It’s a harsh reality that 45 million Americans face: Student loan debt can be crippling. With $1.56 trillion in debt spread out among that population, according to LendingTree, that means tons of people are faced with a financial burden that realistically delays bigger investment goals—like, say, buying a house. Apparently, where you move can have a big impact on how quickly you pay off those loans.
A new study by Go Banking Rates uses factors like average rent, median income, average loan balance, and assorted costs of living (groceries, transportation, utility bills, etc.) to determine the top 10 cities where residents pay off student loans the fastest. The resulting list is a mix of small cities scattered through the country, peppered with some larger hot spots. Plano, Texas, came out on top, with residents paying off an average loan balance of $34,047 in a little over four years. Alexandria, Virginia, is second, with $40,085 in loans paid off in about four and a half years.
Of course, where you choose to live depends on a wide variety of factors, from job availability to arts and culture offerings. Since larger cities aren’t especially known for their affordability, we were surprised to see a few of our favorite bustling metro areas make the list. It turns out that you can enjoy city life while also making your loan payments on time—or even earlier than expected. These three cities stand out as the best places where finances and fun even out.
That’s right: Nashville residents with an average loan balance of $37,158 were able to pay it all off in just under five years, thanks to a high median income and low grocery costs (in spite of relatively high rent). That means you’ll have enough cash left over to enjoy the city’s offerings, like contemporary art gallery hopping and home shopping at Wilder.
In ninth place, Seattle might have high rent costs, but its low utility costs do make up a considerable difference, which means graduates with $35,305 in loans can pay them off in about six years. Meanwhile, they can also enjoy weekends at the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum and fresh oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter.
Even trendy Austin makes the loan payoff process reasonable: Residents can tackle an average loan balance of $31,967 in 6.35 years, thanks to a median annual salary of $63,717, middle-of-the-road rent, and low grocery costs. All the while, they can experience fun, outdoorsy activities at Barton Springs and concerts at The Continental Club.
See more affordable cities:
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