Scaling back streaming subscriptions is solid savings advice for some. But what if the choice you’re faced with is not whether to pay for Netflix or Hulu, but whether to pay for food or electricity?
Millions of Americans face food, housing and general financial insecurity every year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Agriculture. And getting help often means navigating a maze of websites, automated telephone systems and confusing applications only to land on a yearslong waitlist or worse — find out you don’t qualify.
The good news: You don’t have to figure this out on your own. There are financial counselors, nonprofits and other local and national organizations that exist to help you find your financial footing.
If you’re currently facing eviction, can’t feed your family or are experiencing some other financial crisis, dial 211 now to talk with a local expert who can connect you to assistance programs for food, housing and utility expenses, medical bills and other emergencies.
Not in crisis mode yet but barely keeping your head above water? Take these steps to prioritize the money you do have coming in, then get help filling in the gaps.
GO BACK TO BASICS
Start with a budget — even if you don’t think you have enough money coming in to have a budget, says Amy Smith, a financial counselor in central Texas.
“It doesn’t matter how much you’re bringing in — any amount of money — because you’re at least telling that money where to go,” says Smith, who is also the membership engagement coordinator for the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education.
Your first budget won’t be pretty. Your third or fourth might not be either. That’s OK. Try to stick with it and play around with different budgeting methods to find one that works for you.
“When I started this journey, the end of my budget was red,” Smith says, indicating that she didn’t have the funds to cover all of her expenses. “At least I knew I needed extra money.”
You will also know how to reallocate your funds if you get some extra income or a few months of utility assistance.
PRIORITIZE THE ESSENTIALS
If there’s not enough money to cover all your expenses, tend to your basic needs first. These include housing, utilities, food, transportation and child care, among other things.
“If that means a credit card doesn’t get paid that month, that happens,” Smith says.
Bills you can’t cover shouldn’t be ignored, though. Call the creditor — whether it’s your landlord, mortgage company, utility provider or credit card issuer — and explain the situation. Then, ask if there’s any help available. Even a waived late fee can help.
TAKE HELP WHERE YOU CAN
Don’t let perceived social stigma keep you from getting the help you need. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking services like food banks or food stamps aren’t for you, or that things aren’t “that bad” yet.
It can take time to get from application to assistance, especially for federal programs. The waitlist for some federal housing vouchers can be years long, according to Erik Gartland, a research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. On the flip side, SNAP benefits (often referred to as food stamps) can kick in within seven days of applying if you have no income, says Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow and director of federal SNAP policy at the CBPP.
Tracking down programs, forms, applications and eligibility requirements is tedious and time consuming, especially if you’re facing language barriers, don’t have reliable internet access or simply don’t have the time because you’re caring and providing for your family.
Lean on organizations with the sole focus of connecting people in need to the assistance available.
HOW TO FIND HELP
These organizations can help you navigate the network of local, regional and national programs administered by nonprofits, religious organizations and state and federal agencies.
211.org: You can call 211 or visit 211.org to find local experts who know what help is available where you live and can connect you with the benefits you need.
Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education: Financial counselors work with clients on the basics — managing expenses, building a budget, creating a long-term plan — and they’re tuned in to local resources and assistance programs. You can sign up for a free virtual session with a certified financial counselor at findanafc.org/pro-bono.
National Low Income Housing Coalition: This nonprofit organization maintains a database of Emergency Rental Assistance programs, searchable by the city, county, state territory or tribe. Crucially, the database also includes up-to-date information on each program’s status: accepting applications, on hold or permanently closed.
Legal Services Corporation: Legal aid organizations across the country offer free legal help to low-income individuals. Their services cover everything from evictions and foreclosure to wage disputes and disaster relief . Legal Services Corporation is an independent nonprofit that provides funding to more than 100 legal aid groups across the country and the U.S. territories. Visit their website ( lsc.gov ), select “Get legal help” and enter your address to find a local legal aid office.
