are weighing out the best places where they can leap into adulthood and work toward financial independence. RewardExpert – a free service that helps users take full advantage of credit card points and travel rewards – today released its ranking of 2018’s Best and Worst Cities for Millennials with Student Debt to help recent graduates make an informed decision on where to kick off their careers and independent lives.

“Taking that big step into independence after graduation can be terrifying, particularly for grads leaving college burdened with student debt” says RewardExpert’s CEO and co-founder Roman Shteyn. “There are so many decisions to be made, and choosing the right place to start a career can make a huge difference in taking the initial steps towards financial independence. Our ranking highlights locations in which college graduates face a favorable job market, housing market, business climate, and an overall environment where there are many opportunities to get ahead professionally and reduce debt quickly.”

The top three locations for Millennials with student debt are:

  • Lincoln, Nebraska – Lincoln takes first place in part due to a strong job market for its well-educated population, and a low unemployment rate of 2.75%. Lincoln performed even more highly on measures of transportation and housing costs, with an average gross rent of $698.
  • La Crosse-Onalaska, Wisconsin-Minnesota – Straddling the Wisconsin-Minnesota state line, the La Crosse-Onalaska metropolitan area takes second place due to the fact that, with one exception, nowhere else are Millennials doing better financially than here as compared to members of the older generations. Millennials living in the La Crosse-Onalaska region have 33% less credit card debt than the area average.
  • Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin – Coming in at number three, the Greater Milwaukee metropolitan area scores highly for housing and transit access and affordability, with median rent at $740. Furthermore, median student debt for Milwaukee is $1,072 lower than the national average.

“Choosing the right place to kick start your career can make a huge difference when it comes to living with student debt, and so can choosing the wrong place,” says Shteyn. “Our ranking additionally looked at locations across the country that are the most limited when it comes to opportunities and infrastructure important to young professionals.”

The bottom three locations are:

  • Meridian, Mississippi – Meridian, Mississippi is rated dead last as the worst city and metropolitan area for the financially prudent, career-minded, newly minted college graduate. With a sky high unemployment rate of 10%, and a particularly tough job market for graduates, Millennials here are faring poorly, with an average credit score of 597 and an average credit utilization rate of 42%.
  • Dothan, Alabama – As the “Peanut Capital of the World,” the Dothan, Alabama metropolitan area is an uninviting, inhospitable, and inauspicious place for debt-saddled Millennials to start their careers. With an 8.3% unemployment rate, long commuting distances, and no transit at all as an alternative to driving, literally working for peanuts is not an entirely unlikely prospect in Dothan.
  • Wilmington, North Carolina – The Wilmington, North Carolina metro area comes in third-from-last for its relatively high housing and transportation costs, proportional to median incomes in the region. An 8.8% unemployment rate and an overpriced housing market cement Wilmington’s place as a poor choice for grads to start their adult lives.

“With the ever-increasing price of a higher education in the United States, students now graduate with more debt in student loans than ever before,” says Shteyn. “Merely a few decades ago, student loan balances were small enough to be repaid easily, and generally speaking, under less onerous terms. More than ever before it pays off to choose wisely when it comes to deciding where to start your career and your adult life.”


RewardExpert’s ranking is based on 23 data metrics grouped into five categories: housing availability and costs; transportation infrastructure and transit access; availability and accessibility of jobs requiring a college degree or higher; tax rates; and local trends in debt and credit.

Best And Worst Cities For Millennials With Student Debt

For further information and to view the full report, visit the RewardExpert website.

About RewardExpert

RewardExpert helps users navigate the world of frequent flyer programs and credit card rewards. The free web service provides smart tools and features that enable users to make more rewarding decisions. Through personal finance and travel insights, users are empowered to turn their spending into earning. Find out how to quickly gain rewards while spending less to see more of the world. To get started, visit www.rewardexpert.com.

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