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College Students and Recent Grads

Where a College Degree Matters Most

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

value of a college degree

Earning your college degree can open the door to more career opportunities and a higher income. But, as a recent MagnifyMoney study points out, college degrees are more valuable in some metropolitan areas than in others.

Where you live has a major impact on your income, both during your working years and after you retire. Correspondingly, college degree holders in some cities are more likely to find employment, become homeowners or secure health insurance coverage than their peers elsewhere.

We examined income, employment and related data for degree and non-degree holders across the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. and ranked each area from 0 to 100. This “final score” represents the overall value of a bachelor’s degree in each area.

Here’s what we discovered about where a college degree matters most.

Top 5 cities where degrees are worth the most

Based on the study, the earnings-and-opportunities premium for those with college degrees seem most pronounced in wealthy and highly educated cities. The five places where degree-holders’ incomes outperformed were:

  • 1. San Jose, Calif. — At 79.1, this tech-industry nexus had the biggest boost for those with four or more years of college.
  • 2. Washington, D.C. — The nation’s capital, also known for its universities and policy institutes, ranked second, at 78.4.
  • 3. San Francisco — This neighbor to top-ranking San Jose scored 71.7.
  • 4. Raleigh, N.C. — With a rating of 71.5, Raleigh, home to many major corporate headquarters, came in fourth place.
  • 5. Austin — The Lone Star state capital rounded out the top five, with a score of 70.6

… And 5 cities where degrees matter least

  • 50. Riverside, Calif. — Of the top 50 U.S. metro areas surveyed, this neighbor to Los Angeles ranked lowest in terms of college degrees translating into higher salaries, rating 43.2 in our study.
  • 49. Las Vegas — This entertainment hotspot also had one of the smallest premiums for degree holders, with a score of 43.3.
  • 48. Buffalo, N.Y. — With a rating of 45.7, the upstate New York metropolis came third from last on our list.
  • 47. Pittsburgh — Pennsylvania’s second-largest city also fell low on the list, with a score of 47.4.
  • 46. Louisville, Ky. — At 51.7, Louisville ranks fifth from the bottom.

How a college degree affects income

A college degree remains a valuable asset for professionals, even when considering the student debt that often goes with it. On average, people with a bachelor’s degree make $22,422 more than those with only a high school diploma, as well as $16,682 more than those who attended some college or even received an associate’s degree.

But the difference is most pronounced in certain areas, such as San Jose, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. As noted above, San Jose tops the list for places where college degrees are the most valuable. In this Californian city where nearly half the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, the median income for degree holders is 83.6% above that for non-degree holders.

San Jose residents with college degrees also don’t seem to have a ton of student debt dragging down their finances. The ratio of median student loan balance to median degree-holder income was just 18.6%, the lowest of any metro area included in this study.

On the flip side, a college degree doesn’t correlate with a major boost in income in all areas. In Las Vegas, where 22.8% of the residents have a bachelor’s or higher, a degree only increases median income by 16.9%. In Riverside, California, the increase is just 20.4%.

Both these figures are well below the overall average of 53.9%. Plus, the ratio of median student loan balance to median income was 52.5% in Las Vegas and 58.2% in Riverside. So not only do residents see a lower return on investment from their degrees, but they also end up with burdensome student loan debt that’s difficult to pay off.

A relatively smaller salary and larger debt creates other problems, too. For example, if you’re hoping to use student loan refinancing to lower your interest rate or reduce your monthly payments, you’ll have more trouble qualifying for refinance with less pay and a heavier debt load.

It appears that differences in cost of living or earning opportunities can impact the value of a college degree to a major extent. Although a college degree increases earning potential anywhere, its effects are much stronger in some areas than in others.

How a college degree affects retirement income

Although a four-year degree’s effect on income varies by location, its impact on funds for retirement appears to be more steady. Overall, college degree holders have an average of 42.2% more in retirement income than those without a degree. This figure only changes by about 10 percentage points or less when factoring in location.

Retirement income refers to the money you have coming in after you retire. This could come from retirement savings, but it might also come from other assets, insurance, inheritances, stocks, pensions or Social Security allowances.

Surprisingly, having a degree only meant a 34.4% boost in retirement income in San Jose, the city where degree holders chalked up the biggest jump in income. The only city where a degree was even less valuable in terms of retirement income was Cleveland, where degree holders received an average of 32.2% more in median retirement income.

