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Ideal Salary Needed to Afford College in Your State — Without Loans

Joel Anderson

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Ideal Salary Needed to Afford College in Your State — Without Loans

Americans have been taking on more and more debt to keep up with the rising cost of college. According to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, up from just $340 billion in 2001. But how much would you have to earn to avoid — or help your children avoid — the college debt trap and live comfortably while doing so?

GOBankingRates surveyed the cost of living, mortgage rates and college costs — using College Board data on the average price of in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions — to calculate what you need to earn to pay for college without loans.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $71,912.73
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $87,142.73

Alabama falls within the bottom half of states for income needed to pay for college due to a lower cost of living than most states. It’s also on the cheaper side for college tuition, with in-state tuition and fees for 2017-18 averaging out to just over $10,000.

More on College Costs: Most Affordable Private Colleges in Every State


  • Income for in-state tuition: $85,644.81
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $101,044.81

The average college tuition and fees of just $7,440 for in-state students is among the 10 lowest in the country. However, because the cost of living is high, Alaska residents need to earn more than most. Fortunately, the average household income is also high — $92,191 — so a typical family should be able to afford to send their kid to an in-state college.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $83,303.54
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $101,833.54

Arizona residents will likely have to borrow money to send their kids to a state university if they’re not ready for this high cost. With average in-state tuition and fees of $11,220, Arizona families need more than $80,000 in annual income to cover college costs in addition to everything else.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $65,349.53
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $77.799.53

Thanks to a low cost of living and relatively low tuition and fees for state schools, the annual income needed for Arkansas residents to send their kids to an in-state college is the fourth-lowest on the list and the lowest for out-of-state tuition.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $108,501.81
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $131,411.81

The income necessary to send someone to college in California is the second-highest in the entire nation for both in and out of the state. But this has more to do with the high cost of living. Golden State residents will pay under $10,000 a year in tuition and fees, putting them right in the middle of the pack.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $95,896.97
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $115,696.97

Colorado residents need a higher annual income to pay for college and live comfortably than residents in all but three states. Much of that can be attributed to the high cost of buying a home — the median home price is over $362,600, according to Zillow.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $90,425.94
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $107,055.94

Connecticut is an expensive place to live, and both the in-state tuition and the income necessary to afford it are among the 10 highest in this study. Of course, there are plenty of people who can afford it: Three of the richest zip codes in the country are in the state.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $86,696.20
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $105,396.20

Delaware makes it out of the worst 10 states for the salary you need to send a kid to college there, but not by much. And out-of-state tuition is actually the seventh highest in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $83,754.63
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $99,274.63

Florida might be one of the best states to retire rich in, but there might also be reasons to move there prior to your golden years. At just $6,360 a year, the average in-state tuition in Florida is the second-lowest in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $77,361.32
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $95,551.32

Thanks to a low cost of living and relatively low in-state tuition and fees, Georgia families don’t need as high of an annual income for college costs.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $131,206.47
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $151,636.47

Hawaii requires the highest annual income to pay for in-state college costs and live comfortably in the country. That’s primarily due to the highest home prices and costs for basic necessities in the U.S., but the tuition costs are also above average.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $76,747.11
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $92,077.11

The average in-state tuition and fees of $7,250 for Idaho public institutions is the sixth-lowest in the U.S. That does make it somewhat odd that Idaho lands in the middle of the pack for what it costs to live comfortably while paying for college. However, its overall ranking is in line with its average cost of necessities.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $76,965.48
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $86,825.48

At $13,620, Illinois has the fifth-highest average for in-state college costs. The Land of Lincoln isn’t cutting any slack to its residents, though, when you consider that the out-of-state tuition is actually lower than in more than half of the other states.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $65,473.37
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $85,283.37

The annual income needed in Indiana to pay for college and live comfortably is the sixth-lowest overall. Although in-state tuition is actually a little higher than most, Indiana has the second-lowest cost for basic necessities in the nation, helping to make tuition more affordable.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $64,932.92
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $82,212.92

