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Personal Finance

Here's how US college costs stack up to the rest of the world

Key Points
  • Student Loan Hero took a look at tuition expenses in 10 different countries around the world to see how America measured up.
  • The U.S. wasn't the most expensive country for college, but it was close. 

In this country, a college education is the second-largest expense an individual is likely to make in a lifetime — right after purchasing a home.

At public, four-year institutions, costs for the 2017-18 school year not including room and board hit nearly $10,000, according to the College Board. At private schools, the price tag can be significantly higher.

As a result, college-loan balances in the U.S. have jumped to a record $1.5 trillion. , owing about $29,650 per borrower, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

But it isn’t like that everywhere. Student Loan Hero took a look at tuition expenses in 10 different countries around the world to see how the U.S. measured up.

"College costs in the U.S. are higher than they are in most other countries, but surprisingly the U.S. doesn’t have the most expensive system," said Rebecca Safier, Student Loan Hero's lead researcher on the study. (Click on the country flag to see details.)

Germany was the best value overall, thanks to the nation's commitment to free higher education for both German and international students.

Colleges in France and Switzerland offer low tuition and, as a result, only a small percentage of students graduate with loans.

In other parts of the world where student debt is a growing problem, some countries, like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, have instituted a universal income-based repayment system for college graduates.

In Australia, for example, grads don’t pay anything until they earn about $40,000 a year. At that point, they pay between 4 percent and 8 percent of their income, which is automatically deducted from their bank accounts.

"This system makes it virtually impossible to default on your student loans," Safier said.

The U.K. was the only country in the report with higher tuition costs than the U.S., according to Student Loan Hero. There, the average annual tuition at a public college is over $12,000.

However, the income-based repayment system in the U.K. means borrowers can make low monthly payments and whatever balance remains after 30 years is forgiven.

Of course, the U.S. also has income-based repayment for students who qualify but the plan can be difficult to navigate and, depending on the type of loan, doesn’t always apply.

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