So why are people with degrees in areas like Cleveland only making 32.2% more than those without degrees, while those in other cities, such as Austin, get an average of 52.9% more? One key difference might be the availability of blue collar and government jobs with pensions.

Certain areas might provide more public sector jobs and other employment opportunities that come with pensions but don’t require college degrees. In those cities, non-degree holders might be better financially protected, even if they don’t have as high an earning potential as those with degrees.

Unfortunately, pensions in the private sector have become less and less common, and there’s no guarantee that even public sector pensions will continue to be available in the future. For now, though, they seem to be helping retired degree and non-degree holders alike, albeit in certain cities more than others.

How a college degree affects employment opportunities

Earning your bachelor’s doesn’t just open the door to higher-paying jobs; it also increases your chances of gaining employment at all. According to our study, degree holders are 52.7% more likely to be employed than non-degree holders.

Holding a college degree was most useful in Birmingham, Baltimore and Milwaukee, where degree holders were 63.7%, 63.7%, and 62.9% more likely to be employed, respectively.

On the other side of the spectrum, it had the lowest effect in Austin (35.4%), Los Angeles (39%), and Denver (40.5%).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a higher level of education corresponds with lower unemployment across the U.S. Bachelor’s degree holders had the lowest unemployment rate of 2.1% in April 2018. The data showed jobless rates rising for workers at lower education levels: 3.5% for people with some college education, 4.3% for high school graduates, and 5.9% for those without a high school diploma.

That said, employment opportunities vary by location, and some cities host industries that have little presence elsewhere. So while your education level impacts your chances of employment, so too does the metropolitan area in which you live.

How a college degree affects homeownership

Since higher education can lead to a higher income, it should come as no surprise that degree holders are also more likely to own homes. Overall, college graduates are 21.8% more likely to be homeowners than non-college graduates.

In San Antonio, bachelor’s degree holders are 40% more likely to be homeowners. In Las Vegas, having a degree correlates with a 33.7% greater chance of owning a home, and in L.A. it comes with a 31.4% greater chance.

That said, having your degree doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more likely to own a house. In Pittsburgh, degree holders are only 0.7% more likely to be homeowners. And in Buffalo, that likelihood is only 11.3% higher.

Lots of factors play into homeownership, including the average age of the local population, how much student debt residents have and of course, the cost of real estate itself. In some areas, low prices might make it easier for all residents to buy homes, regardless of whether they hold a college degree and receive the higher income that often goes with it.

On the flip side, high costs of living could make homeownership cost-prohibitive for everyone, especially if degree holders are paying off large amounts of student debt. With high student loan payments, graduates might be wary of taking on a mortgage — or might not have the financial credentials to qualify in the first place.

How a college degree affects health insurance coverage

The U.S. has an employer-based health insurance system, meaning many of us rely on our employers to provide coverage. Since employers tend to subsidize health care costs, employer-sponsored plans are typically the most affordable.

Since we saw that college degree holders tend to have higher rates of employment, as well as bigger salaries, it follows that they’re also more likely to have health insurance. The difference is not particularly dramatic, though: Overall, those with degrees are just 11.5% more likely to have health insurance.

The gap is most evident in Houston, Dallas and Miami, where college graduates are 20.1%, 18.2%, and 18.1% more likely than non-college graduates to have coverage, respectively. But in Buffalo, Boston and Providence, the difference is minimal, with the relative likelihood at just 4.4%, 4.5%, and 5.9%, respectively.

One variable to consider is the availability of state-sponsored health insurance. For instance, Massachusetts has MassHealth, a state-run program that provides affordable health insurance to low-income residents. If your state has a similar program, you might not need employer-sponsored health insurance if you meet eligibility criteria. But if not, you could be facing high premiums without the help of an employer.

College degrees remain valuable, despite high rates of student debt

With the high rates of student debt in the U.S. — $1.48 trillion at the latest count — it’s natural to feel skeptical about the value of a college degree. But even with the student loans that often accompany higher education, a college degree remains valuable across the country.

Not only does it correlate with higher income, but it also boosts your chances of employment. Plus, having your degree could lead to higher retirement income, an increased chance of homeownership and a greater likelihood of health insurance coverage.

