"Keeping up with the Joneses" might not be such a bad idea. Depending on where you live, your neighbors might have money-management habits worth emulating.
In a new analysis, WalletHub.com compared money-management habits in 2,534 cities — focusing on indicators including debt-to-income ratios and median credit score, as well as the share of adults who are delinquent on their debts, have recently filed for bankruptcy protection or have foreclosed on a home. (See the cities that ranked in the highest and lowest percentile, below.)
Whether you find your city is low on the list, or your own finances aren't as good as your neighbor's, there's plenty you can do to improve.
"There's always room for better debt management and savings habits," said Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
One easy way to improve your money management skills: Avoid late payments, which can add to your debts and damage your credit. McClary recommends setting up automatic payments through your bank account when possible and creating reminders or alerts for other bills.
"That can save thousands of dollars in late fees for someone paying habitually late," he said.
If you're carrying a lot of debt, track your spending, said certified financial planner Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder of Financial Fountains in Baltimore. That can help you figure out the right combination of strategies — cutting spending, or creating a side hustle to boost income — to help you free up money to save and start reducing that debt. (Dropping that debt, of course, improves markers such as those debt-to-income ratios and credit utilization and can boost your credit score.)
Picking the right debt-payoff strategy is also important. Focusing on the highest-rate debt first can save the most in interest, but research has found that consumers like the victory of knocking out small balances first, said McClary.
"Pick whichever one that's going to motivate you to get to the finish line," he said.