20 Worst Cities to Live In When You’re Struggling to Pay Off Debt

worst cities to live in

If you’re struggling to keep up with debt payments or pay extra to get rid of debt faster, where you live might be to blame. It can be harder to pay off debt when you live in a high-cost city because more of your income must be used to cover basic expenses.

Our new rankings of major U.S. cities reveal the 20 worst cities to live in if you’re trying to pay off debt.

In these cities, residents face some of the highest living costs in the nation. After paying for the basics, residents who live and work in these cities have less disposable income they can use to pay off debt or pay extra on loans or credit card balances.

See if your location made the list of the 20 worst cities to live in and get out of debt.

Identifying the worst cities to live in when you want to pay off debt

If your goal is to get out of debt as fast as possible, it takes some extra cash. On top of keeping up with minimum payments, you’ll need to pay extra on at least one account per month.

How much extra you can pay depends on your disposable income  or how much money you have left over after paying income taxes and covering basic living expenses. In our study, we wanted to find the cities where residents have the least disposable income to put toward their debt.

We surveyed the following data points for 159 major U.S. cities:

  • Average annual wages
  • The federal, payroll, state, and local income tax burden for that city and income level
  • The cost of basic living expenses adjusted for the local cost of living

Based on those factors, we calculated the average annual disposable income of a single worker living in each city.

We also cited the following data points to help inform the rankings:

  • The average VantageScore in each city, sourced from Experian in its 2016 State of Credit report. A higher average credit score shows that locals find it easier to stay current on their debt and repay responsibly.
  • The local unemployment rates, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A low unemployment rate indicates a healthy jobs market and a high demand for workers.

Note that those two factors didn’t affect the city rankings but were included for illustrative purposes.

Here are the top 20 cities with the lowest disposable incomes for working residents.

20 worst cities to live in when you want to get out of debt

It’s not impossible to pay off debt in a high-cost city, but it requires a strategic approach and many sacrifices. Here are the cities where paying off debt is hardest.

20. Modesto, California

  • Average disposable income: $14,452
  • Average annual wage: $45,230
  • Average income tax burden: $9,573
  • Cost of living is 11.7 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 7.5 percent
  • Average credit score: 672

19. Burlington, Vermont

  • Average disposable income: $14,308
  • Average annual wage: $51,600
  • Average income tax burden: $11,447
  • Cost of living is 20.9 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 2.5 percent
  • Average credit score: 697

18. Stockton, California

  • Average disposable income: $14,140
  • Average annual wage: $46,020
  • Average income tax burden: $9,800
  • Cost of living is 14.5 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 7.5 percent
  • Average credit score: 672

17. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

  • Average disposable income: $14,101
  • Average annual wage: $45,890
  • Average income tax burden: $8,338
  • Cost of living is 17.3 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.5 percent
  • Average credit score: 658

16. Providence, Rhode Island

  • Average disposable income: $13,926
  • Average annual wage: $51,100
  • Average income tax burden: $11,183
  • Cost of living is 22.3 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3 percent
  • Average credit score: 685

15. Framingham, Massachusetts

  • Average disposable income: $13,470
  • Average annual wage: $64,930
  • Average income tax burden: $12,363
  • Cost of living is 39.7 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent
  • Average credit score: 699

14. Portland, Oregon

  • Average disposable income: $11,797
  • Average annual wage: $53,960
  • Average income tax burden: $14,482
  • Cost of living is 31.7 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2 percent
  • Average credit score: 684

13. Silver Spring, Maryland

  • Average disposable income: $11,627
  • Average annual wage: $64,210
  • Average income tax burden: $18,644
  • Cost of living is 39.9 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7 percent
  • Average credit score: 684

12. Boston, Massachusetts

  • Average disposable income: $11,279
  • Average annual wage: $67,930
  • Average income tax burden: $18,463
  • Cost of living is 45 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5 percent
  • Average credit score: 699

11. Seattle, Washington

  • Average disposable income: $10,805
  • Average annual wage: $63,300
  • Average income tax burden: $13,714
  • Cost of living is 46.9 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2 percent
  • Average credit score: 692

10. Bridgeport, Connecticut

  • Average disposable income: $10,652
  • Average annual wage: $64,800
  • Average income tax burden: $17,309
  • Cost of living is 45.7 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.5 percent
  • Average credit score: 687

9. Los Angeles, California

  • Average disposable income: $9,261
  • Average annual wage: $55,560
  • Average income tax burden: $13,371
  • Cost of living is 46.6 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1 percent
  • Average credit score: 670

