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Metro Areas Where People Are in the Best Financial Shape

Aug. 15, 2016
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Headlines about credit card debt topping $1 trillion may paint a bleak picture of America’s spending and debt habits, but residents in some places help their cities shine when it comes to financial fitness.

NerdWallet analyzed the 100 most populous U.S. metro areas to determine the places where residents are best at managing credit, dealing with debt and keeping housing costs from devouring too much of their income. See our full methodology for more details.

After examining credit scores, debt and delinquency from the credit reporting agency Equifax and data on household income, individual income and homeownership costs from the U.S. Census Bureau, we uncovered a geographically diverse top 10 list that spans four time zones.

Top 10 metro areas for financial fitness

  1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
  2. Madison, Wisconsin
  3. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California
  4. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
  5. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan
  6. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota-Wisconsin
  7. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  8. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts
  9. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa
  10. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington

Here’s a closer look into three key measures of residents’ financial fitness and the metro areas that best exemplify these factors.

Managing credit

The concept of managing credit is simple: pay bills on time and in full to avoid interest, and keep credit card balances below 30% of available credit, both for individual accounts and for all credit. Keeping this up over the months and years will build a good credit score, which will show creditors you’re trustworthy. This can lead to lower interest rates for loans, higher credit limits and credit cards that yield more rewards and perks.

While the concept is simple, managing credit isn’t necessarily easy. If your cards are maxed out or your credit score dented with late payments, there are steps you can take to get back on track. Even with bad credit, you may be able to qualify for secured credit cards if you have a steady income. It’s easier to get approved for these credit cards for bad credit than for traditional cards. They require a cash deposit, which the issuer uses as collateral. Pay this card in full each month and your credit score should rise. Eventually, you should be able to be approved for regular credit accounts that don’t require a deposit.

The metro areas where residents are best at managing credit. VantageScore is a type of credit score that was developed in 2006 by the three major credit reporting bureaus; it has similarities to the better-known FICO scores. The score’s current version, VantageScore 3.0, has a 300-850 scale, like FICO. Creditors use these scores to tell how creditworthy you are, with 850 being the top score.

Of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, residents in Madison, Wisconsin, have the highest median VantageScore 3.0, at 761. The next highest median credit scores were for residents of California’s San Jose (755) and San Francisco (752). The rest of the top places include Minneapolis, at 750; and Pittsburgh and Boston residents, who tie for fifth with a score of 748. Of all 100 metro areas’ median credit scores, the median VantageScore 3.0 was 727.

We also looked at residents’ credit habits in the metro areas by analyzing the percentage of balances that are 60 days or more past due. Accounts delinquent by two months or more are a sign of serious financial trouble. Of the 100 metro areas analyzed, the median percentage of balances 60 days or more past due is 2.16%. The places with the lowest percentages of balances 60 days or more past due are San Jose (0.71%), San Francisco (0.93%) and Madison (0.95%)

Dealing with debt

Americans have about $12.25 trillion in debt, which includes credit card, mortgage, student loan, auto loan and other kinds of accounts, according to NerdWallet data. There’s a wide range of debt — from the kind that can be helpful and build wealth, like mortgages, to the kind of debt that is harmful to your bottom line, like payday loans. Credit card debt, which often comes with high interest, falls somewhere in the middle.

People struggling with debt have a few options for relief, including consolidation through a low- or no-interest balance-transfer credit card, home equity line of credit or personal loan. Credit counseling or bankruptcy counseling can provide guidance, too, for those in financial trouble.

The metro areas where residents have the least debt. We analyzed Equifax data on credit card debt and, separately, all other consumer debt. The median total debt of residents in the 100 metro areas is $721 for credit cards and $12,291 for all other kinds of consumer debt. Equifax data measures credit card debt by including everyone with a credit report, not just those who carry a monthly credit card balance. Nationwide, the average household with credit card debt carries a balance of $15,310, according to 2016 NerdWallet data.