That said, the value of a degree isn’t the same everywhere. Some cities might be home to industries that look for college degree holders, while others might not have as many employment opportunities or high-income careers.

If you’re looking for the greatest return on investment for your degree, consider moving to an area with job opportunities in your current field. Cost of living might be another important factor when choosing where to live, as it could have a big impact on your chances of becoming a homeowner.

By being selective about where you reside, you can leverage your college degree into a high-paying career, as well as a higher income after you retire. Not only will earning your college degree likely lead to greater financial stability but optimizing where you live can also help put your degree to work for you.


This study was conducted by Prabhat Kumar and Aditya Patil. It was limited to the 50 largest statistical metropolitan areas by population, and measured differences between people ages 25 and older with and without four-year degree educations or higher. Six metrics were scored from 0 to 100: ratio of median loan balance to median income for degree holders; difference in median incomes between degree holders and non-degree holders; difference in median retirement incomes; difference in unemployment rates; difference in homeownership rates; and the difference in health insurance coverage. These were assigned weights and then combined into one score. Income and rent values were normalized using the Regional Price Parity from the Bureau of Economic Analysis to account for variability in buying power across the MSAs. Data was sourced from 2016 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census hosted on IPUMS and American FactFinder and from a student loan balance study published in May by LendingTree (our parent company).

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Rebecca Safier
Rebecca Safier |

Rebecca Safier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rebecca here

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6 Best Reasons to Refinance Student Loan Debt in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.


Like the beginning of a new year, student loan refinancing can offer you a fresh start.

And this time, you could enjoy a lower interest rate or reduced monthly payment, as well as choosing which lender or servicer helps you reach the finish line.

These are among the six reasons to refinance your student loan debt in 2019.

1. Reduce your rate

After staggering four rate hikes across 2018, upping its benchmark by a full percentage point, the Federal Reserve is expected to impose increases of roughly half a percentage point during 2019.

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the perfect time to refinance your student loans, this year could be the right time for you, as banks, credit unions and online lenders are still offering relatively low rates.

Don’t simply rely on lenders’ advertising, however. To qualify for the bottom of their best rate ranges, you’ll need a strong credit score and a healthy debt-to-income ratio. A steady, well-paying job helps, too.

You might treat 2019 as the year to strengthen your refinancing application, even if you decide it’s not the year you’ll be able to snag that super low rate.

A lower rate equals greater savings. Say you refinance $30,000 on a 10-year term and manage to cut your original average rate of 8% down to 5%. You’d save $5,494 over the next decade — no small chunk of change.

Check out our student loan refinance calculator to see what your own numbers look like.

2. Stretch your paycheck

Some borrowers see refinancing as a way of lowering their interest rate, but others see it as a pathway to reduce monthly payments.

A smaller monthly due could stretch your paycheck, which could be helpful if debt repayment isn’t your only financial goal for the year ahead.

By refinancing your federal loans and their 10-year standard repayment plan, you could switch to a longer term with a private lender. Most lenders offer you the ability to choose a term anywhere between five and 20 years.

If temporarily lowering your payments via refinancing is your top priority, shop around. You might be surprised by what you find. LendKey, for example, offers interest-only payments for up to four years.

As you seek a lower monthly payment in 2019, keep a couple of caveats in mind. By choosing a longer repayment term, for example, your loan repayment becomes progressively more expensive. That’s because interest will accrue and capitalize onto the principal loan amount.

Say you refinanced that $30,000 loan to a longer, 20-year term. Despite lowering your rate from 8% to 5%, you’d pay an additional $3,839 in interest over the life of your loan.

Also, don’t forget about the federal government’s income-driven repayment plans. With a plan like income-based repayment, you could tie your dues to a percentage of your discretionary income — and hold on to government-exclusive protections, such as access to loan forgiveness programs. It’s a preferable alternative to refinancing for many borrowers.

3. Snag some perks

If you’re considering refinancing federal loans, you might be worried about what you’d be giving up. The list includes access to loan forgiveness, plus the ability to switch repayment plans or receive mandatory forbearance.

Although private lenders won’t offer the same protections, their benefits are getting better and better all the time.