8. Oakland, California

  • Average disposable income: $9,246
  • Average annual wage: $62,760
  • Average income tax burden: $16,363
  • Cost of living is 50.4 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent
  • Average credit score: 699

7. San Diego, California

  • Average disposable income: $9,183
  • Average annual wage: $55,480
  • Average income tax burden: $13,339
  • Cost of living is 46.9 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent
  • Average credit score: 678

6. Washington, D.C.

  • Average disposable income: $9,115
  • Average annual wage: $68,880
  • Average income tax burden: $19,154
  • Cost of living is 53.4 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7 percent
  • Average credit score: 684

5. Anaheim, California

  • Average disposable income: $7,994
  • Average annual wage: $55,890
  • Average income tax burden: $13,507
  • Cost of living is 52.4 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1 percent
  • Average credit score: 670

4. New York, New York

  • Average disposable income: $1,807
  • Average annual wage: $63,320
  • Average income tax burden: $18,840
  • Cost of living is 80.2 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8 percent
  • Average credit score: 686

3. Honolulu, Hawaii

  • Average disposable income: $372
  • Average annual wage: $51,080
  • Average income tax burden: $12,901
  • Cost of living is 86 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent
  • Average credit score: 691

2. San Francisco, California

  • Average disposable income: -$1,290
  • Average annual wage: $76,160
  • Average income tax burden: $21,984
  • Cost of living is 92.3 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent
  • Average credit score: 699

1. San Jose, California

  • Average disposable income: -$12,027
  • Average annual wage: $78,990
  • Average income tax burden: $23,172
  • Cost of living is 128.3 percent above national average
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 percent
  • Average credit score: 699

The 20 worst cities: High pay but higher costs of living

Surprisingly, the worst cities have some of the highest incomes in these rankings. Of the 20 cities with the lowest disposable incomes, 17 have incomes that fall above the national average of $49,630, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, these high wages often are paid out to workers facing exponential costs. While residents in these cities might earn more, their increased earnings are outstripped by taxes and expenses.

Two trends make it difficult for residents to get ahead of debt:

  • All 20 cities have costs of living that are higher than the national average. In the top 10, these costs are at least 45 percent higher than nationwide measures.
  • Higher state and city tax rates lower net income.

In fact, in the two worst cities, taxes and living costs are so high that residents have negative disposable incomes. That’s because their costs of living are about double what a typical U.S. worker faces. With these sky-high expenses, many residents are more likely to go further into debt instead of getting out of it.

The 20 worst cities to live in to pay off debt share some other characteristics too. The above map shows that most of these cities are located on or near the coastal regions of the U.S. Northern California alone is home to five of the 20 cities.

These cities also have higher populations and larger workforces. Eleven of the 20 cities have workforces greater than 1 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the best cities to pay off debt, on the other hand, workers face low income taxes and low costs of living. While wages aren’t the highest, workers have more funds available to put toward paying off debt. The disposable income in the best cities starts at $18,805 and goes up to $21,975 per year.

So, if you live in one of the worst cities listed here, you could free up $4,353 or more per year to pay off debt by moving to one of the best. In the most extreme case, moving from the worst city of San Jose to the best city of Durham would give you a $34,000 boost in disposable income.

Imagine the progress you could make paying off debt if you had that much additional money in your budget.

Full 159 city rankings

Below are the full rankings for all 159 cities surveyed for this study along with key data points. Cities are ranked from worst to best.