For our analysis of the 10 most financially fit metro areas, we looked at each city’s median amount of debt as a percentage of its residents’ 2014 median income. Of the 100 metro areas, the median of this figure is 2% for credit card debt and 41% for other debt. Residents of some areas have much lower percentages of credit card debt to income than the national median. The median of credit card debt to income ranges from 0.58% in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to 3.4% in Miami.

We also looked at all other kinds of consumer debt, such as mortgages, auto loans and personal loans, as a percentage of median income. San Jose and San Francisco, which also have among the highest median annual incomes in our analysis, have the two lowest debt-to-income figures, at 12% and 16%. Boston (26%) and Seattle (28%) are among the lowest, too.

Budgeting for housing

As a general rule, homeowners should aim to spend 28% or less of their gross income on housing. This percentage includes mortgage principal, interest, real estate taxes and homeowners insurance. That can be tough to do in high-cost areas like New York and San Francisco.

The metro areas paying the least in housing expenses. To see how the places in our analysis stack up, we looked at 2014 census data on median monthly housing costs for homeowners in each city as a percentage of median household income.

Among the 100 metro areas, the median housing-to-income figure is 31%, although there’s a wide range between the top and bottom of the list. Ogden, Utah (25%), Grand Rapids, Michigan (26%), and Des Moines, Iowa (26%), have the lowest percentages in our analysis, owing to relatively affordable housing. At the other end of the spectrum is San Juan, where median housing costs are 54% of median household income. New York (46%) and Los Angeles (45%) come in with the second- and third-highest figures.

Data for all 100 metro areas

Scroll through the table below to see the data for the 100 most populous metro areas.