Michael Barera // Wikimedia Commons
In the late 1980s, a high school graduate who wanted to attend college or university was looking at average tuition of $15,160 per year for a private, nonprofit school and $3,190 per year for a public college or university. As of 2021, that number had ballooned to $37,600 for private, nonprofit colleges and $9,400 for public schools. Once the cost of books, room and board, and other fees are added in, paying for college with a part-time or summer job is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
Today's students are instead turning to loans, leading to a widespread debt crisis. Americans currently owe a collective $1.58 trillion in student loans, changing the shape and trajectory of the U.S. economy. Instead of buying cars or houses, many millennials are focused on finding jobs that will enable them to make loan payments without defaulting.
Some states are taking steps to help by adopting a Student Borrower Bill of Rights and offering a variety of scholarship and loan repayment programs for qualified graduates. In New York in 2017, for example, New York announced a scholarship program that would provide free tuition at public colleges to residents whose families make less than $125,000 a year.
Stacker looked at 2022 data from the Federal Reserve of New York to determine where student debt is hitting the nation the hardest. In the case of a tie, we looked at the number of borrowers in all tied states.
Read on to see where your state falls on the list.
Alaska offers a loan repayment program for health care workers who will live and work in areas with a shortage of medical, dental, and behavioral health professionals. The state is among those with the lowest proportion of students with debt, according to WalletHub.
MatthewUND // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 114,100
- Average loan balance per borrower: $30,542
Veterinarians can qualify for loan forgiveness in North Dakota if they will serve in high-need areas. Three are chosen each year, with the goal of attracting new veterinarians for animals raised for meat.
In 2020, Wisconsin's governor created a task force to look for ways to reduce student debt in the state. The loans disproportionately affect low-income and first-generation college students, students of color, women, and veterans, according to the governor.
Primary care doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals are eligible for loan repayment awards in Nebraska if they practice in areas where there are shortages.
Brandonrush // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 374,900
- Average loan balance per borrower: $31,851
After Arkansas began a default management program in 2013, students' default rates fell almost every year. From 2013 to 2018, Arkansas' default rate dropped 7.8 percentage points, compared to the national rate, which fell 3.9 percentage points. By the end of 2021, the state's delinquency rate was 9%.
IT Communications Office // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 924,000
- Average loan balance per borrower: $32,045
Indiana provides student loan relief for lawyers working in legal aid through its Richard M. Givan Loan Repayment Assistance program. Another program, Hon. J. Terrence and Peggy Cody Loan Repayment Assistance, provides aid to law school graduates working in child services. Legal scholarships are also available.
Sage Ross // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 480,800
- Average loan balance per borrower: $32,102
Oklahoma offers loan forgiveness to physicians, dentists, and other health professionals who agree to serve in specific communities in the state.
In Montana, medical professionals can receive up to $15,000 a year by working in certain areas in the state through the Montana State Loan Repayment Program.
Eugene Kim // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 215,500
- Average loan balance per borrower: $32,944
For students at risk of defaulting on loans, New Mexico offers student loan forgiveness and consolidation of debt. Doctors and nurses who help address the health care shortage in New Mexico can qualify for no-interest loans and other benefits.
Larry D. Moore // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 3,759,300
- Average loan balance per borrower: $32,998
A 2019 study by Southern Methodist University found that Black and Hispanic students in Texas borrow more than white students on average: $7,124 more for Black students and $453 for Hispanic students; meanwhile, Asian students borrow $3,155 less.
Millyard800 // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 219,000
- Average loan balance per borrower: $33,094
New Hampshire offers student loan forgiveness to primary care doctors, dentists, and other health care providers, with the goal of drawing them to underserved or low-income areas. It also offers help to lawyers working for nonprofit organizations.
Tom Ipri // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 588,800
- Average loan balance per borrower: $33,155
By the end of 2021, Kentucky had a student loan delinquency rate of 10%, putting it among the top five states with the highest delinquency rates in the country. Kentucky has a loan repayment program for health care professionals who work in rural and underserved areas.