Rank City Disposable Income Average Annual Wage Income Tax Burden Cost of Living Index Unemployment Rate Average VantageScore
1 San Jose, Calif. -$12,027 $78,990 $23,172 228.3 3.9 699
2 San Francisco, Calif. -$1,290 $76,160 $21,984 192.3 3.9 699
3 Honolulu, Hawaii $372 $51,080 $12,901 186 2.3 691
4 New York, N.Y. $1,807 $63,320 $18,840 180.2 4.8 686
5 Anaheim, Calif. $7,994 $55,890 $13,507 152.4 5.1 670
6 Washington, D.C. $9,115 $68,880 $19,154 153.4 3.7 684
7 San Diego, Calif. $9,183 $55,480 $13,339 146.9 4.7 678
8 Oakland, Calif. $9,246 $62,760 $16,363 150.4 3.9 699
9 Los Angeles, Calif. $9,261 $55,560 $13,371 146.6 5.1 670
10 Bridgeport, Conn. $10,652 $64,800 $17,309 145.7 4.5 687
11 Seattle, Wash. $10,805 $63,300 $13,714 146.9 4.2 692
12 Boston, Mass. $11,279 $67,930 $18,463 145 3.5 699
13 Silver Spring, Md. $11,627 $64,210 $18,644 139.9 3.7 684
14 Portland, Ore. $11,797 $53,960 $14,482 131.7 4.2 684
15 Framingham, Mass. $13,470 $64,930 $12,363 139.7 3.2 699
16 Providence R.I. $13,926 $51,100 $11,183 122.3 4.3 685
17 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. $14,101 $45,890 $8,338 117.3 4.5 658
18 Stockton, Calif. $14,140 $46,020 $9,800 114.5 7.5 672
19 Burlington, Vt. $14,308 $51,600 $11,447 120.9 2.5 697
20 Modesto, Calif. $14,452 $45,230 $9,573 111.7 7.5 672
21 Chicago, Ill. $14,467 $54,340 $12,745 122.5 5.3 679
22 North Port, Fla. $14,730 $41,870 $7,427 107.5 3.9 670
23 Philadelphia, Pa. $14,840 $53,590 $14,293 116.9 5.1 678
24 Camden, N.J. $15,017 $51,070 $10,965 117.5 5.1 678
25 Scranton, Pa. $15,095 $41,530 $10,037 97.8 5.8 681
26 Anchorage, Alaska $15,145 $57,770 $11,909 125.8 6 670
27 Asheville, N.C. $15,188 $40,330 $8,957 96.9 3.7 661
28 Miami, Fla. $15,273 $46,120 $8,389 111.8 4.5 658
29 Worcester, Mass. $15,419 $52,170 $12,513 114.8 4.1 685
30 Charleston, S.C. $15,460 $44,500 $9,902 103.9 3.8 655
31 Elkhart, Ind. $15,567 $41,130 $9,185 96.3 3 669
32 Ogden, Utah $15,597 $43,260 $9,751 100.4 3.6 678
33 Newark, N.J. $15,627 $59,890 $14,332 123.4 4.8 686
34 Baltimore, Md. $15,720 $54,920 $14,872 114.1 4.2 669
35 Lake Charles, La. $15,729 $39,490 $7,834 94.5 4.3 652
36 Lexington, Ky. $15,788 $43,620 $11,220 96.3 4 656
37 Las Vegas, Nev. $15,795 $43,480 $7,791 104.7 5.2 645
38 New Haven, Conn. $15,802 $55,480 $13,753 116.7 4.6 687
39 Brownsville, Texas $15,809 $34,350 $5,724 84.1 7.3 631
40 Allentown, Pa. $15,814 $46,590 $10,555 105.4 5.2 678
41 Sacramento, Calif. $15,847 $54,690 $13,019 116.4 5.2 672
42 Bakersfield, Calif. $15,848 $47,410 $10,214 107.8 9.4 639
43 Wilmington, N.C. $15,905 $42,050 $9,446 96.2 4.1 667
44 New Orleans, La. $15,918 $43,410 $8,856 101.3 5.4 653
45 Shreveport, La. $15,927 $38,720 $7,633 91.6 6.1 640
46 Fayetteville, N.C. $15,945 $41,190 $9,202 94.2 5.6 665
47 Columbia, S.C. $15,954 $43,220 $9,523 98.9 4.5 648
48 Montgomery, Ala. $16,116 $40,660 $8,840 92.7 4.1 641
49 Reno, Nev. $16,131 $45,210 $8,184 106 4.1 657
50 Deltona, Fla. $16,200 $38,010 $6,553 91.1 4.4 665
51 Nashua, N.H. $16,265 $53,990 $10,675 117.3 3.5 699
52 South Bend, Ind. $16,287 $42,660 $8,979 97 4.3 669
53 Virginia Beach, Va. $16,331 $46,470 $10,648 102.2 4.3 659
