You might figure a city that bankrupted itself would be full of people who can't manage credit. But it's not.

Maybe Detroit ought to ask its residents for financial advice.

The city itself is $18 billion in debt and trying to work its way out of bankruptcy. But among the 20 largest cities in the United States, it’s the only one where consumers have a lower average debt than in 2010.

And compared to the entire country, they also have lower debt and better credit scores than the national averages of $25,927 and 665, respectively.

That’s according to new analysis from credit reporting agency Experian, which included debt from credit cards, auto loans, student loans, and personal loans. (It also used VantageScore, a credit scoring model it helped develop, rather than the widely used FICO score.)

Here are the major cities, ranked by their residents’ debt…

20 Largest Cities Ranked by Average Debt
Metro area Average consumer debt Average VantageScore
1. Detroit $23,604 667
2. Los Angeles $24,361 658
3. Miami $24,884 648
4. New York $25,396 678
5. Boston $25,413 694
6. Tampa $25,537 658
7. Minneapolis $25,626 702
8. San Francisco $25,828 689
9. Philadelphia $26,128 672
10. San Diego $26,423 666
11. Chicago $26,429 670
12. St. Louis $26,721 673
13. Atlanta $26,940 646
14. Denver $27,090 675
15. Phoenix $27,267 654
16. Baltimore $27,271 662
17. Seattle $27,279 679
18. Washington, D.C. $27,668 674
19. Houston $28,105 648
20. Dallas $28,240 648

The average debt in Detroit has decreased by 7.1 percent since 2010, Experian says, while Dallas raised its by 7.8 percent.

Is that a good thing? Averages make it hard to say. They skew toward the extremes more than a measure like median (typical) debt would.

These numbers could mean Detroiters are dutifully paying off debt and spending wisely, or it could mean they’re having a harder time getting credit and so they have fewer chances to rack up debt.

It could also mean that some of them have gone through bankruptcy to wipe out debt like the city is doing — but that seems less likely, since bankruptcy tanks your credit score and Detroit’s is above average.

Experian tries to have it both ways by saying that everybody is doing better than they were four years ago.

“There is a lot more behind the numbers than meets the eye – 19 of the cities had increases in their debt amounts, which could actually be signaling a recovery pattern as credit lending is opening up and consumers are becoming more confident,” Experian VP of analytics Michele Raneri says. “Detroit, while being the only city to decrease its average debt, is also showing signs of recovery amid the unemployment and economic pressures the city is experiencing.”

But we can get a better idea looking at other data Experian has available from its annual State of Credit report, which came out in November. Here’s a comparison of Detroit’s numbers from that report, alongside the national averages…

Detroit vs. National Credit
Average… in Detroit in U.S.
Total debt $25,790 $27,887
Number of cards 2.16 2.19
Card balance $4,341 $4,501
Credit utilization 31% 30%
Credit score 682 681

From that data, we can at least see the average on credit cards — and that it’s lower than the national average. Detroiters also tend to use slightly more of their available credit than the average American does, suggesting they make do with less. And they do. The median income in Detroit is $26,955, just half the national median income of $53,046.

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Article last modified on April 29, 2014. Published by, LLC .