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Published: Wednesday, 5/19/2010

Average debt here in Toledo $25,239

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

One of the three major credit agencies nationwide said yesterday the average Toledoan owes an estimated $25,239 in nonmortgage-related debt this year, up about $500 from a year ago.

But take heart, Toledo. According to credit-rating agency Experian PLC, even though you're shelling out an average of $759 each month to pay your bills, you still have decent credit.

Ranked against the average debt load of residents in the 20 largest cities in the nation and the three largest cities in Ohio, Toledo ranked right in the middle.

Residents in Seattle had the highest average debt at $26,646, while residents of Los Angeles had the lowest at $24,009, the study found.

In Ohio, Cincinnati residents were carrying an average of $440 more debt than Toledoans, while those in Columbus owed an average of $306 less and Cleveland residents owed $570 less than Toledo residents.

"One of the positive things about the numbers is that they're all pretty good," said Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian. "Most people have pretty strong, sound credit histories, and that's reflected in their credit scores."

Experian's study - which includes credit-card bills, auto loans, and student loans - showed Toledo's average number of bills more than 30 days late in payment is 3.6, a little above the national average of 3.0, Mr. Griffin said.

Toledo's credit score, based on Experian's system that ranges from a low of 501 to a perfect score of 990, was 751, or about "a high C" on a traditional A-to-F scale, Mr. Griffin said.

If Toledo were an individual, Mr. Griffin said, "you certainly wouldn't be in the very poor sub-prime categories," he said. "You may have to pay slightly higher interest rates, but you should be able to get credit if you needed it."

Marcia O'Connor, division manager for the non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Northwest Ohio, said the Toledo average cited by Experian looked "pretty accurate," if her clients are any indication. She said unemployment and underemployment are having devastating effects on those who didn't drastically alter their lifestyles when the economy soured.

"What I have seen in the Toledo area are people losing their jobs. People were making good money but living paycheck to paycheck and still consuming at the same level," Ms O'Connor said.

"People were living on overtime, or their hours were cut; they were using their credit cards to live on."

She related the story of a person who came to her office recently with more than $120,000 in credit-card debt after his annual bonus was eliminated and his wife lost her job.

"A lot of people, especially if they worked in the automotive industry, were used to having this money and they never thought it would go away," she said. "They had a cottage, or two car payments, or a house that was larger than they could really afford. It's been people just living beyond their means."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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