54 Lafayette, La. $16,333 $39,350 $7,798 90.6 6 652
55 Madison, Wis. $16,354 $50,830 $12,109 108.5 2.4 702
56 Springfield, Mo. $16,371 $39,490 $8,282 89.3 3.6 673
57 York, Pa. $16,401 $43,310 $9,689 96.2 4.8 689
58 Charlottesville, Va. $16,421 $50,950 $12,119 108.4 3.5 700
59 Grand Rapids, Mich. $16,449 $43,610 $10,146 95.5 3.8 677
60 Buffalo, N.Y. $16,477 $46,390 $10,582 101.4 5.2 688
61 El Paso, Texas $16,502 $37,440 $6,423 87.9 4.8 648
62 St. Cloud, Minn. $16,534 $43,610 $9,718 96.2 3.4 707
63 Hartford, Conn. $16,578 $58,400 $14,868 116.3 4.7 687
64 Provo, Utah $16,587 $44,200 $10,011 96.7 3.2 678
65 College Station, Texas $16,602 $42,070 $7,472 97.7 3.6 659
66 Fort Wayne, Ind. $16,622 $42,250 $9,431 92.7 3.7 677
67 Little Rock, Ark. $16,624 $43,050 $9,376 95.1 3.2 655
68 Topeka, Kan. $16,710 $43,010 $9,126 95.2 4 678
69 Louisville, Ky. $16,795 $44,270 $11,179 92.5 4.5 664
70 Harrisburg, Pa. $16,806 $47,220 $11,032 100.6 4.4 689
71 Warren, Mich. $16,815 $50,630 $11,556 107 4.4 672
72 Columbus, Ga. $16,835 $41,950 $9,627 90 5.7 643
73 Utica, N.Y. $16,853 $44,240 $9,955 95.5 4.8 687
74 Davenport, Iowa $16,879 $44,850 $10,021 96.8 4.5 688
75 Gulfport, Miss. $16,882 $41,940 $9,192 91 5.1 651
76 Albany, N.Y. $16,889 $52,340 $12,651 107.9 4.2 690
77 Greenville, S.C. $16,911 $42,290 $9,248 91.7 4 664
78 Mobile, Ala. $16,911 $42,810 $9,419 92.7 5.2 661
79 Manchester, N.H. $16,924 $51,920 $9,999 112 2.6 699
80 Cape Coral, Fla. $16,965 $40,420 $7,098 92.2 4.1 685
81 Tacoma, Wash. $16,977 $49,360 $9,163 108.5 4.2 692
82 Chattanooga, Tenn. $17,013 $41,940 $7,442 95.2 3.9 658
83 Boise City, Idaho $17,060 $43,040 $9,844 91.3 2.6 674
84 Appleton, Wis. $17,171 $44,070 $9,916 93.4 2.9 704
85 Green Bay, Wis. $17,174 $43,620 $9,782 92.5 3 704
86 Orlando, Fla. $17,214 $43,060 $7,696 96.4 3.8 665
87 Augusta, Ga. $17,215 $43,450 $10,057 91 5 642
88 Cleveland, Ohio $17,216 $48,250 $10,922 101.2 6.8 680
89 Fort Worth, Texas $17,220 $46,520 $8,480 102.8 3.9 657
90 Wichita, Kan. $17,224 $43,280 $9,200 92.9 4.8 672
91 Denver, Colo. $17,226 $55,910 $13,960 110.7 2.2 687
92 Jackson, Miss. $17,289 $41,820 $9,159 88.4 4.4 642
93 McAllen, Texas $17,311 $34,930 $5,855 76 8 631
94 Winston-Salem, N.C. $17,383 $44,100 $10,028 92 4.3 665
95 Wilmington, Del. $17,478 $54,310 $13,895 106.6 5.1 678
96 Evansville, Ind. $17,503 $42,660 $9,395 89 3.9 673
97 Sioux Falls, S.D. $17,505 $43,180 $7,723 95.1 2.8 703
98 Milwaukee, Wis. $17,547 $49,350 $11,522 100.7 3.9 685
99 Lubbock, Texas $17,561 $41,380 $7,316 91 3.6 646
100 Charleston, W.Va. $17,565 $42,890 $9,268 89.7 5.4 651
101 Baton Rouge, La. $17,593 $44,460 $9,128 94.3 5 649
102 Pittsburgh, Pa. $17,601 $47,360 $10,598 97.9 5.2 692
103 Lincoln, Neb. $17,667 $44,500 $9,764 92.3 2.5 699
104 Savannah, Ga. $17,681 $43,600 $10,099 88.7 4.5 642
105 Tulsa, Okla. $17,704 $44,840 $9,848 92.8 4.9 653
106 Fargo, N.D. $17,711 $45,610 $8,660 97.8 2 703
107 Waco, Texas $17,742 $41,380 $7,316 90 4.5 656
108 Corpus Christi, Texas $17,783 $43,810 $7,866 94.9 5.8 639
109 Akron, Ohio $17,820 $46,430 $10,527 94.6 5.2 680
110 Rochester, N.Y. $17,860 $48,970 $11,333 98.7 4.9 691