Iowa is the nation’s winner when it comes to having the lowest income necessary to afford in-state tuition without breaking the bank. Although it’s actually among the 20 most expensive states in terms of the average tuition and fees for in-state students, it has the fourth-lowest cost of necessities, the sixth-lowest average mortgage payment and the eighth-lowest median list price for homes. This is all part of why Iowa is one of the best states for the middle class.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $65,430.61
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $80,110.61

Kansans have the third-lowest average mortgage payment and the fifth-lowest cost of necessities, helping the state climb into the top five of states where the lowest income is needed to pay for college and still live comfortably.

Click to See: Colleges With the Highest Student Debt


  • Income for in-state tuition: $68,880.86
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $82,290.86

Kentucky finishes in the top 10 for needing less to get by while sending a kid to college — both for out-of-state and in-state tuition. The average tuition costs aren’t especially low, but the cost of living and owning a home in Kentucky are both low.

Likewise, the overall cost of education — from elementary school through college — is also low. Kentucky is among the 10 cheapest in terms of the cost of private schooling.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $75,468
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $89,448.71

The income needed to comfortably pay college tuition in Louisiana is lower than most, but that’s likely a much higher burden for some than it is for others: The state has the second-highest level of income inequality in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $73,965.93
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $91,005.93

Maine residents need less to pay for college and live comfortably than residents in more than half of the states thanks to a relatively low average in-state tuition of $9,970. Plus, the average cost of necessities here is lower than in over 30 other states. Yet, there’s still a $23,000-plus gap between the income needed to pay for college and the state’s median household income of $50,826.

Click to See: The Most Expensive Colleges in Every State


  • Income for in-state tuition: $87,132.49
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $99,612.49

Maryland might require more money than most to get by while sending a kid to college, but the state’s residents are much more likely to be able to afford it: The required $87,000 a year is actually about $13,000 under the state’s average household income. And, Maryland has the most millionaires per capita of any state in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $100,801.39
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $117,291.39

Massachusetts requires the third-highest annual income to pay for college and live comfortably, which is in line with the state’s third-highest cost of basic necessities and third-highest average monthly mortgage bill. Plus, the high cost of living here makes Massachusetts one of the states where residents are most likely to live paycheck to paycheck.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $69,057.77
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $92,967.77

Michigan has an interesting combination of factors, with the cost of buying a home and paying for necessities among the lowest in the country. But, it has the sixth-highest in-state tuition costs and the second-highest out-of-state tuition costs.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $81,923
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $91,513

The Land of 10,000 Lakes sure appears to be trying to show a little “Minnesota Nice” for those hailing from outside the state. Although in-state tuition and fees are the 13th-highest in the country, its out-of-state costs are the ninth lowest.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $68,064.50
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $79,134.50

The income necessary to pay tuition bills in addition to all your other bills is the seventh-lowest for in-state tuition in Mississippi and the fourth-lowest for out-of-state tuition. It also has the third-lowest tuition rates for out-of-staters at just over $19,000 a year.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $69,468.85
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $81,778.85

Missouri is one of just 12 states where the income needed to pay for tuition without compromising on the rest of your bills is under $70,000. One thing helping make that possible is the chance to get cheaper homes, with a median list price that’s the fifth lowest in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $82,665.86
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $98,975.86

Despite the fourth-lowest in-state tuition and fees of $6,910, Montana ranks among the top half of states for income needed to pay for college and live comfortably. This need for a higher income is because residents need more to cover necessities, splurges and savings.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $70,089.64
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $82,129.64

Nebraska’s in-state tuition and fees are relatively low at $8,270 a year. But its out-of-state tuition is impressively low — the seventh lowest in the country at just over $20,000 a year.