On average, Maine college graduates owed more than $33,500 each in student loans. The state offers student debt relief to graduates who live and work there under the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit.
Tnricci // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 153,200
- Average loan balance per borrower: $33,838
The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority offers low-cost student loans, refinancing choices, and free tools to find internships and scholarships. In 2019, it enacted a Student Loan Bill of Rights to make sure borrowers are treated fairly.
Nightryder84 // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 395,200
- Average loan balance per borrower: $33,954
Kansas offers loan repayment relief to students who will live in rural areas, are health care professionals, and are primary care or psychiatry residents through its Bridging Plan.
Apstrinka // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 219,400
- Average loan balance per borrower: $34,196
Idaho provides loan forgiveness programs for those working in areas short on health professionals. This includes physicians, clinicians, and nurses in rural and underserved areas. Idaho students owe, on average, $34,196.
Vermont has the highest number of student loan borrowers who are 50 or older, according to a 2019 WalletHub study. Student loan debt there averaged $34,595 per borrower by the end of 2021—about $5000 more than the national average.
The 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii are considered affordable, with in-state tuition at the three four-year schools below the national average. The state also has programs to keep costs down—namely the Hawaii Promise scholarship program for community college students and the Hawaii State Loan Repayment Program, which provides grants to health care professionals who fill geographic shortages.
Louisiana Travel // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 644,600
- Average loan balance per borrower: $34,839
In 2022, Louisiana reported that more than half of its high school graduates were eligible for state scholarships for college. The state's FY23 budget also includes a 12% increase in funding for higher education.
Joe Mabel // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 816,900
- Average loan balance per borrower: $34,846
The Student Loan Survival Guide, published by the Washington attorney general's office, offers links to resources for financing higher education to every high school student considering college loans and former college students who struggled with the cost of school.
Adam Procter // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 829,100
- Average loan balance per borrower: $35,095
In Missouri, 58% of graduates had student loan debt in 2017, and they owed an average of $28,650. By the end of 2021, borrowers owed more than $35,000 each on average. The state offers student loan forgiveness to some employees of government agencies or nonprofit organizations.
shidairyproduct // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 2,032,400
- Average loan balance per borrower: $35,349
With its borrowers owing more than $35,000 each on average, Pennsylvania has some of the highest student debt in the country. It hovers around the middle of the pack for delinquency rate, though, at 7.2%
Ohio offers a variety of repayment programs for doctors, dentists, and other health care providers, including the Ohio Department of Health State Loan Repayment Program, the Ohio Physician Loan Repayment Program, the Ohio Dentist and Dental Hygienist Loan Repayment Program, and the Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program.
Nightryder84 // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 872,000
- Average loan balance per borrower: $36,155
Tennessee offers a loan forgiveness program for state residents who are registered nurses that agree to become administrators or teachers in nursing education programs. It also offers a Minority Teaching Fellows Program that grants $5000 per year for qualified students pursuing teacher certification at an eligible Tennessee college.
AndrewHorne // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 1,430,900
- Average loan balance per borrower: $36,221
Michigan places fifth in student loan debt as a percentage of income, according to a 2019 WalletHub study. The state offers scholarships or loan forgiveness programs for teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, and other health care professionals.
Mississippi offers forgivable loans to nurses and teachers in undergraduate programs and to counselors, school administrators, dyslexia therapists, and speech pathologists in graduate programs.
Daderot // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 542,800
- Average loan balance per borrower: $36,391
In April 2020, Connecticut's governor announced that in collaboration with other states, Connecticut had reached an agreement for relief for some privately held student loans. The state also offers a Minority Teacher Incentive program that provides grants to students and loan reimbursement of up to $2,500 a year for participants who become teachers for Connecticut's public school system.
Wars // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 872,600
- Average loan balance per borrower: $36,682
The student loan delinquency rate for borrowers in Arizona was 8.7% at the end of 2021—down 3% from the previous year. The state has a few loan repayment programs for teachers and qualified borrowers working in health services.