RankMetro areaMedian credit card debt as a percentage of median individual incomePercentage of all credit card and loan balances that are 60 days or more past due Median VantageScore 3.0 credit scoreMedian consumer debt as a percentage of median individual incomeMedian annual homeowner cost as a percentage of household incomeScore
1San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA2%0.71%75512%35%85.87
2Madison, WI2%0.95%76132%32%81.74
3San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA2%0.93%75216%38%79.03
4Ogden-Clearfield, UT2%1.17%73639%25%77.68
5Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI2%1.36%74342%26%77.59
6Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI2%1.25%75038%28%77.34
7Pittsburgh, PA2%1.78%74837%28%74.48
8Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH2%1.73%74826%35%74.22
9Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA2%1.51%74142%26%73.41
10Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA2%1.41%74128%33%73.08
11Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI2%1.60%74734%35%72.79
12Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA2%1.78%74339%29%72.31
13Salt Lake City, UT2%1.32%73038%28%71.50
14Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA3%1.36%74141%28%70.21
15Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT2%2.63%74729%33%70.14
16St. Louis, MO-IL2%1.71%73541%28%69.78
17Provo-Orem, UT2%1.29%73349%28%69.72
18Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO3%1.06%73841%29%69.64
19Knoxville, TN2%1.59%72639%31%68.73
20Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY2%2.15%74139%29%68.69
21Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV2%1.94%73334%29%68.61
22Wichita, KS2%1.95%72841%28%68.52
23Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY2%2.28%74439%31%68.28
24Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA2%1.56%73737%33%68.12
25North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL3%2.46%74526%31%68.09
26Rochester, NY2%2.18%74242%31%67.89
27Kansas City, MO-KS2%1.63%73141%29%67.65
28Honolulu, HI3%1.77%74330%37%67.48
29Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT2%2.81%74626%37%67.18
30Boise, ID2%1.42%72847%27%67.15
31Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA3%1.56%73929%37%66.93
32Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN2%2.22%72440%28%66.89
33Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN2%1.98%73146%28%66.68
34Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI2%1.83%72636%31%66.32
35Syracuse, NY2%2.28%73543%30%65.98
36Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA3%1.49%72931%36%65.79
37Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA2%2.59%73243%28%65.13
38Cleveland-Elyria, OH2%2.38%73342%31%64.70
39Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN2%1.55%71846%30%64.51
40Worcester, MA-CT2%2.69%73636%33%64.36
41Akron, OH2%2.16%73348%29%64.29
42Raleigh, NC2%1.55%72748%28%64.25
43Dayton, OH2%2.16%72743%30%63.46
44Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ3%3.00%74036%32%63.31
45Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, PA2%2.70%73437%32%63.30
46Chattanooga, TN-GA2%1.70%71342%29%63.08
47Colorado Springs, CO3%1.62%72849%29%62.94
48Columbus, OH2%1.84%72548%30%62.89
49Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD2%2.56%72637%31%62.73
50Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN2%2.00%71850%27%62.13
51San Diego-Carlsbad, CA3%1.34%73029%41%62.09
52Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI3%2.52%73234%34%62.03
53Springfield, MA2%3.03%73734%36%61.91
54Winston-Salem, NC2%2.08%71644%30%61.87
55Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD2%2.90%73338%34%61.23
56Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL3%2.83%72934%30%61.13
57Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC2%2.18%71043%30%61.10
58Providence-Warwick, RI-MA3%2.62%73634%38%60.59
59Richmond, VA3%1.83%72146%29%60.57
60Austin-Round Rock, TX3%1.16%72146%31%60.44
61Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ3%1.82%71643%30%59.94
62Oklahoma City, OK2%2.38%71048%28%59.85
63Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA3%1.61%72727%45%59.54
64Tulsa, OK2%2.59%70643%28%59.48
65New Haven-Milford, CT2%3.44%73330%38%59.43
66Tucson, AZ3%2.12%72840%32%59.34
67Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL3%2.26%72434%32%58.74
68Toledo, OH2%2.32%72151%32%58.33
69Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX3%1.78%70744%31%56.61
70Birmingham-Hoover, AL2%2.09%70348%31%56.07
71Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC2%2.11%70749%29%55.87
72Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX3%1.68%70243%31%55.87
73New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA3%4.23%73619%46%54.72
74Greensboro-High Point, NC2%2.47%70247%32%54.37
75Albuquerque, NM2%2.86%71447%32%54.00
76Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR2%2.40%70456%28%53.82
77Baton Rouge, LA1%2.58%69052%28%53.18
78Stockton-Lodi, CA2%2.16%70437%38%53.05
79Charleston-North Charleston, SC2%2.09%69855%32%51.25
80Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA2%2.21%69750%30%51.12
81Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL3%3.28%71540%34%50.63
82Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL3%3.37%71037%34%50.37
83Jackson, MS1%2.82%67952%30%49.29
84Bakersfield, CA3%2.45%69844%35%49.04
85Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC2%2.33%68953%30%48.68
86New Orleans-Metairie, LA2%2.74%69843%36%48.53
87Fresno, CA3%2.34%70343%41%48.37
88San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX3%2.01%68754%31%47.00
89Jacksonville, FL3%2.70%69848%31%46.96
90Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV3%3.32%69539%31%46.91
91Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA3%2.47%69743%37%46.61
92Columbia, SC2%2.64%68761%28%46.34
93Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL3%3.67%69139%32%44.85
94Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC3%2.25%69851%33%44.80
95Memphis, TN2%2.62%67652%33%44.27
96Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL3%3.15%69545%33%43.70
97Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL3%3.43%69835%41%40.61
98El Paso, TX3%2.63%67148%33%36.54
99McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX3%2.72%65844%37%32.68
100San Juan-Carolina-Caguas, Puerto Rico1%6.85%69249%54%28.55


We used the following metrics to determine an overall score for the nation’s 100 most populous metro areas:

  • We took each city’s median VantageScore 3.0 (a credit score developed by the three major credit reporting bureaus) credit score data from March 2016 from the credit reporting agency Equifax. This is 30% of the score.
  • Data on percentage of balances of all accounts 60 days or more past due as of March 2016 are from Equifax. This is 25% of the score.
  • Data on credit card debt and all other consumer debt from March 2016 are from Equifax. We calculated those debts, separately, as a percentage of individual income, with data from the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Credit card debt is 15% of the score and consumer debt as a percentage of individual income is 15% of the score.
  • Homeowner costs and annual household income data are from the 2014 American Community Survey. The calculation of median homeowner costs as a percentage of annual household income is 15% of the score.

A previous version of this article gave an incorrect month for the Equifax data used in this analysis. This article has been corrected.

Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter:@lauraemcmullen. Courtney Miller is a data analyst at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected].