Debt Consolidation

The Most and Least Debt-Ridden Places in Florida

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Florida is the third-largest state by population. Like other large states (think: California and Texas), it contains cities with very different economies, populations and needs for debt. The Sunshine State was also one of the hardest hit by the 2008 mortgage crisis.

To understand how debt in Florida cities have shaken out, our researchers used anonymized data from the My LendingTree database to find the most debt-ridden places in Florida. We looked at 2019 data for over 150,000 My LendingTree users in Florida and ranked them from top to bottom, based on the median amount of non-mortgage debt. Here’s what we found.

Key findings

  • Riverview takes the top spot when it comes to cities with the most debt, with a median debt balance of roughly $28,900. A large chunk (about 42%) of Riverview residents’ debt is tied up in auto loans.
  • Apopka comes in second with a median non-mortgage debt just under $23,100. The majority of debt for Apopka residents comes from auto loans and student loans.
  • The least debt-ridden city in Florida is Gainesville. Thanks in part to extremely low personal loan debts, Gainesville residents only have just over $13,600 in non-mortgage debt.
  • Behind Gainesville is North Fort Myers, which has the second-least average debt in the state. Median non-mortgage debt in this city comes to about $18,000.
  • Gen Xers tended to be the generation carrying the most debt. In 44 of the 49 cities analyzed, Gen X had the highest median debt. Millennials were on top in four other cities, while only in North Fort Myers did Baby Boomers have the most debt.
  • Auto debt is the largest debt category in 44 of the 49 cities analyzed. Student loan debt takes the top spot in five other cities.
  • Orlando and Tampa, two of the biggest cities in Florida, constitute two of the five cities where student loan makes up the largest chunk of debt. Both of these cities skew younger than Florida on average, which may explain why student debt is so prominent. Additionally, Orlando (about 35%) and Tampa (just over 36%) have significantly higher rates of residents with a bachelor’s (or higher) degree than Florida (28.5%) as a whole.
  • Credit cards made up the most popular kind of debt, though most people seem to keep it at manageable levels in the Sunshine State. The percent of people with credit card debt averages to 87% across this study. Auto loans are the next most popular type of debt to hold at 57%, while 24% of people have personal loan debts and 21% have student loan debt.
  • Across the 49 cities analyzed, auto debt amounts made up 39% of total debt, credit card debt made up 23%, personal loan debt equaled 10% and student loan debt occupied the final 27%.
  • Gen Xers in Riverview are the most debt-ridden generation and city combination. According to our data, they average just under $37,500 in non-mortgage debt.

15 most debt-ridden Florida cities

With nearly $30,000 in average debt, Riverview takes the top spot by a wide margin when it comes to residents’ debts. On average, that breaks down to about $12,000 in auto loan debt, just over $5,000 in credit card debt, more than $3,000 in personal loans, and just over $8,000 in student loans.

By comparison, the next most debt-ridden city, Apopka, had a total average debt of about $5,000 less than those in Riverview, with lower average auto, personal, and student loan debt figures. However, it’s worth pointing out that residents of the city did have slightly higher average amount of credit card debt than those in the most-debt ridden Florida city.

Interestingly, the rest of the top 15 in the Sunshine State all fell within the $20,000 to $22,000 total debt range. For these cities, our researchers also found that:

  • Auto loan debt ranged from about a third to 43% of total debt.
  • Credit card debt took up about 20% to 30% of the total amount.
  • Personal loan debt tended to stay to about 11% or less of the total debt. Saint Cloud is an outlier with just over 16% of its total debt makeup coming from personal loans.
  • Student debt was the most variable debt type, with amounts ranging from just 16% (Saint Cloud) to almost 40% (Altamonte Springs) of total debt.

15 least debt-ridden Florida cities

Gainesville ($13,675 in non-mortgage debt) comes out on top as the least debt-ridden city in Florida, dominating the results in almost every major debt category, except for student loans.

North Fort Myers ($13,870) offers a close second when it comes to total debt figures. In fact, the top five least debt-ridden cities in Florida tended to have a total debt amount of about $15,000 or less, while the rest of the cities generally stayed between the $15,000 and $18,000 range.