Dfscgt21 // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 745,500
- Average loan balance per borrower: $36,698
A WalletHub study in 2019 found that South Carolina ranked fourth for debt as a percentage of income in the U.S. The state offers several types of loans and loan forgiveness programs for students pursuing the teaching profession and graduates serving as teachers.
Lacwal12 // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 1,339,800
- Average loan balance per borrower: $37,003
Although New Jersey borrowers owe more than borrowers in 36 other states as of the last quarter of 2021, the state has a borrower delinquency rate of just 5.8%—which is better than 37 other states. The state also offers loan redemption programs for borrowers in specific professions, including lawyers, nursing instructors, and primary care health providers.
Cooopersmith // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 804,300
- Average loan balance per borrower: $37,235
Colorado is more reliant on tuition than other states. In fact, 70% of funding for higher education in the state comes from tuition; the national average is 46.6%. This policy forces many students in Colorado to borrow.
Alabama ranks in the top states for rising student debt over five years, according to an Experian analysis in 2019, and 50.3% of borrowers are under age 35. The state offers a student grant program for qualified applicants that attend one of 12 participating colleges.
Michael Camilleri // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 4,021,200
- Average loan balance per borrower: $37,783
In September 2020, California's governor signed the Student Borrower Bill of Rights into law. The law helps students participate in loan repayment and forgiveness programs. The California State Loan Repayment Program offers relief to doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, and other health care providers who will practice in areas of the state where they are most needed.
Ibrahim Old // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 1,713,900
- Average loan balance per borrower: $37,869
College loans in Illinois can be refinanced at low interest rates by the Illinois Treasurer's Office under the Illinois Student Loan Investment Act passed in 2019. Some 17% of the state's population has student loan debt. Its balance per borrower is nearing $40,000 —which is among the top 10 highest.
Oregon's borrower delinquency rate was 8.3% as of the end of 2021—down three percent from the previous year. The state offers forgiveness and incentive programs for health care providers and lawyers.
Jackson Myers // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 2,646,400
- Average loan balance per borrower: $38,653
Florida passed a law in 2020 to protect graduates' professional licenses if they defaulted on their loans; prior to the passage of this law, graduates could have professional licenses revoked for failing to pay their student loans. Florida also has forgiveness programs for different professions, including the law and nursing fields.
InSapphoWeTrust // Flickr
- Number of borrowers: 2,579,600
- Average loan balance per borrower: $38,668
College graduates of an approved New York State college or university who agree to operate a farm in the state full time for five years can obtain loan forgiveness under a young farmers program. The state has forgiveness programs for a number of other professions as well.
Aaron Josephson // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 1,143,200
- Average loan balance per borrower: $39,001
Among Virginia's graduates, 57% had student loan debt, according to a 2019 report from the nonprofit The Institute for College Access and Success. In 2021, the state passed a bill of rights for student borrowers.
Artstuffmatters // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 137,300
- Average loan balance per borrower: $39,238
Delaware's average debt per borrower is among the highest in the country; only Georgia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. surpass it. Delaware's student loan repayment program helps to offset this burden.
Daniel Mayer // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 1,641,600
- Average loan balance per borrower: $41,826
In Georgia, 56% of the graduating class of 2020 had student loan debt. The average loan balance per borrower is especially high in the state, considering that 79% of students attended public colleges which are usually less expensive than private colleges.
Bgervais // Wikimedia Commons
- Number of borrowers: 864,700
- Average loan balance per borrower: $42,543
Only Washington D.C. has an average loan balance per borrower higher than Maryland. But the state offers a Loan Debt Relief Tax Credit for borrowers who took out at least $20,000 in loans and have at least $5,000 in debt still outstanding.
The District of Columbia's ombudsman and its Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking help students minimize their debt. The district's attorney general's office has also compiled a web page of student loan repayment resources. Even so, Washington D.C. borrowers have the highest average loan balance in the country.