For better or worse, Americans are judged by their credit scores almost every day.
That score can determine what interest rates they pay for everything from credit cards to mortgages -- or even if they qualify for loans. It can even tip off Juliets about whether their Romeos are good would-be partners, given that researchers at the Federal Reserve found that couples with higher credit scores are more likely to stick together.
But what does it mean if a city's residents suffer from lower credit scores? It doesn't usually bode well for that municipality. That's because lower credit scores may be linked with depressed incomes, raising the chances of difficulties in paying loans and making the bills on time. The result could be higher foreclosure rates as well as a lower tax base and difficulty in meeting municipal services.
"The regional discrepencies that you see are surprising," said Stew Langille, chief strategy officer at Credit Sesame. "Certain areas, the South for instance, have lower credit ratings than the rest of the country. That's something we don't like to see because that can point to other economic and social issues."
The average credit score across the country isn't all that hot, according to Credit Sesame's analysis of more than 2.5 million of its users. It found an average credit score of 604, which most lenders would consider subprime. The highest score possible is 850, but anything above 720 is considered excellent.
While credit scores are based on an individual's experience with borrowed money -- such as whether they pay their mortgages on time -- Langille said scores also appear to be a correlated with income, even though credit agencies say income doesn't play a role in calculating their credit scores.
"What we see is a very high correlation," he said. "There's a huge portion of the country that will never achieve a $150,000 income level. It's very difficult for them to achieve a 800 credit score. It's harder for them to reach that next level of wealth because they are always servicing that debt."
Read on to learn about the 10 U.S. cities with the lowest credit scores.
Check back in the next few days for a look at the "10 cities with the best credit scores."