NEW YORK (MainStreet) Although overall credit card debt is down nationally, Texas, Georgia, and Florida cities have the highest balances with San Antonio landing the top spot, according to a study.
"Southern cities carry more debt, because we were hit especially hard with unemployment and underemployment, and many consumers use credit cards as a supplement to income," said John Ulzheimer, credit contributor with CreditSesame.
An Experian study found that the average card balance in the Alamo City was $5,177, 23% percent higher than the national average.
"The San Antonio economy is experiencing consistent steady growth," said Cynthia Hazel, marketing director with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater San Antonio. "As a result, we are now dealing with heavier highway traffic, denser employment searches, growing school enrollments and larger credit card debt due to workers around the country relocating to San Antonio."
In addition to rapid growth, Hazel blames the city's defense bases.
"Soldiers are specifically targeted by payday lenders as the military can be especially punitive with their troops about repaying debt obligations," Hazel said. "Many face the possibility of demotion, loss of security clearance or discharge."
Along with their award-winning professional basketball team the Spurs, San Antonio is home to three military installations from which troops are deployed to places abroad like Afghanistan from Lackland Air Force Base, Randolph Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston Army Base.
"When military people are told to move, their commanders don't generally understand them wanting to wait until they are financially stable," Hazel said. "They have to get up and go. So, out goes the credit cards or other forms of indebtedness, such as pay day loans."
High credit card balances, however, do not necessarily mean more delinquencies.
"Even with higher balances the minimum amount due on a credit card is only about 2% of the outstanding balance so unless you are unemployed or just flat out irresponsible you should be able to make your minimum payment each month," Ulzheimer told MainStreet.
Jacksonville, Fla. scored second place with an average credit card burden of $5,115 followed by Atlanta with $4,960.
"Credit card issuers tend to market more aggressively on the coasts, so it's not a surprise to see Florida and Georgia on the list," said Ulzheimer, who is based in Atlanta. "And the housing market in Georgia and Florida got hammered so we lost billions of dollars of equity in our homes that we could use to pay off credit card debt. No home equity means more credit card debt." Honolulu, Norfolk, Seattle, Richmond and San Diego rounded out Experian's top ten list with two other Texas cities, Dallas and Austin, snatching fifth and eight place, respectively.
"Credit card debt levels are higher because workers are relocating to Texas in hopes of finding employment and economic security. Unemployed people often like to hold onto their credit cards to cover expenses until they are employed and relocation expenses add up," Hazel said.
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet