As someone who’s lived in Texas for nearly five years, it’s bad enough to see studies that say the South is more impoverished and fatter than the rest of the country. Now data suggests we Southerners have the nation’s worst credit, too.
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Recent data shows those U.S. cities with the highest average credit scores are all in the Midwest or North, according a map of the country’s highest and lowest VantageScores created by credit bureau Experian. Those cities the with lowest average credit scores, meanwhile, can often be found in the South, with five of the six lowest-scoring cities in two particular states: Texas and Louisiana.
Why is that? “It’s hard to say exactly why certain cities or regions of the country are faring better than others, but good credit scores are the product of having a strong credit history,” says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at Experian. “For example, paying bills on time and keeping credit card balances low are two of the most important factors in maintaining good credit.”
Although income isn’t a factor in credit scoring, it’s not surprising that poor Americans tend to have worse credit. That’s because low-income communities may not have the formal means for borrowing money and establishing a good credit history, explains Ashlyn Aiko Nelson, an assistant professor in the school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “But guess what? There are these payday
lenders that can get you a loan and wreck your credit score,” she says, noting that their high interest rates can make debt repayment difficult.
While information about credit score differences based on income, education or race is tough to come by, outside data suggests that residents of cities with bad credit more may also be dealing with poverty and poor health. Census data compiled by the New York Times shows the bulk of states with above-average poverty levels (16 percent or more) are in the South, while Men’s Health magazine says that seven of the 10 fattest U.S. cities are Southern.
But that doesn’t mean being overweight leads to bad credit — or vice versa. “I think what you’re picking up with this is the common effect of poverty,” she says. The movie “Super Size Me,” she says, suggested that poorer communities have more fast food restaurants, as well as less access to health care.
While there isn’t a direct link, “being poor is correlated with being obese and not having great access to health care,” Nelson says.