If you’re looking to splurge, though, consider Creighton University, the most expensive college in the state. Tuition will cost you over $37,000 annually.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $82,218.55
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $96,458.55

Nevada’s average in-state tuition and fees of $7,270 are lower than public college costs in all but six states. However, the annual cost of necessities, splurges and savings run higher than most states. As a result, the income required to live comfortably and send a kid to college is higher than in the majority of states.

New Hampshire

  • Income for in-state tuition: $89,996.04
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $102,356.04

New Hampshire ranks among the top 10 states for the annual income needed to pay for college and live comfortably. The cost of living is relatively high, but the big reason residents need a higher income to send their kids to school is because of the highest in-state tuition and fees — $16,070.

New Jersey

  • Income for in-state tuition: $88,690.06
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $101,420.06

New Jersey also falls among the top 10 states for annual income needed to send a child to college and live comfortably — ninth highest to be specific. However, that might actually not be so bad when you consider that it has the fourth-highest average tuition for in-state students in the country.

New Mexico

  • Income for in-state tuition: $70,385.90
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $83,525.90

New Mexico’s tuition rates are low — fifth lowest for in-state students and sixth lowest for out-of-state students — which helps make up for a cost of necessities that’s higher than in the majority of states.

New York

  • Income for in-state tuition: $92,323.34
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $103,883.34

New York has the fifth-highest income necessary to afford in-state tuition and still live comfortably. But that’s not because of the tuition cost, which is the 11th-lowest for in-state and fifth-lowest for out-of-state. No, it’s the hefty cost of necessities — the fifth highest in America.

North Carolina

  • Income for in-state tuition: $74,722.51
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $91,862.51

North Carolina’s university system is pretty friendly to its fellow Tarheels. The state has the eighth-lowest average in-state tuition and fees, but an out-of-state tuition that’s higher than in about half the country.

North Dakota

  • Income for in-state tuition: $74,579.97
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $85,799.97

North Dakota’s average in-state tuition and fees of $8,200 are relatively low, and its out-of-state rates are the fourth-lowest. So it’s the cost of necessities, splurges and savings that push up the income needed to live comfortably and pay for college in this state.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $65,064.61
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $79,554.61

The annual income needed to pay for college in Ohio and live comfortably is lower than in all but two states. It’s also one of just five states where the income required to live comfortably while sending a child to college out of state is under $80,000 a year. Why? Well, having the lowest cost for necessities and the second-lowest average mortgage payment has to help.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $69,013.89
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $83,073.89

The cost of living in Oklahoma is relatively low, as is in-state tuition.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $91,701.63
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $111,641.63

Oregon is one of the states where you need to earn the most to afford college, necessitating the sixth-highest income for in-state tuition and fifth-highest for out-of-state. Meanwhile, the average mortgage payment and cost of necessities are both the sixth-highest in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $77,542.10
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $90,062.10

Although the cost of necessities and other expenses are relatively low in Pennsylvania, residents have to pay the third-highest in-state tuition and fees, pushing the necessary income to pay for college much higher than the state’s cost of living would seem to indicate.

Rhode Island

  • Income for in-state tuition: $88,097.91
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $104,777.91

Rhode Island’s relatively high in-state tuition of $12,230 combined with high expenses means residents need to earn more than residents in most states to have enough to put a kid through college and live comfortably — the income required for both in- and out-of-state tuition is the 11th-highest in the country.

South Carolina

  • Income for in-state tuition: $80,875.14
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $99,615.14

South Carolina residents have high tuition costs, with in-state students paying one of the 10 highest rates in the country. It’s worse if you’re out-of-state — that rate is the fifth-highest of all the states.

