Paying Back Student Loans? It’s Hardest for People in These 8 Industries

Student loan debt is skyrocketing. | iStock/Getty Images

Debt from student loans is at an all-time high of $1.45 trillion. The average amount of student loan debt for a 2016 college graduate was more than $37,000, according to Student Loan Hero. But people in some industries tend to pay back their loans more quickly than those in other fields.
Many people seek to avoid student loan debt by not taking out loans in the first place. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to do this, so many go into debt to obtain a degree. And problems can arise when the time comes to pay back these loans. In fact, every 29 seconds someone defaults on a student loan. And the rising costs of college have outpaced wage growth.
Let’s take a look at the eight industries in which college graduates have the hardest time paying off their student loans. The data is from a Comet survey of 1,000 Americans who obtained degrees.

8. Government and public administration

They’re the best of the worst for paying off student loan debt. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $31,000
  • Paid off: 26%

Of the eight industries making the least progress in paying off their student loan debt, the one doing the best job was people in government and public administration careers. Their average debt at graduation was $31,000. And the average worker in this field has the loan 26% paid off. The wide range of government jobs includes airport security screeners, economists, auditors, computer engineers, clerks, ecologists, foresters, civil servants, and many more.
Next: An industry now requiring a bachelor’s degree is slow to pay off student loan debt.

7. Manufacturing fields

john deere tractor
The manufacturing industry now requires a bachelor’s degree. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $30,000
  • Paid off: 26%

Those who obtained degrees in the manufacturing industry had $30,000 in student loans — just a sliver under what the government career personnel borrowed. And the manufacturing industry employees also have paid off 26% of the loans on average. Due to advances in technology, a bachelor’s degree is now required for many manufacturing jobs at companies, such as Siemens Energy and John Deere, according to a recent New York Times report. A starting supply chain manager earns a median $49,400 annually.
Next: A high-paying field makes slow progress toward loan repayment.

6. Legal careers

Smiling lawyer holding file in courtroom
Law school bills add up. | Chris Ryan/OJO Images/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $32,000
  • Paid off: 25%

People in legal careers borrowed an average of $32,000 in student loans. They have paid back an average of 25% of this money. The median base salary for an attorney is about $95,000. Based on that, it might be somewhat surprising it’s taking folks in this career so long to pay down student loan debt. It’s possible these professionals feel their career requires a higher level of spending for clothing, meals, work-related events, and so on.
Next: These professionals have almost a quarter of their student loans paid off.

5. Education careers

Teacher Helping Boy To Use Digital Tablet
Teachers have a hard time paying back their loans. | monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $38,000
  • Paid off: 23%

Those working in the education arena reported taking out $38,000 in student loans. Of that, they have paid off an average of 23%. The national average starting teacher salary is $36,141. (The average teacher salary in general is $56,383.)
Next: Many in these careers earn little, and that slows their loan repayment.

4. Arts, entertainment, and recreation fields

artist with paintings
Many artists struggle with low salaries. | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $29,000
  • Paid off: 22%

Artists, entertainers, and those in recreational fields took out an average student loan of $29,000. Of that amount, an average of 22% has been paid back. This group seems to cover a broad range of careers. Fine artists include book and comic illustrators, commercial artists, concrete sculptors, editorial cartoonists, fashion illustrators, and freelance artists. These artists reportedly make an average of about $53,000 per year. We’ve all heard the term “starving artist,” and clearly some artists do make less than this. The same can be said for entertainers. Because the entertainment industry covers so many different jobs, salaries vary widely.
Next: Some earn six figures, yet their loan repayment is slow.

3. Medical and health care fields

Doctor and patient
A medical degree gets you a higher salary and lots of debt. | daizuoxin/iStock/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $43,000
  • Paid off: 20%

Those surveyed who went into the medical fields took an average of $43,000 in student loans. Of this, an average of 20% has been paid off. The average salary for a general practice physician is reported as about $127,000. Although that seems like plenty of money to aggressively pay down one’s student loan, the medical field includes way more than just doctors. Others under the medical umbrella are nurses, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, dentists, and so on.
Next: This group still has about 80% of students loans outstanding.

2. Scientific careers

Scientists make a wide range of salaries. | indukas/iStock/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $39,000
  • Paid off: 19%

Of those who chose scientific careers, the average student loan was $32,000. An average of 19% of that has been paid back per graduate. Those working in the science field include laboratory technicians, materials engineers, meteorologists, biologists, physicists, and so on. Salaries for the wide range of science jobs vary greatly. For instance, the average meteorologist salary is reported at about $87,000 per year. But the average laboratory technician salary comes out to about $41,000 per year.
Next: This career is taking longest to pay off loans.

1. Telecommunications careers

work, office setting
Most in this field have only paid off 16% of their debt. | iStock/Getty Images
  • Average debt at graduation: $32,000
  • Paid off: 16%

According to the Comet survey, people in this career have made the least progress in paying down their student loan debt, with only 16% paid down on the average $32,000 they borrowed. Telecommunications jobs that often require a bachelor’s degree include network manager, telecommunications analyst, and telecommunications project manager. What do they earn? According to PayScale, the average entry-level network manager salary is about $61,000.
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