Paying down debt is tough. Where you live can make it even more difficult.
Across the U.S., there are several cities where conditions make it particularly tough to pay down debt. LendingTree analyzed data in 50 of the biggest metro areas in America to identify the worst, using a number of factors that can make it harder for locals to get out of the red.
Specifically, LendingTree looked at each city's average credit utilization rate (the share of their available credit that individuals use), which experts recommend should be less than 30 percent. It also took into account housing costs in relation to income, unemployment rates and cost of living generally. That's because having to pay a lot for rent or your mortgage can keep you from being able to free up funds to pay off loans.
The city that scored the worst in LendingTree's analysis is Riverside, California, near San Bernardino and Los Angeles.
Riverside has the highest unemployment rate of any city LendingTree evaluated: 9.9 percent. The costs of goods and services are also high there, and the average resident spends almost a quarter of his or her income on housing.
Two other expensive California cities, Los Angeles and San Diego, made the top ten, as did Detroit, Miami and New York. All of these cities have credit utilization rates above 32 percent and above-average living costs.
On the flip side, LendingTree finds that the best place to live to pay down debt is Cincinnati, Ohio, which wins out in part because it has a low cost of living and the average resident spends just 15.9 percent of his or her income on housing.
If you don't want to move to Ohio, you have other options. The first step to paying down debt no matter where you live is to assess where you're at financially and make a plan for how to pay off what you owe.
After picking up several freelance jobs in 2018 and limiting his spending to about $2,000 a month — "there were times when I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until I ran out of peanut butter, and then I just ate jelly sandwiches," he recalls — 34-year-old Dietrich Knauth celebrated his birthday by paying off the last of his $117,000 in student loans.
And 32-year-old Guen Garrido managed to pay off $68,600 in about three years after drawing inspiration from the "snowball method" and YouTube tutorials.
No matter what your approach, be clear about what you want and what's achievable, Saundra Davis, a financial coach and adjunct professor at Golden State University, tells CNBC Make It.
And be realistic, she says. Don't expect yourself to go immediately from saving $0 to putting away $400 a month. Start by trying to save $40.
"It truly is about changing your mindset and then creating different habits," Davis says.
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