Consider some of the recent innovations being offered by top-rated lenders:

  • SoFi’s Unemployment Protection program lets you pause your loan for up to 12 months, and it includes career coaching support to find your next gig.
  • Earnest allows you to choose your payment due date, select from a much wider assortment of repayment terms than at most lenders, and skip one payment annually.
  • CommonBond has pioneered hybrid loans for student refinancing, offering a loan that blends fixed and variable rates.
  • Laurel Road is among the group of lenders that give a parent the chance to refinance federal PLUS Loans in their child’s name.

If an atypical loan feature makes refinancing right for you, survey the landscape in 2019 to see if any reputable lender offers the benefits you seek.

4. Simplify your repayment

If you’re holding federal loans, you might be cautiously optimistic about NextGen, the Department of Education’s plan to reorganize how student loan servicing works. If it fulfills expectations when it arrives sometime in 2019, NextGen will allow you to make your monthly payments in one place at one time.

“Cautiously optimistic” are the operative words here. NextGen is a massive undertaking, and government projects can sometimes move more slowly then we’d like, so you might not want to count on the new platform simplifying your repayment.

On the other hand, refinancing offers you that simplicity now. By replacing your federal loans (and private loans, if you have them), you’re not just receiving a new interest rate and repayment term. You’re also simultaneously consolidating (or grouping) them by replacing them with a single refinanced loan.

5. Choose your lender

When you first borrowed federal loans, you weren’t given the option to select your loan servicer.

Refinancing, however, allows you to choose your lender based on whatever criteria matter most to you. For example, you might be seeking a lender that services its own loans or offers a unique perk (see point No. 3 above).

Regardless of what you want in a new lender, remember that this year, you’re in charge. Shop around and hold potential banks, credit unions and online companies accountable for what you want out of refinancing. If they’re unable to meet your needs, move on to a competitor.

6. Gain financial independence

Student loan refinancing is more accessible in 2019 than it has been at any point previously.

In mid-2018, for instance, CommonBond announced it would accept refinancing candidates who are visa holders who have graduated from a U.S. university. Citizens Bank has been refinancing debt for college dropouts. Plus, more and more lenders are removing employment and minimum income from their eligibility requirements.

If you’ve found refinancing to be out of your reach, you might now be in luck. As a creditworthy applicant, you could thank the cosigner on your original loans by removing their name from your refinance application.

If not — maybe your credit score still needs work — take the first months of 2019 to strengthen your application. A cosigner could help you do just that. Plus, through refinancing, you could release that cosigner within a relatively short period. Splash Financial and LendKey are among lenders that offer cosigner release after just one year of prompt payments.

That would give you greater financial independence by 2020 — and put you on a path to becoming debt-free on your own.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Andrew Pentis
Andrew Pentis |

Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here


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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Doctors

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

As a medical professional, you might have taken on a mountain of debt on your journey to becoming a doctor. The average indebted doctor left medical school in 2016 owing more than $189,000 in student loans, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Even if you’re on your way to a six-figure income, your residency income will likely be far less — in 2017, residents earned an average of just over $57,000. During that time, the interest alone on all your student loans could be equal to your entire disposable income after room and board.

Fortunately, there are student loan forgiveness programs for doctors and other medical professionals that could pay off part or even all of your loans. If you’re looking to cure yourself of medical school debt, turn to these programs for assistance.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC)

The National Health Service Corps can provide up to $50,000 to repay your health profession student loan in exchange for a two-year commitment to work at an NHSC site in a high-need, underserved area. After completing your initial service commitment, you can apply to extend your service and receive additional loan repayment assistance.

In order to qualify, you’ll need to work at least half-time in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Along with earning loan forgiveness, you could put your medical degree to good use by caring for an underserved community.

Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program

This federal program offers up to $40,000 in exchange for two years of service in an American Indian or Alaskan Native community. You can also renew your contract and receive additional benefits that could pay off your entire student loan balance.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program

If you work in medical research, you could qualify for $35,000 per year from the NIH Loan Repayment Program. To do so, you’ll need to conduct research at a non-profit organization in an eligible field, such as health disparities, contraception and infertility or pediatric medicine.

Students to Service Program

If you’re still in medical school, you can apply for a major award through the Students to Service Program. This program provides up to $120,000 to medical students who commit to providing primary health care at an approved site for three years after graduating.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)

The PSLF program is intended to encourage individuals to enter and continue to work full-time in public service jobs. You could receive forgiveness of the remaining balance of your federal direct loans after making 120 qualifying payments while employed by certain public service employers.

