College Game Plan

Here’s how much you need to make to afford in-state tuition

Key Points
  • GOBankingRates calculated what you need to earn to pay for college without loans and still live comfortably.
  • In Iowa, it takes nearly $65,000 in income to afford in-state tuition without breaking the bank.
  • In Hawaii, that number balloons to more than $130,000.
Jeff Greenberg | Getty Images

It's getting harder and harder to obtain a college degree without debt — but not impossible.

The average outstanding student loan tab is $34,144, up 62 percent over the last decade, according to a report by Experian. Altogether, college loan balances in the United States have reached a record $1.5 trillion, according to a separate report by the Federal Reserve.

To avoid such a significant debt burden, more families are considering public schools because of the tuition discount. But even for in-state students, costs are rising significantly.

At public, four-year institutions, costs for the 2017-18 school year including room and board hit $20,770, according to the College Board. (Tuition plus room and board at four-year private universities was still much higher: $47,000, on average, in the recent academic year.)

Using College Board data, GOBankingRates determined what you need to earn to pay for college without loans and still live comfortably based on household income, cost of living and average mortgage rates in each state.

in Hawaii, where residents pay the most for real estate plus roughly 30 percent more for household items across the board, families need to earn at least $131,000 to afford in-state public tuition plus room and board, GOBankingRates found.

That made the Aloha State the most expensive place in the country for parents of college-age children followed by California, Colorado and Massachusetts.

Alternatively, public schools in the Midwest were far more manageable. The least expensive state was Iowa where families need to bring in just shy of $65,000 to afford state college, closely followed by Ohio and West Virginia.

How to deal with college debt

However, when it comes to college affordability, private schools should not be entirely ruled out.

In fact, some schools with sky-high prices also have very deep pockets for financial aid, which can bring the total cost way down.

And then there are the colleges that offer the "best value," which also takes starting salaries into consideration.

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