Managing Debt

The Most Debt-Ridden Cities

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Financial news about Detroit is not generally positive these days. However, despite the city’s record-breaking bankruptcy filing last summer, its residents are doing all right with their personal debt. As of February this year, they had the lowest average debt of the largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the country, with an average personal debt load of $23,604. That’s a 7.1% decrease from its residents’ average debt in 2010.

Texans are on the other end of the spectrum for these large cities, according to an analysis by Experian. Dallas had the highest average debt per resident at $28,240, followed by Houston with $28,105. These figures come from statistically representative samples of the MSAs, and the debt includes credit cards, auto loans, personal loans and student loans.

Beyond Dollar Amounts

The data can be positively interpreted for both Detroit and Dallas consumers.

“As long as you’re trying to cope with a difficult situation, you keep your debt down, and I think that’s a very good thing for Detroit,” said Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian. Detroit’s unemployment rate was 9.1% in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 5.4% unemployment in Dallas. Dallas’ high debt level, which increased 7.8% from 2010 to 2014, can be a good sign for the economy, Sweet said.

The average credit scores in these areas provide a clearer picture of what’s going on with consumer debt. The average credit score of Detroit residents (667) increased 4 points during the past 4 years, which Sweet said is a significant change. Dallas, Houston and Miami had a three-way-tie for the second-lowest average credit score: 648. (The data uses the VantageScore 3.0 scale, in which a 600 to 649 score is considered poor credit.) Atlanta is at the bottom with a 646.

Big Cities With Big Debt

The debt figures may not tell the whole story, but city dwellers definitely have a lot of it. An average U.S. consumer has $25,927 in personal debt, and only eight MSAs examined had lower averages. The average U.S. credit score is 665, and only eight MSAs examined had worse scores.

Half of those sub-par credit scores come from debt-ridden cities. Here are the 10 most-populated MSAs with the highest average debt levels per resident.

10. Chicago
Average debt: $26,429
Average credit score: 670

9. St. Louis
Average debt: $26,721
Average credit score: 673

8. Atlanta
Average debt: $26,940
Average credit score: 646

7. Denver
Average debt: $27,090
Average credit score: 675

6. Phoenix
Average debt: $27,267
Average credit score: 654

5. Baltimore
Average debt: $27,271
Average credit score: 662

4. Seattle
Average debt: $27,279
Average credit score: 679

3. District of Columbia
Average debt: $27,668
Average credit score: 674

2. Houston
Average debt: $28,105
Average credit score: 648

1. Dallas
Average debt: $28,240
Average credit score: 648

Keep in mind debt is one of the many things that determine your credit score. Making loan payments on time and keeping your accounts in good standing has a large impact on your score. There are many ways you can get your free credit scores, including through a Credit.com account, and that will help you see how your credit history dictates your score.

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Image: Julesinski

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