When you zoom in on debt makeup, things start to shift and you can see the differences in debt needs between each location. In Gainesville, for example, the largest debt contributor, by far, is student loans, which come to about $7,000.

In North Fort Myers and Sarasota, on the other hand, auto loans and credit cards are the largest debt contributors. So even though the debt totals can be similar, the uses (and even the difficulty associated in paying off the debt) can vary widely from place to place.

Our complete rankings

Within the 49 Floridian cities we covered in this study, the total debt amounts, excluding mortgages, ranged from about $13,500 to almost $29,000 (creating a $15,000 difference for residents.) Across the board, auto debt was by far the largest contributor to total debt, with Riverview (which also ranks worst for debt) residents taking on the largest quantities of that kind of debt type by several thousand dollars.

When it comes to credit cards, Florida residents tend to keep things below the $6,000 mark. Boca Raton (No. 14) residents have the most credit card debt, which almost touches that top threshold, while Gainesville (No. 49) residents have the least (about $2,600).

Altamonte Springs (No. 8) had the highest student loan debt, at almost $8,500, with Riverview (No. 1) coming in with a close second in this area. However, other less indebted cities had similar student debt figures. For example, Tampa and Tallahassee residents each had about $7,500 in student loans.

What to do when you’re bogged down by debt

Being in debt can feel overwhelming. There are the more obvious methods to get out of debt, like creating a budget that includes debt repayment, curbing your spending on things you don’t need (or could do with less of), and selling items you own or getting a side hustle (or second job, depending on your circumstances). Those are certainly good places to start.

But you may want something extra to give your debt-repayment plan a kickstart, and maybe even save money in the process. Here are a few solid methods you may wish to consider:

Consolidate your debt: When you consolidate debt, you take out a new loan — typically a personal loan — to pay off your existing debt. The new loan should have better rates and terms than on your old debt so you can reduce your overall cost of borrowing.

Consolidating allows you to simplify your repayment plan; instead of juggling multiple debt payments, you’d only have to worry about one. As personal loans have fixed rates and terms, you’d have a clear road to repayment.

Consolidating isn’t right for everyone, though, and it’s a good idea to crunch the numbers to make sure that you both qualify and would be saving money working with a new lender. Personal loans are often reserved for those with good credit too, with the best rates offered only to those with excellent credit.

Refinance a high-rate loan: Similar to consolidation, refinancing can help you get a lower rate on your existing debt. However, it doesn’t require you to have multiple debts; you can refinance a single loan and still reap the benefits of a lower rate and more favorable terms.

You’ll have to qualify to take advantage of refinancing, though. And when it comes to student loans, it’s important to note that refinancing federal student loans means giving up borrower protections like income-based repayment. So you may want to refinance only private loans to preserve those protections.

Use a balance transfer card: Some credit cards come with a 0% APR introductory offer and low or no balance transfer fees. These cards allow you to cheaply transfer your debt and repay it interest-free for a period of time — typically 12 to 21 months. There are a couple of caveats with balance transfer cards, however.

The typical balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% may not make sense if you don’t have a lot of debt to consolidate. You’d also need to repay your debt before the introductory period ended to avoid interest charges. Lastly, balance transfer cards are reserved for those with good to excellent credit.

Talk to a financial counselor: Money can be complicated, and talking to someone who is an expert can go a long way in boosting your confidence in your repayment plan and maybe even uncover additional options that fit your circumstances and the kinds of debt you have. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the American Consumer Credit Counseling are solid resources that can help you find counselors in your area.

Dealing with debt is never fun, but actively working toward the goal of being debt-free is still a worthwhile endeavor. It can help you feel less stressed about your finances, make better decisions in your spending and ultimately strengthens your financial health, both now and in the future.

Methodology

Using an anonymized sample of over 150,000 users, researchers calculated total non-mortgage debt balances from the first quarter of 2019. These results were then aggregated to the cities with a population of at least 40,000 to calculate median non-mortgage debt obligation. In this analysis, researchers also found the average distribution of debts across the following debt types: auto, credit cards, personal loans and student debt.

 

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