By Christine Dugas
Where you live could say something about your financial risk, which could be a wake-up call to borrowers who live in a city that has the worst average credit score.
Augusta, Ga., for example, is one of 10 metropolitan areas with the lowest average credit scores, according to a report released Thursday by TransUnion.
While cities and metro areas don't have a score , TransUnion determined the average risk for a collective group of people, based on where they live, says Heather Battison, TransUnion senior director for consumer education.
A low metro rating doesn't just indicate that people who live there are sloppy bill payers. Some areas are likely to have a high unemployment rate or to have been hammered by home foreclosures, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com.
The metro scores tell people how they stack up compared with neighbors. If you live in San Jose, Calif., which has the highest average credit score, but your credit score is low, most of the people around you have better financial health, Battison says.
TransUnion hopes metro ratings will encourage people to pay more attention to their personal credit standing. Credit scores are essential for buying a home or getting a bank loan, for example.
"Most people do not review their credit reports until it's a little too late," Battison says. "It takes time if you're trying to look healthier in the eyes of the lender."
The TransUnion metro rating uses the VantageScore, which ranges from 501 to 999. It's different from FICO scores, which are between 300 and 850. "Vantage is a perfectly legitimate score," Ulzheimer says. "But there is massive consumer confusion about the different types of credit scores."
Even if a consumer received a good score from one credit bureau, it doesn't mean that a lender is using the same rating. One of five consumers would likely receive a meaningfully different score than a creditor would see, says a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study released in September.
There can be errors in your credit score. But many people are guilty of the deadly financial sins, which, Ulzheimer says, include late payments, bankruptcy filings, home foreclosure and credit card debt.
"People have a lot of New Year's resolutions," Battison says. "It is the perfect time for consumers to review their credit information, to ensure it accurately reflects their credit history and to identify areas to work on."
METRO AREA CREDIT SCORES
based on VantageScore credit scores, which range from 501 to 999
Metro areas with the highest average credit scores
Metro area, score
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. 700
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. 696
Madison, Wis. 694
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wis. 691
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. 690
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H. 689
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif. 685
Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine 685
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. 685
Metro areas with the lowest average credit scores
Metro area, score
Memphis, Tenn.-Miss.-Ark. 638
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas 639
Jackson, Miss. 642
El Paso 650
Columbia, S.C. 650
Las Vegas-Paradise 650
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway 651
Baton Rouge 651
Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla. 651
Augusta-Richmond County, Ga.-S.C. 651