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5 cities earning top marks for 'wallet fitness'

  • Personal finance site WalletHub determined the best cities for "wallet fitness," which is defined as being in a stable financial position and able to meet existing obligations.
  • Three of the top five cities are located in California's Bay Area.
  • Hialeah, Florida was ranked the lowest much in part to its residents' poor savings habits and weak earning power.
A home in Fremont, California.
Getty Images
A home in Fremont, California.

Is your wallet in shape?

According to personal finance site WalletHub, achieving "wallet fitness" means you're in a stable financial position and able to comfortably meet existing obligations and plan for the future. With that in mind, the site compared more than 180 U.S. cities across 29 key metrics including unemployment, poverty, foreclosure rates, income volatility and savings habits to see where people are in the best and worst financial shape.

The highest-ranking locations were:

1. Fremont, California
2. San Francisco, California
3. Madison, Wisconsin
4. Columbia, Maryland
5. San Jose, California

Top-rated Fremont got kudos for the highest median credit score compared to the other metros. With an average score of 751, that's over 50 points more than the national average, according to FICO. The city also had the best marks for "risk exposure," which included metrics such as unemployment and poverty rates.

Fremont wasn't the only city in California's Bay Area to make it to the top five. Two others — San Francisco and San Jose — also joined it at the top.

Source: WalletHub

WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez isn't surprised by so many top contenders in that area.

"There, we see an older population, typically," she said.

This means that residents tend to have larger incomes, and have had more years to pay down debts and stash savings away. Meanwhile, cities with younger populations often have lower wallet fitness ranks, because those young adults have had less time to save, are on starting salaries and are newer to credit, Gonzalez said.

Hialeah, Florida was ranked the lowest, much in part to its residents' poor savings habits and weak earning power. The median household income in the city is $25,850 — that's 3.4 times lower than the median household income ($87,240) in the fourth-best city Columbia, Maryland. The annual consumer savings-account average in Hialeah is also low, at $5,588.

So if your credit score is bad and your debt is through the roof, will moving from Hialeah to the Bay Area whip your wallet into shape?

"Not at all," said Gonzalez — the area is known for having a high cost of living, especially housing.

But moving could improve other aspects of your wallet's health such as "risk exposure — unemployment rates, and of course, earning power and cost of living," she said. Relocating may also be a good idea if you're looking for a new job, she said.

How to whip your wallet into tip-top shape

Build that credit: Achieve excellent credit by always paying bills on time. (See other credit-building tips in the infographic below.) People with good credit can get better interest rates, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime compared to someone with bad credit, WalletHub said.

Save, save, save: The later you start saving for retirement, the more you'll need to set aside (or the later you'll need to retire) to meet the same goal. But retirement isn't the only thing you should be saving for. Almost a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings at all, according to a Bankrate report. Don't let that be you. At the very least, you should begin building an emergency fund and buy adequate insurance coverage, WalletHub recommends.

Stay debt-free: Another recent report by the personal finance site found that the average household credit card debt was $7,996 during the second quarter of 2017, up 5 percent from a year earlier. Take steps to pay down your debts and avoid racking up new ones.

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