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It Pays to Be a Grad: 10 Cities Where Annual Income Exceeds Average Student Loan Debt

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These days, you can’t talk college without discussing the cost of higher education. After all, outstanding student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion. (Yes, you read that correctly!)

Despite that staggering amount, however, not everyone graduates from college with an Alps-size mountain of debt. In fact, almost a third receive their diploma without accruing any debt at all.

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Credit Sesame looked not just at the cities whose college grads have the least amount of debt, but the 10 cities where residents make more each year than their outstanding loan balance. Not surprisingly, four cities in California make the list — likely a result of the more affordable Cal State University network and the extremely well paying salaries of Silicon Valley.

Here’s an interactive map of cities where student loans exceed median income and cities where incomes are higher than student loan debt.

Here’s how the well-educated, well-paid stack up against each other.

10. Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma, OK | http://bit.ly/2d2ZFsb

Oklahoma, OK | http://bit.ly/2d2ZFsb

Average student loan balance per person: $42,054
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $45,834
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 92%

Oklahoma’s overall unemployment rate is on the rise in 2016, but those with a Bachelor’s degree living in the state’s capital city don’t seem to be affected. OKC’s big employers — including INTEGRIS Health, Paycom, American Fidelity, and Oklahoma Gas & Electric — keep annual salaries above the average amount owed by those with a four-year degree.

9. San Antonio, TX

San Antonio, TX | http://bit.ly/2cDuQPl

San Antonio, TX | http://bit.ly/2cDuQPl

Average student loan balance per person: $44,267
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $48,829
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 91%

Located in the economic hub of south central Texas, San Antonio is home to a booming biomedical and biotechnology sector. Yet it’s the large supermarket chain H-E-B that employs 20,000 workers and Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston that provides satisfactory incomes for another 69,000 Texans.

8. Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, CA | http://bit.ly/2d6piww

Sacramento, CA | http://bit.ly/2d6piww

Average student loan balance per person: $45,694
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $51,685
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 88%

Named as one of nine “Hot Startup U.S. Cities That Aren’t San Francisco or New York” last year by Entrepreneur, the California capital treats college graduates well. While those with only a Bachelor’s degree carry a total debt load that’s almost as much as their annual salary, Master’s degree earners’ debt is only 65% of their take-home pay.

7. San Diego, CA

San Diego, CA | http://bit.ly/2cO5pVE

San Diego, CA | http://bit.ly/2cO5pVE

Average student loan balance per person: $45,078
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $53,572
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 84%

World renowned for its zoo and delicious Mexican food, San Diego’s top employers are in the government and education fields. The University of California, San Diego; the County of San Diego; the U.S. Navy; the City of San Diego; and the San Diego Unified School District provide jobs to more than 100,000 residents.

6. Fort Worth, TX

Fort Worth, TX | http://bit.ly/2cyIZbt

Fort Worth, TX | http://bit.ly/2cyIZbt

Average student loan balance per person: $43,611
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $52,420
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 83%

Turns out that Fort Worth is a bit of a rebel. As the classic saying goes, everything’s bigger in Texas, yet that doesn’t apply to student loan debt of Fort Worth residents. Perhaps its largest employers American Airlines and Lockheed Martin have something to do with it.

5. Portland, OR

Portland, OR | http://bit.ly/2cLJZu7

Portland, OR | http://bit.ly/2cLJZu7

Average student loan balance per person: $47,596
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $61,971
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 77%

Citizens of the City of Roses with a post-graduate degree can earn around $23,000 more than those who earned just a Bachelor’s degree. An advanced degree, however, isn’t necessary to earn a decent wage in this northwestern city. A booming housing market (prices rose 20% in the past year) combined with large real estate and construction industries generate tons of lucrative jobs for Portlanders.

4. Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee, MI | http://bit.ly/2cZnLrR

Milwaukee, MI | http://bit.ly/2cZnLrR

Average student loan balance per person: $45,421
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $61,971
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 73%

Home to MLB’s Brewers and lots of breweries, Milwaukee should also be proud that its residents have some of the lowest average student loan balances in relation to their annual incomes. The top three employers are healthcare companies, so graduates moving to the fifth-largest city in the Midwest can expect to take home decent wages immediately after earning their diploma.

3. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA | http://bit.ly/2d3hg2W

San Francisco, CA | http://bit.ly/2d3hg2W

Average student loan balance per person: $45,884
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $65,233
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 70%

The City by the Bay ranks closely behind New York City as the urban area with the second highest cost of living. But with well-paying industries like technology, healthcare, and banking dominating the job scene, so those carrying student loan debt can easily manage the load.

2. Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas, NV | http://bit.ly/2cOgVAj

Las Vegas, NV | http://bit.ly/2cOgVAj

Average student loan balance per person: $41,873
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $$61,971
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 68%

Once the center of the housing crisis, the City That Never Sleeps is remaking itself as an urban area that’s friendly to 20-somethings. (No, it has nothing to do with endless rounds of drinks served poolside or scantily-clad showgirls.) Six of Las Vegas’s top 10 employers are in the hospitality field, providing a steady income to young residents of the desert.

1. San Jose, CA

San Jose, CA | http://bit.ly/2cUioZE

San Jose, CA | http://bit.ly/2cUioZE

Average student loan balance per person: $37,942
Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree): $70,478
Debt to income ratio (Bachelor’s degree): 54%

Some might think that it would be tough for this northern California city to live in San Francisco’s shadow. But as the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” it’s home to numerous tech companies, including Adobe, PayPal, and Cisco that employ thousands of recent computer science and engineering grads (paying them extremely high salaries) from nearby universities like Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley.

City State Average student loan balance per person Median earnings (Bachelor’s degree) Median earnings (Post-graduate degree) % debt to income (Bachelor’s) % of debt to income (Post-graduate)  
Oklahoma City Oklahoma $42,054 $45,834 $58,608 92% 72%
San Antonio Texas $44,267 $48,829 $62,542 91% 71%
Sacramento California $45,694 $51,685 $70,763 88% 65%
San Diego California $45,078 $53,572 $76,266 84% 59%
Fort Worth Texas $43,611 $52,420 $65,005 83% 67%
Portland Oregon $47,596 $61,971 $84,598 77% 56%
Milwaukee Wisconsin $45,421 $61,971 $84,598 73% 54%
San Francisco California $45,884 $65,233 $86,292 70% 53%
Las Vegas Nevada $41,873 $61,971 $84,598 68% 49%
San Jose California $37,942 $70,478 $101,019 54% 38%

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