Since you’ll likely have to work for 10 years before you get loan forgiveness, you’ll have to move your student loans off the standard 10-year plan and onto an income-driven repayment or extended repayment plan — otherwise you’ll have already paid off your balance by the time you qualify for forgiveness.

You should also keep up to date with any developments around the PSLF program. While it was signed into law in 2007, the program is not guaranteed to be around forever, and it’s recently drawn controversy over the uncertainty around getting approved.

Military loan repayment programs

If you’re serving as a medical provider in the Army, Navy or Air Force, you could qualify for assistance toward your student loans. Here are some of the programs available for military personnel.

Financial Assistance Program (FAP)

The Army, Air Force and Navy all offer the FAP, a program that grants loan repayment assistance and a living stipend to medical residents.

If you’re a medical resident in the Army or Air Force, you could get at least $45,000 per year of service, plus a monthly stipend of at least $2,000. And although the Navy grant can change from year to year, Navy medical residents could also qualify for significant assistance from the Navy FAP.

Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program

This program offers up to $40,000 per year in student loan repayment over a set number of years. You must be a physician in the Army, Navy, or Air Force to qualify.

U.S. Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP)

The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP) provides medical personnel in the Navy with aid for their education loans. If you meet the program’s criteria, you could receive repayment assistance of up to $40,000 per year, minus about 25% in federal taxes.

State Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs)

Many states also run programs that grant student loan repayment assistance in exchange for working in a high-need or underserved area. A good place to check the medical loan repayment and forgiveness programs available in your area is through the AAMC database.

Here are just two examples of the many state-specific programs:

  • The Arizona Loan Repayment Program offers up to $65,000 in exchange for a two-year commitment from physicians.
  • The Kansas State Loan Repayment Program offers up to $25,000 per year of contract toward your outstanding education debt. After completion of the initial two-year service obligation, you may be able to extend your contract in one-year increments.

Check with your state to find out if it has an LRAP for doctors, nurses or other medical professionals. Depending on where you live and work, you could qualify for significant assistance toward your student loans.

Do the math before committing to a loan forgiveness program

As you take a look at each loan forgiveness program, remember to weigh salary considerations against any amount you’d receive in student loan assistance. Opting for a job with a $75,000 salary to earn $25,000 in loan forgiveness wouldn’t be as lucrative as going after a job with a $200,000 salary and no loan forgiveness, for instance.

Unless you’re driven to work in a high-need area or with an underserved population, you might not benefit from sacrificing a high salary for the sake of qualifying for loan forgiveness. Consider your career goals and your wants and needs in a job.

Refinancing student loans can also help

Whether or not you’re working toward student loan forgiveness, you might also consider refinancing as a strategy for managing your debt. Through refinancing, you could reduce your interest rates and save money on your loans beyond whatever forgiveness you can get from these programs.

Because of their steady incomes, doctors tend to be especially strong candidates for student loan refinancing. Along with lowering your rate, you could choose new terms and adjust your monthly payments.

But refinancing with a private lender also means you’ll lose access to federal programs and repayment plans, so make sure you’re comfortable with this sacrifice before making any changes to your debt. If you decide refinancing is right for you — or simply want to learn more about the process — check out the best lenders to refinance student loans here.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this article.

Our Top Picks for Refinancing Student Loans

You can learn more about what these lenders have to offer by checking out the best options to refinance student loans here.

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 



3.90% - 7.95%

Fixed Rate*

2.47% - 7.17%

Variable Rate*

No Max

Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on SoFi’s secure website




3.89% - 7.89%

Fixed Rate

2.57% - 6.97%

Variable Rate

No Max

Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Earnest’s secure website




3.67% - 7.25%

Fixed Rate

2.61% - 7.35%

Variable Rate

No Max

Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website




5.23% - 8.97%

Fixed Rate

2.68% - 8.77%

Variable Rate

$125k / $175k

Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Laurel Road BankA+



3.50% - 7.02%

Fixed Rate

3.24% - 6.66%

Variable Rate

No Max

Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Citizens BankA+



3.90% - 9.99%

Fixed Rate

3.01% - 9.75%

Variable Rate

$90k / $350k

Undergraduate /
Learn more Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student LoansA+



5.74% - 8.49%

Fixed Rate

4.99% - 7.99%

Variable Rate


Undergraduate /
Learn more Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Steven D. |

Steven D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Steven at