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Could where you live hurt credit score?

By Jeanine Skowronski · Bankrate.com
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Posted: 5 pm ET

While the address that appears at the top of your credit report may not officially factor into your credit score, there's a good chance where you live influences it.

According to Experian, differences in economic conditions and cultural norms between U.S. cities help to explain why some performed better than others in its latest credit trends study. The study ranked the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas by lowest to highest debt averages.

Which cities' residents have the highest/lowest debt?

Experian's study ranks the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas from lowest to highest debt average.

$24,678 – Average debt per consumer*
1 $23,604 – Detroit
2 $24,361 – Los Angeles
3 $24,884 – Miami
4 $25,396 – New York
5 $25,413 – Boston
6 $25,537 – Tampa, FL
7 $25,626 – Minneapolis
8 $25,828 – San Francisco
9 $26,128 – Philadelphia
10 $26,423 – San Diego
11 $26,429 – Chicago
12 $26,721 – St. Louis
13 $26,940 – Atlanta
14 $27,090 – Denver
15 $27,267 – Phoenix
16 $27,271 – Baltimore
17 $27,279 – Seattle
18 $27,668 – Washington, D.C.
19 $28,105 – Houston
20 $28,240 – Dallas

*Average debt for this study includes all credit cards, auto loans and personal loans/student loans.

Source: Experian

Hard-hit Detroit took the top spot with an average debt of $23,604 per consumer. The Motor City decreased its average debt by 7.1 percent, compared to four years ago. While initially surprising, this development is actually in line with Detroit's most recent economic data.

"Last year, Detroit's unemployment rate was 10 percent," says Michele Raneri, Experian's vice president of analytics. Now, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's around 9 percent. "That's a pretty big move," she says, adding that it shows the city is starting to recover from the Great Recession.

Worst-ranked Dallas, on the other hand, can blame mob mentality for its increasing debt levels.

"(Texas') economy, in general, is good," Raneri says. "Cost of living is low. There's just something culturally as a state" that makes it more acceptable for Texans to carry lots of debt and miss payments.

Experian has seen these types of trends play out before. A few years ago, strategic default was all the rage in California, Nevada and Florida.

"They were the epicenters of the mortgage meltdown," Raneri says. "The home prices in those areas escalated in the bubble and plummeted in the recession."

The housing crash, in a sense, was just the beginning. Once lots of people started to default, it became more socially acceptable for others in the area to do so as well.

In other words, your neighbor's poor credit decisions could be contagious.

Fortunately, U.S. residents, collectively, are getting better at managing payment histories and credit utilization rates -- two of the main drivers of good credit scores. Experian found that while the nation's average debt increased by 5 percent compared to four years ago ($25,927 vs. $24,678, respectively), its average VantageScore held at 665.

"That means even with the increase in debt, people are paying their bills well," Raneri says, which, in turn, means an economic recovery may finally be upon us. "Everyone is starting to do a little bit better."

Follow me on Twitter: @JeanineSko.

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