111 Tallahassee, Fla. $17,867 $44,130 $7,939 95.1 4 650
112 Roanoke, Va. $17,894 $43,650 $9,847 88.4 4 675
113 Tucson, Ariz. $17,924 $44,560 $9,132 92.8 4.5 673
114 Huntington, W.Va. $17,943 $40,450 $8,604 82 6 651
115 Birmingham, Ala. $17,944 $46,440 $10,860 93.1 3.9 652
116 Olympia, Wash. $18,014 $49,750 $9,291 104.2 4.6 692
117 Albuquerque, N.M. $18,027 $45,920 $9,794 94.1 6.1 657
118 Spokane, Wash. $18,060 $46,000 $8,362 97.7 5 687
119 Nashville, Tenn. $18,138 $45,780 $8,312 96.9 2.9 664
120 Killeen, Texas $18,182 $40,700 $7,162 86 4.2 656
121 Rockford, Ill. $18,243 $44,060 $9,493 88.7 5.7 672
122 Minneapolis, Minn. $18,257 $55,010 $13,709 104.8 3.4 707
123 Cedar Rapids, Iowa $18,305 $47,830 $10,752 95.1 3.6 701
124 Indianapolis, Ind. $18,308 $46,840 $10,806 92.4 3.8 660
125 Charlotte, N.C. $18,370 $49,600 $11,653 96.9 4.2 661
126 Salt Lake City, Utah $18,379 $48,850 $11,298 95.9 3.4 678
127 Atlanta, Ga. $18,408 $50,720 $12,316 97.8 4.6 657
128 Fayetteville, Ark. $18,424 $44,980 $9,929 89.1 2.7 663
129 Tampa, Fla. $18,473 $45,510 $8,252 94.7 4 670
130 Peoria, Ill. $18,537 $50,360 $11,296 98.7 5.3 690
131 Richmond, Va. $18,550 $49,110 $11,413 95.4 4 667
132 Jacksonville, Fla. $18,627 $45,140 $8,167 93.2 4.1 654
133 Detroit, Mich. $18,672 $51,500 $13,099 96.5 4.4 672
134 Cincinnati, Ohio $18,697 $48,130 $10,980 93.3 4.6 675
135 Omaha, Neb. $18,707 $46,490 $10,351 90.6 2.9 692
136 Springfield, Ill. $18,727 $49,430 $10,957 96.4 4.2 690
137 Beaumont, Texas $18,729 $47,030 $8,596 96.3 7.2 648
138 Colorado Springs, Colo. $18,744 $49,450 $11,483 95.1 2.6 674
139 Raleigh, N.C. $18,775 $50,410 $11,965 96.1 3.9 665
140 Gainesville, Fla. $18,805 $47,560 $8,715 96.9 3.8 666
141 Amarillo, Texas $18,824 $42,230 $7,509 86 3.1 651
142 Phoenix, Ariz. $18,839 $47,540 $9,907 93.8 4.3 665
143 Kingsport, Tenn. $19,013 $41,050 $7,241 82.2 4 663
144 Dayton, Ohio $19,172 $47,280 $10,768 89.2 5 673
145 St. Louis, Mo. $19,212 $48,240 $11,202 90.4 4.1 678
146 Kansas City, Mo. $19,333 $48,900 $11,398 91 4.4 675
147 Oklahoma City $19,349 $45,280 $9,971 84.9 4.3 656
148 Columbus, Ohio $19,388 $48,850 $11,396 90.6 4.3 670
149 Dallas, Texas $19,414 $51,890 $9,990 100.8 3.9 657
150 Huntsville, Ala. $19,444 $52,960 $12,529 97.5 3.7 665
151 Knoxville, Tenn. $19,661 $42,540 $7,578 82.2 3.5 663
152 San Antonio, Texas $19,718 $45,210 $8,184 87.8 3.7 652
153 Memphis, Tenn. $19,723 $42,940 $7,669 82.8 4.2 642
154 Kalamazoo, Mich. $19,904 $44,600 $9,767 80.5 4.6 677
155 Austin, Texas $20,027 $50,830 $9,643 96.5 3.4 671
156 Des Moines, Iowa $20,094 $49,420 $11,192 89.1 3 694
157 Houston, Texas $20,422 $52,870 $10,310 97.7 5.2 659
158 Kennewick, Wash. $20,938 $52,580 $10,214 95 4.8 677
159 Durham, N.C. $21,975 $57,850 $14,823 91.9 4 665

Methodology

To generate these rankings, we surveyed the following data for 159 cities:

We surveyed more than the included 159 U.S. cities but excluded cities for which any of the above data points were unavailable. We also cross-checked city locations and in some cases substituted data points from neighboring cities within 50 miles.

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