America is a nation of contrasts, and credit card debt is no exception.
With unemployment at a 50-year low and the stock market hitting record highs, confident consumers are spending with abandon, adding a projected $80 billion in U.S. credit card debt this year, according to WalletHub.
But the amount of time it takes people in different cities to repay this debt varies vastly. In Cupertino, California, home to Apple's $5 billion corporate headquarters, card debt can be repaid in just over 12 months, the shortest such timeline in the country.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, it takes over 11 times longer – 138.6 months to pay off the median balance, according to WalletHub, which used TransUnion data on card balances in 2,564 cities and Federal Reserve income data to calculate the payoff time.
In fact, nearly all of the cities with the least sustainable card debt levels are in the South, and the ones with the best levels are in the West or East. What accounts for the divide? Coastal cities, where the tech, finance and legal industries are clustered, tend to have jobs with higher salaries, making debt loads more manageable.
"Looking at debt and how it relates to income – the debt-to-income ratio – you're going to see more affluent areas have more of a sustainable credit card debt," said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. "The Southeast has lower income levels."
In other words, credit card debt is another window into income inequality, a central issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
Total U.S. credit card debt will reach about $1.1 trillion by yearend, WalletHub estimates. That would be even higher were it not for growth in another category – personal loans.
These fixed-rate loans, now offered by fintech players including SoFi and Goldman Sachs' Marcus and often used to consolidate card debt, have climbed 10% year-over-year to $115 billion in October.
Some card issuers have said they've begun to tighten lending standards ahead of a possible economic downturn. The share of borrowers who are at least three months late is likely to hit 2.01% next year, the highest since 2010, according to TransUnion.