Have you ever wondered how credit card debt in your area compares to other portions of the U.S.? If so, you may be interested in a recent study that used credit data from TransUnion to find the cities with the least and most sustainable credit card debt based on average income and average credit card debts. In other words, how long on average does it take to pay down credit card debt in your city and how much does it cost to do so?
You might find the results surprising. Tied at the 99th percentile (least sustainable) are many smaller towns spread throughout the U.S. Cities with least sustainable debt levels include Stillwater, OK; Carbondale, IL; Auburn, AL; Laramie, WY; Ames, IA; Kalamazoo, MI; Hattiesburg, MS; and Natchitoches, LA. What's the common thread? Most are towns dominated by a local university, perhaps full of students with high credit card debt relative to current income.
On the other end of the scale, the domination is geographic: eight of the nine cities with the most sustainable debt (shorter payoff time) are located in the San Francisco Bay area, including tech towns Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Palo Alto. High median incomes in this area may be skewing the results. You can check the status in your city here.
It's nice to know how your city stacks up, but how do your personal finances look by comparison? If you are trending toward the least sustainable debt path, consider these hints to help you find more sustainable debt levels.
- Create/Maintain a Budget – If your credit card debt continuously rises, there's a reason why: you consistently spend more than you make. Realize that you have to make changes to increase income, decrease expenses, or both to have the necessary funds to pay down your debt.
- Outline Your Options – With respect to income, can you increase income with a part-time or temporary job? Do you have items you don't need that you can sell to gain extra funds? Just because your neighbors have two cars doesn’t mean your family needs two cars. Be creative — but legal — as you consider income sources.
Regarding expenses, consider stashing your credit cards and going to all-cash purchases. It can also help to keep a log of all your expenses, no matter how trivial. You'll be amazed at how small purchases add up.
If you have multiple cards with high balances and/or interest rates, consider a balance transfer card that allows you to pay down debt during a 0% APR introductory period. Sean McQuay, Credit and Banking Expert with Nerdwallet, notes that a balance transfer card "gives you some room [to] figure out how you are going to budget, how you are going to pay off that debt." However, make sure you use that APR period wisely and correctly focus on paying down debt.
- Choose a Paydown Strategy – Now that you have extra funds, how do you plan to apply them to your debts? Usually it's best to focus on paying one debt down first while making the minimum payment on the others. Economically, it makes the most sense to choose the debt with the highest interest rate to reduce the total interest charges — but some prefer the gratification of paying off the smallest debts first and using the satisfaction of paid-off debt to build confidence.
- Don't Procrastinate – McQuay lays it out succinctly: "Start paying it off. There's really no way around that." Once you realize that changes must be made, it's important to act quickly and build momentum.
- Build an Emergency Fund – Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com, says that the lack of an emergency savings fund is "…often the biggest missing ingredient that contributes to credit card debt." Keep your debt-free momentum going by running a monthly surplus and applying that surplus to an emergency fund. That should keep you from lapsing back into bad spending habits.
Credit card debt throughout the U.S. will likely top $800 billion during 2017. Use some of the above tips, and do your part to slow the growth of credit card debt. With luck and planning, you can shift future growth away from credit card debts and into higher bank account balances.
If you want to reduce your interest payments and lower your debt, try the free Debt Optimizer by MoneyTips.