What City has the Most Debt?

They say everything is bigger in Texas — and apparently that includes debt, according to a new ranking of U.S. cities with the highest credit card balances, released by Experian.

San Antonio tops the list with an average bank card debt of $5,177, a whopping 20.9% higher than the national average. Debt levels in San Antonio have stayed steadily high since 2007, despite an 8% decrease in debt levels nationwide.

Call it poor planning or a holiday hangover, the average person still owes more than $4,200 on their credit card at the end of 2010, the ranking found. That figure is even more alarming once you do the math: with an annual interest rate of 14.73% (the average APR), it would take you eight years to pay off the balance if you made no additional charges and made only the minimum payment each month. Even more painful: you’d rack up $1,343 in interest charges over that eight-year span.

“These kinds of stats get people’s attention,” says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at Experian. “We want consumers to understand that overspending can have broader implications for their overall fiscal fitness.”

What’s more, consumers are using fewer cards, Experian found. Tighter lending criteria has seen the number of credit cards per person shrink by nearly 23% to an average of 1.97. As a result, utilization rates are jumping. On average, cardholders use more than 30% of their total available bank card balance, a nearly 10% jump since 2007 — and it could have costly consequences down the road.

“By carrying over credit card balances and utilizing a significant portion of their available balance, [consumers] can potentially negatively affect their credit scores, which, in turn, can hurt them when it comes to applying for other types of credit down the line,” Sweet says.

The best way to improve your situation is to pay down your balances, Sweet says. Have a game plan for cutting those balances and keeping them low: select a payment strategy that works for you; use tax returns and holiday bonuses wisely and know what you want to buy and the best time to buy it. Finally, Sweet recommends that consumers starting a debt paydown plan check their credit scores so they have a benchmark for improvement.

“If you don’t have a plan, you’re in trouble,” she says.