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SF, San Jose residents some of the least debt-ridden in the country

In a nation “crushed with debt,” much of SF is sitting pretty

Houses in the Marin County hills.
Marin County, the most debt-free place in California.
Photo by Marben/Shutterstock

The Urban Institute (UI), a think tank created by then President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to address American quality of life, released an interactive map illustrating which U.S. counties’ residents carry the most personal debt.

It turns out San Francisco is one of the least debt-ridden places in the country.

On average, 33 percent of U.S. households have some debt in collection, defined as “past-due credit lines that have been closed [...] as well as unpaid bills reported to the credit bureaus that the creditor is attempting to collect” and extrapolated from “identified, consumer-level records from a major credit bureau.”

But in San Francisco, it’s a mere 16 percent, tied with Santa Clara County. That’s not the lowest in the country—a handful of places manage to dip down to single digits. But it’s one of the lowest rates in California, bested only by wealthy Marin County, which UI estimates at a rate of just 15 percent.

As CityLab notes, the map shows most of the U.S. is “under crushing debt,” but San Francisco is comparably sound—at least by these specific standards.

This isn’t to say San Franciscans are debt-free entirely. When student loan refinancing site LendEDU ranked American cities by credit card debt in 2015, San Francisco had the second highest debt level in the state. UI’s “in collections” standard simply measures those places where debt hits the hardest.

For contrast’s perspective, of California’s 58 counties, only two places—Placer County and San Mateo County—manages to fall below 20 percent on the UI metric.

Public Domain

It’s not hard to figure out why SF is beating the spread; U.S. Census estimates reveal median income in the city rises year after year.

Still, seeing precisely how much wealth Californians have now concentrated in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, especially within in the last five years, becomes shocking while viewed in these terms.

Here are the debt rates across California, from the slight to the most grave. Note that two counties, Sierra and Alpine, didn’t yield enough data to place:

  • Marin: 15 percent
  • San Francisco: 16 percent
  • San Jose: 16 percent
  • San Mateo: 17 percent
  • Placer: 19 percent
  • Santa Cruz: 20 percent
  • Yolo: 21 percent
  • Sonoma: 23 percent
  • Napa: 23 percent
  • Alameda: 23 percent
  • Nevada: 23 percent
  • San Luis Obispo: 23 percent
  • El Dorado: 24 percent
  • Orange: 25 percent
  • Contra Costa: 25 percent
  • Amador: 25 percent
  • Contra Costa: 25 percent
  • Plumas: 26 percent
  • Mono: 26 percent
  • Mariposa: 27 percent
  • Humboldt: 28 percent
  • Santa Barbera: 28 percent
  • Ventura: 28 percent
  • San Diego: 28 percent
  • Calaveras: 29 percent
  • Tuolumne: 29 percent
  • Inyo: 29 percent
  • Sikiyou: 30 percent
  • Modoc: 30 percent
  • Los Angeles: 31 percent
  • Sacramento: 31 percent
  • Butte: 31 percent
  • Mendocino: 31 percent
  • Trinity: 31 percent
  • San Benito: 32 percent
  • Colusa: 32 percent
  • Monterey: 33 percent
  • Solano: 33 percent
  • Sutter: 33 percent
  • Glenn: 33 percent
  • Shasta: 33 precent
  • Stanislaus: 35 percent
  • Madera: 35 percent
  • Lassen: 36 percent
  • Imperial: 36 percent
  • Riverside: 37 percent
  • San Joaquin: 37 percent
  • Del Norte: 38 percent
  • Tehema: 39 percent
  • San Bernadino: 40 percent
  • Merced: 40 percent
  • Fresno: 42 percent
  • Tulare: 42 percent
  • Lake: 42 percent
  • Yuba: 43 percent
  • Kern: 43 percent
  • Kings: 44 percent