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The Geography of Debt in the U.S. The Geography of Debt in the U.S.

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The Geography of Debt in the U.S.

Americans along both coasts take on the greatest amounts of debt, according to a new study, while Southerners suffer the most from overdue bills.


Five years after the Great Recession officially ended, Americans across the country are still swimming in debt. The amount and nature of that indebtedness, however, differs from state to state and region to region.


The total amount of debt that Americans owe (including home mortgages, credit-card bills, student loans, medical or utility bills, and car loans) is highest along both coasts—the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast corridor from Boston to Washington. That's according to new research from the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.

Americans living in the Pacific Northwest carry an average of $69,831 in debt, whereas New Englanders carry $68,401. The upside to these figures? Residents of both regions happen to boast some of the best ratios of average debt to income—meaning, they have greater ability to pay off those bills, not to mention more access to capital.

But not all debt is created equal, and the Urban Institute's new study on the geography of debt makes that clear. It shows that Americans in the South suffer the most from outstanding debt apart from home-mortgage bills. (This includes everything from unpaid medical bills to credit-card balances to car loans, while excluding payday loans or personal loans from family and friends.) Eleven states in the South—and, in particular, Louisiana—top the list of states with the highest averages of debt in collections. This type of debt is largely considered the "bad" kind because it is so far past due that it's been reported to a collection agency and will sit in a person's credit file for seven years, potentially marring credit scores and the ability to borrow money.


Overall, the study found that the average total debt of Americans with a credit file clocked in at $53,850 (including both mortgage and non-mortgage debt). That's a dauntingly high number regardless of where one lives in the U.S.

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