Money Talks, So Should You

There are good credit cities and bad credit cities

The Northeast handles credit better than the South, a Transunion study says, and the company has an idea why.

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (BankingMyWay) — U.S. consumers seem genuinely committed to doing a better job handling their personal finances, but depending on where you are, some are doing a better job than others.

TransUnion, the Chicago-based credit ratings firm, says in a recent survey that 53 percent of Americans say their main financial resolution for 2013 is to save more money; 49 percent say they want to cut back on “unnecessary expenses”; and another 42 percent want to pay down existing debt.

That’s commendable, but as the saying goes, there’s theory — and then there’s execution. And those in or near large population centers in the Northeast and California are more apt to do a better job handling their money than those in smaller cities and vast rural areas, especially in the South.

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So says TransUnion in a different study released last week.

According to TransUnion, the top credit scores in the country come from the San Francisco-San Jose, Calif., region. The worst credit scores come from residents in or near Memphis, Tenn.

On average, residents of San Francisco and San Jose boast credit scores of 690 to 700. Conversely, residents of Memphis find themselves sliding down the scale all the way to 638.

Other U.S. regions that show better credit scores includes Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn., and Boston (both around 690). Thousand Oaks, Calif., And Portland, Maine, residents are right behind, with an average credit score of 685.

On the downside, southern cities such as El Paso, Texas, and Jackson, Miss., have a ways to go to catch up, with average credit scores of about 625.

Should creditors start focusing on where people live as much as how much money they make? Possibly  at least until financial consumers in lower-credit rating states bring their game up a notch or two.

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"Just as an individual's credit score is a measure of the risk that consumer presents to a lender, our study calculated the credit score that would correspond to the risk presented on average by residents of various metropolitan areas," said Heather Battison, a senior director at TransUnion responsible for consumer education. "We want to congratulate those cities that have the lowest average credit risk or the highest credit scores — and help educate those with high credit risk or low credit scores."

One theory on the disparity of credit scores in geographical areas is the prevalence of college graduates in top-rated cities.

The San Francisco-San Jose area is home to some of the top colleges in the country, including Stanford and the University of California. So, too, in Boston, where Harvard, Tufts, Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are either in the city or close by.

Private businesses tend to set up shop close to those college incubators (think Apple and Google in Northern California or Reebok, Gillette and Fidelity Investments in Boston. Those firms pay high salaries and good benefits to workers, and that could contribute to residents of those cities possessing higher credit scores.

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Of course, that’s no guarantee. Memphis, of course, is the headquarters of Federal Express, one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.

Whatever the reason, TransUnion says that beefing up a credit score is an attainable goal as long as you manage your credit right, make debt payments on time and keep debt balances low.

Do those three things and chances are your credit score will improve no matter where you live.


Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The He is a former Wall Street bond trader.