According to new data from credit reporting bureau Equifax, 54 million families carry a collective total of $800 billion in credit card debt. Although this figure is down from recent highs, it's still an unsustainably high level of credit card debt, especially because Equifax's research shows that, in some American metropolitan areas, residents owe up to 17% of the annual median income in credit card bills alone.
Just which U.S. cities are drowning in debt?At the top of the list is Wilmington, N.C., with a median household income of $42,392 and an average household credit card debt of $7,315 -- roughly 17% of that figure. The following municipalities all have credit card debt of 16% of annual income or higher:
Greater Canton, Ohio
El Paso, Texas
Asheville, North Carolina
Other cities in Ohio and North Carolina, as well as ones in states ranging from Florida to Washington, round out the top 20.
"California, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Washington and North Carolina are particularly hard hit, having many cities on this list ... most impacted by percent of income owed to credit cards," an Equifax spokeswoman told WalletPop via email.
The geographic disparity of the most indebted illustrate a few insights, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, founder and CEO of CardHub.com. First of all, it shows that no corner of the country was untouched by the recession. The heavy concentrations in certain areas are probably due to a combination of a few factors.
First of all, since the data compares median income with average debt, it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, which might skew the data, Papadimitriou points out. It's possible that the high average debt level could be held by people at the upper end of the income curve.
There are a couple of other, more troubling points about the data, though. Papadimitriou points out that credit card charge-offs hit a 20-year high back in 2009, so these current debt levels already reflect tremendous reductions. What's more, while some pockets of overwhelming debt occurred in places where the real estate crash had a devastating effect, others correlate with parts of the country where jobs -- and even entire industries -- have shrunk dramatically. In some cases, full employment might not be a reality, which means residents of these areas could be trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty for years to come.
As we've pointed out, high debt and bad credit means it costs more to borrow, but it can also make it difficult or expensive to get insurance, rent an apartment or even get a job. This concerns Papadimitriou: "Being shut off from the credit system is in no way a positive thing."
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