US credit card debt is becoming unsustainable. Map shows card burden in Maine cities.

CardHub, one in a slew of finance sites that has in recent years gotten into the business of producing regular data analyses for online consumption, has been tracking nationwide credit card debt trends.

CardHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou, who has offered personal finance tips in the past in a commentary for the BDN, reported that his organization found Americans added $32 billion and $21.3 billion in credit card debt in the second and third quarters of 2015, the largest tab increases since the group started tracking those numbers six years earlier.

By the end of 2015, he wrote that our collective credit card debt was estimated to have grown over the year by $68.5 billion, “putting us perilously close to a tipping point at which balances become unsustainable and delinquency rates skyrocket.”

While spending like this can be taken by some as a sign of consumer confidence and — by extension — an improving economy, Papadimitriou warned it was the sort of behavior that made us vulnerable to a sharp recession.

“With 8 of the past 10 quarters reflecting year-over-year regression in consumer performance, evidence is mounting to support the notion that credit card users are reverting to pre-downturn bad habits,” he wrote last month. “We expect outstanding credit card debt to surpass $900 billion by the end of the year, bringing the average indebted household’s balance above $8,000 — the highest amount since the Great Recession and roughly $400 below the tipping point CardHub identified as being unsustainable.”

If that’s not a stressful enough evaluation, CardHub went a step further this month by quantifying the sustainability of credit card debt in each of 2,500 communities across the country, showing on an interactive map just how heavy that burden is on a local level.

Source: Cardhub

While the Maine cities included — the state’s top five as determined by population — weren’t at the top of the list in terms of keeping credit card debts under control, they weren’t at the very bottom, either.

You can read CardHub’s full methodology used in arriving at this rankings here. But simply put, the site’s researchers determined what percentage of the median income an average minimum credit card payment represented, then applied that percentage to the median incomes of each city to determine a reasonable monthly payment for people in each place.

From there, CardHub used numbers from credit reporting agency TransUnion to find the average credit card debt per person in each city, and how long it would take each person to pay down that debt (plus interest and other fees) given the aforementioned monthly payments.

Here are how the numbers line up for the Maine cities included:

  • South Portland: tied for No. 654 on the list; average credit card debt of $5,355; paid off in 37 months
  • Auburn: T-918; $5,205; 39 months
  • Lewiston: T-1,003; $4,389; 41 months
  • Portland: T-1179; $5,269; 43 months
  • Bangor: T-1947; $5,076; 55 months

If you’re curious, the city with the most sustainable credit card debt in America is Cupertino, California, where residents could be expected to pay off their respective cards in just 10 months.

The worst off is College Station, Texas, where folks will each need 387 months — more than 32 years — to clear their credit card tabs, based on this formula.

As you can gather from the figures above, there were many, many ties in the overall rankings. South Portland was one of dozens of cities with an average payoff time of 37 months, for instance.

With that in mind, 654th place doesn’t seem quite so bad — South Portland was only 24 “units” from the top spot.

In Bangor, which had the least sustainable credit card debt of the Maine cities included, residents will end up paying an additional $1,841 of interest and fees over the course of their roughly four and a half years paying off their $5,076 in actual card debt.

Lewiston bill payers will end up eating the lowest amount in additional interest and fees of the Mainers counted, with $1,165 adding up over their 41 months paying down cards.

Featured main page photo by B Rosen, used under creative commons license.