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2020-21 low and moderate budgets for developing student expense budgets

The College Board's 2020-21 nine- and twelve-month living expense budgets show living expense costs by region and metropolitan area. Both a moderate and a low budget are provided. The budgets reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index (calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) of 2.1 percent for 2018.

The budgets are developed based on data from the most recent years’ Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES), produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For 2020-21, the CES microdata was queried to generate budgets for additional Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) with significant population sizes. Consequently, the regional tables of the living expense budget now reflect 35 MSAs, compared to 22 in published regional data tables.

Since budgets cannot be established for every area of the country, no MSA’s budget falls below the base budget.

The base budgets for 2020-21 are:

Moderate (Prevailing) Budgets
12 Month $27,200
9 Month $20,400


Low Budgets
12 Month $18,220
9 Month $13,670

The approximate breakdown of the living expense component is as follows:

  • Housing: 52%
  • Transportation: 17%
  • Miscellaneous: 31%

The housing allowance breaks down between housing (including utilities) and food at approximately 74 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

These budgets are useful tools that will help you:

  • Develop expense budgets for your independent commuting students
  • Prepare debt management materials
  • Exercise professional judgment

Note: These budgets are provided to assist financial aid officers in developing living expense budgets for their independent, off-campus students. The budgets should not be confused with the actual boarding expenses experienced by an on-campus student.