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The Most Debt-Burdened Cities in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties

For a lot of Sonoma County residents, debt is a way of life and it’s not uncommon to be bogged down by student loans, credit cards or a hefty mortgage. The rapid job growth in the Bay Area may be partly to blame, with so many new grads pouring into the area looking for work. The median sale price for homes in these counties checks in at just under $500,000, according to Zillow.

Similar to the story we did about the most debt-ridden ZIP codes in San Francisco, we used internal data from our base of six million Credit Sesame users to examine the overall debt in cities within Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties.

How do these counties compare to the rest of the nation? According to the Census Bureau, the average mortgage debt comes to $117,000, average student debt is $28,400, and the average credit card data from the Census Bureau is $3,500 (from 2011). The average credit card debt of Credit Sesame users in the U.S. is $4,693.

If you live in any of these counties, take a look to see whether your city made the list.

Sonoma County (Population: 495,025)

1. Windsor

Windsor is supposed to get a station stop on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) line in phase II of the project. Photo: http://bit.ly/1WzvKM2

Windsor will soon get a station stop on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) line. Photo: http://bit.ly/1WzvKM2

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $7,589

Student loans: $18,604

Mortgage loans: $352,563

Auto loans: $13,991

Average debt total: $157,247

Windsor is the ideal suburban escape for people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Santa Rosa but they’re dragging along a big load of debt. This city of 28,000 people topped our list with the highest average debt overall, at nearly $160,000.

2. Petaluma

Many movies were shot in Petaluma including Howard the Duck, Cujo, Basic Instinct, and Scream. Photo: http://bit.ly/1SsSlEg

Many movies were shot in Petaluma including “Howard the Duck,” “Cujo,” “Basic Instinct,” and “Scream.” Photo: http://bit.ly/1SsSlEg

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $7,372

Student loans: $25,678

Mortgage loans: $306,868

Auto loans: $18,009

Average debt total: $98,439

With close to 60,000 residents, Petaluma is just over twice the size of Windsor and it gives the city a serious run for its money, in terms of debt. Like Windsor, housing eats up a big chunk of homeowners’ incomes and residents are carrying an even bigger student loan burden.

3. Santa Rosa

The McDonald Mansion, a historic residence of the McDonald family. Photo: http://bit.ly/1OrtTEQ

The McDonald Mansion, a historic residence of the McDonald family. Photo: http://bit.ly/1OrtTEQ

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $4,231

Student loans: $28,011

Mortgage loans: $309,264

Auto loans: $15,832

Average debt total: $64,391

As the seat of Sonoma County and the largest city in the North Bay area, Santa Rosa is definitely a thriving metropolis. Folks in Santa Rosa aren’t relying on credit cards as heavily, but they’ve got the most student loan debt of any city on our list, not to mention a healthy amount of mortgage debt.

4. Rohnert Park

This is an early planned city, modeled directly after Levittown, New York and Levittown, Pennsylvania. Photo: http://bit.ly/1LSyxb6

This is an early planned city, modeled directly after Levittown, New York and Levittown, Pennsylvania. Photo: http://bit.ly/1LSyxb6

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $4,506

Student loans: $20,908

Mortgage loans: $260,665

Auto loans: $18,390

Average debt total: $57,258

Rohnert Park’s nickname is “The Friendly City” and compared to the other Sonoma County cities we’ve profiled, it’s definitely a little friendlier on your wallet. The average total debt load is quite a bit lower here thanks to the fact that housing is a better bargain, although student loans are still a major financial pain.

Mendocino County (Population: 87,192)

5. Ukiah

"World's Largest Redwood Tree Service Station". Possibly the only one as well. Photo: http://bit.ly/1iG6bGD

“World’s Largest Redwood Tree Service Station.” Possibly the only one as well. Photo: http://bit.ly/1iG6bGD

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $3,52

Student loans: $21,669

Mortgage loans: $184,414

Auto loans: $13,372

Average debt total: $38,726

With a population of about 16,000, Ukiah is a lot smaller than some of the other cities in our rankings but its residents are no strangers to debt. The city ranked fourth overall for student loans and the nearly $185,000 average of mortgage debt is high too.

6. Willits

This arch was donated to the city by Reno, Nevada in 1995. Photo: http://bit.ly/1l9KNew

This arch was donated to the city by Reno, Nevada in 1995. Photo: http://bit.ly/1l9KNew

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $3,778

Student loans: $13,048

Mortgage loans: $163,516

Auto loans: $10,275

Average debt total: $31,468

Willits is Ukiah’s smaller neighbor and living here doesn’t put as much of a strain on the budgets of the 5,000 or so people that call it home. The average mortgage loan value is about $20,000 lower and the total debt load is about $7,000 less.

7. Redwood Valley

Redwood Valley was the home of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple cult for a short time. Photo: http://bit.ly/1NfWcAh

Redwood Valley was the home of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple cult (a religious movement founded in 1955) for a short time. Photo: http://bit.ly/1NfWcAh

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $4,284

Student loans: $16,516

Mortgage loans: $78,206

Auto loans: $19,319

Average debt total: $30,22

Compared to Willits, Redwood Valley is downright tiny, with a population of around 1,700 people. Overall, residents don’t have nearly as much as debt compared to our Sonoma County cities, although they rank second overall for average car loan value.

8. Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg is the western terminus of the California Western Railroad otherwise known locally as the "Skunk Train". Photo: http://bit.ly/1GNGEac

Fort Bragg is the western terminus of the California Western Railroad otherwise known locally as the “Skunk Train.” Photo: http://bit.ly/1GNGEac

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $8,075

Student loans: $7,835

Mortgage loans: $361,333

Auto loans: $14,983

Average debt total: $25,620

Fort Bragg is a tourist hotspot thanks to its beachfront location and full-time residents spend some serious cash to enjoy the ocean view. Out of all 12 cities on our list, this one boasts the highest average mortgage loan value, at more than $360,000. Fort Bragg natives also take first place for credit card debt.

Lake County (Population: 63,860)

9. Hidden Valley Lake

5,570 people call this "census-designated place" home: Photo http://bit.ly/1OrBfZ0

5,570 people call this “census-designated place” home. Photo: http://bit.ly/1OrBfZ0

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $6,535

Student loans: $20,091

Mortgage loans: $218,313

Auto loans: $24,74

Average debt total: $138,850

Hidden Valley Lake is tucked away in the southern part of Lake County and it’s got a lot to offer if you’re into golf or the great outdoors in general. In terms of the average debt, Hidden Valley Lake ranks second overall behind Windsor and on average, residents have more car loan debt than any other city.

10. Kelseyville

 Kelsey Town in named honor of Andrew Kelsey who was an early settler who was killed by the people he enslaved. Photo: http://bit.ly/1Qhlrr1

Kelsey Town in named honor of Andrew Kelsey who was an early settler who was killed by the people he enslaved. Photo: http://bit.ly/1Qhlrr1

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $3,581

Student loans: $25,900

Mortgage loans: $162,974

Auto loans: $18,418

Average debt total: $51,376

Kelseyville is another small town with big debt problems. It comes second only to Santa Rosa for average student loan value and the average car loan debt is on par with what Petaluma and Rohnert Park residents are carrying.

11. Lakeport

In 1892, Lakeport got its first telephone. It hasn't been the same since. Photo: http://bit.ly/1Qhlrr1

In 1892, Lakeport got its first telephone. It hasn’t been the same since. Photo: http://bit.ly/1Qhlrr1

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $4,384

Student loans: $14,293

Mortgage loans: $229,412

Auto loans: $13,632

Average debt total: $43,833

Just down the road from Kelseyville is Lakeport, which sits on the western shore of Clear Lake. Compared to our Sonoma County cities, the debt burden isn’t nearly as suffocating here, although residents are still taking on some sizable mortgage loans to own a home.

12. Clearlake

Clearlake is hope to Michael Berryman, an actor with no sweat glands, hair, fingernails or teeth who often plays mutants in B-movies. Photo: http://bit.ly/1RZdBAS

Clearlake is hope to Michael Berryman, an actor with no sweat glands, hair, fingernails or teeth who often plays mutants in B-movies. Photo: http://bit.ly/1RZdBAS

Average value of loans:

Credit cards: $2,312

Student loans: $17,485

Mortgage loans: $107,832

Auto loans: $9,997

Average debt total: $15,350

Clearlake features an eclectic mix of people but debt is something a lot of them have in common. The city ranks last overall in terms of the total average debt, with residents owing the least amount in credit cards and car loans.

Methodology

To get the numbers for our rankings, we analyzed proprietary data from six million Credit Sesame users. We began by looking at the number of Credit Sesame users for each city, their average age and average credit score.

From there, we looked in detail at the average loan value for credit cards, student loans, mortgage loans and auto loans in each city, as well as the average number of loans each Credit Sesame user reported. To finalize our rankings, we chose the top four cities from each county and ranked each of them based on their average debt total.

Population data for each city and county was drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau.

City NameCountyAverage Credit Card DebtAverage Student Loan DebtAverage Mortgage Loan DebtAverage Auto Loan DebtTotal Debt Average
1. WindsorSonoma$7,589 $18,604 $352,563 $13,991 $157,247
2. Hidden Valley LakeLake$6,535 $20,091 $218,313 $24,745 $138,850
3. PetalumaSonoma$7,372 $25,678 $306,868 $18,009 $98,439
4. Santa RosaSonoma$4,231 $28,011 $309,264 $15,832 $64,391
5. Rohnert ParkSonoma$4,506 $20,908 $260,665 $18,390 $57,258
6. KelseyvilleLake$3,581 $25,900 $162,974 $18,418 $51,376
7. LakeportLake$4,384 $14,293 $229,412 $13,632 $43,833
8. UkiahMendocino$3,529 $21,669 $184,414 $13,372 $38,726
9. WillitsMendocino$3,778 $13,048 $163,516 $10,275 $31,468
10. Redwood ValleyMendocino$4,284 $16,516 $78,206 $19,319 $30,227
11. Fort BraggMendocino$8,075 $7,835 $361,333 $14,983 $25,620
12. ClearlakeLake$2,312 $17,485 $107,832 $9,997 $15,350

Sources:

Zillow’s media home price: http://www.zillow.com/sonoma-county-ca/home-values/

U.S. Census Bureau credit card debt data from 2011: https://www.census.gov/people/wealth/files/Debt%20Highlights%202011.pdf

The National Institute for College Access and Success average student loan debt: http://ticas.org/posd/map-state-data

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