South Dakota

  • Income for in-state tuition: $75,058.11
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $79,088.11

South Dakota is plenty inviting to prospective students from outside its borders — it has the lowest out-of-state tuition in the country and the income required for out-of-staters is the third-lowest.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $73,493.73
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $90,343.73

It takes less income to pay for college in Tennessee and live comfortably than in most states because the cost of living is relatively low.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $79,356.90
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $95,726.90

The income necessary to send a kid to college and still live comfortably in Texas is right in the middle in relation to the other 50 states.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $82,220
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $96,160

Utah’s average in-state tuition of $6,790 is the third-lowest in the nation. However, the income needed to pay for college and live comfortably is higher than in more than half of the states because the cost of a mortgage is much higher — the eighth highest in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $85,785.25
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $108,735.25

At $16,040, Vermont has the second-highest in-state tuition and fees, after neighboring New Hampshire. As a result, Vermont ranks among the top 15 states for income needed to pay for college and live comfortably.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $86,233.40
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $106,683.40

Virginia ranks 16th-highest for income needed to pay for college and live comfortably. This ranking is because in-state tuition is the seventh-highest in the country. Out-of-staters have it worse, though, as they’re paying the third-highest rate to attend college in Virginia.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $90,519.51
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $110,339.51

Washington ranks seventh-highest for income needed to send a kid to college and live comfortably. The average in-state tuition and fees of $9,480 aren’t high, but the cost of living is — the cost for basic necessities is the seventh-highest in the country as well.

West Virginia

  • Income for in-state tuition: $65,010.99
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $78,670.99

West Virginia residents need to earn less to pay for college — the income required is the second smallest in America. That’s because the in-state tuition is low, and the cost of living is even lower. West Virginia has the cheapest homes, lowest mortgage payments and the seventh-lowest cost of necessities.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $68,887.17
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $82,857.17

Wisconsin falls in the top 10 for states where sending a kid to college in-state is most affordable. The relatively low tuition bill helps, but it’s the cost of living that really makes the difference — the cost of necessities there is the ninth-lowest in the country.


  • Income for in-state tuition: $73,871.43
  • Income for out-of-state tuition: $85,481.43

At $5,220, Wyoming has the lowest average in-state tuition and fees of any state. However, it doesn’t rank at the very bottom of states for the income needed to pay for college and live comfortably due to median costs for mortgage and necessities and the 11th-highest cost for groceries.

Ideal Salary Needed to Afford College in Your State — Without Loans

The results of the study confirm that college tuition is unaffordable for many Americans across the country. With the cost of attending college being higher than it’s ever been, every state in this study requires more than the national median household income to pay for in-state tuition.

Click to read more about budgeting tips for college students.

Cameron Huddleston contributed to the reporting for this article.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed monthly living expenses in all 50 states. The cost-of-living comparison included the following factors: (1) median mortgage costs by assuming a 20 percent down payment, 30-year fixed loan and the current Zillow interest rate for every state and multiplying that by 12 (1 year), sourced from Zillow’s home price index and determined using Zillow’s Mortgage Calculator; (2) annual grocery costs, taking the Grocery Cost of Living Index and multiplying by $10,139, which is the low-cost monthly grocery cost for family of four with children ages 6-8 and 9-11, sourced from Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s cost-of-living index; (3) annual electricity bill, sourced from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2016 average monthly bill data for every state; (4) annual vehicle ownership and usage costs, sourced from GOBankingRates’ Most and Least Expensive States to Own a Car study; and (5) annual healthcare costs, sourced from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2016 data on the average family premium per enrolled employee for employer-based health insurance. Median income amounts are according to the Census Bureau’s “Median Household Income by State: 1984-2015.”  College tuition and fee costs at in-state public four-year institutions for 2017-18 are sourced from the College Board.

Monthly costs were totaled and multiplied by 12 to get the annual dollar cost of necessities in each state. This dollar amount for necessities was then doubled to find the actual annual income needed to live comfortably in the city, assuming a person is following the 50/30/20 budgeting guideline, which requires an income double the cost of necessities. The amount of money specified for savings is equal to 20 percent of the total income needed, and the amount specified for discretionary spending is equal to 30 percent of the total income needed.