Cities where millennials owe the most & least on their vehicles


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The stereotypical millennial eats avocado toast and complains about student loans, but a recent LendingTree study found auto loans are significant debt drivers, too.

In fact, auto loans make up the second biggest share of millennial non-mortgage debt, according to a study on places where millennials carry the most debt. Our researchers next concentrated on that car debt, analyzing anonymous credit report data from My LendingTree users born between 1981 and 1996 and living in the 100 largest metros in the United States.

The results, ranked by median balance, show where millennials are the most and least burdened by auto debt. Meanwhile, average loan terms, car prices and interest rates have been rising. If millennials, the soon-to-be largest generation, put off their next car purchase as a result of these things, it could mean a market shift.

Here are the places where millennials owe the most and the least on their vehicles.


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Top 5 places where millennials owe money on their cars

In the sunny South, cars are gleaming with plenty of rays and this is where millennials have the most auto debt.

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5. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Median balance: $20,124

Baton Rouge has the smallest population of the cities in the top five, with around 824,000 people. Its millennial population has only slightly lower balances than the No.4 city in both median and average balances, the latter of which is $25,732, only $13 less.

On an interesting note, despite the smallest metro population, Baton Rouge has a relatively robust public transportation system: 29 bus routes to the No. 1 city on the list’s seven.

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4. San Antonio

Median balance: $20,521

The seventh-largest city in the U.S., with two huge Air Force bases, San Antonio also goes by the name “Military City.” Plenty of flags in the city are emblazoned with a picture of a cannon and the words “come and take it.” This type of culture might be a factor as to why San Antonio ranks high for auto debt, including a total average auto balance of $25,745.

Yet there isn’t a particularly steep step between San Antonio and the No. 3 city or even No. 5 Baton Rouge. The No. 3 city beats San Antonio by only $23 in median auto balance. San Antonio’s median balance is about $400 more than Baton Rouge’s median balance.

Image Credit: Sean Pavone/istockphoto.

3. El Paso, Texas

Median balance: $20,544

El Paso is a 12-hour drive west of McAllen on the tri-border between Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. It’s the second mid-sized Texas city on the Mexican border to rank in the top three on this list. While its median balance is lower than the No. 2 city on this list, its average balance ($27,010) is 2% higher.

Nicolas Ortiz, who worked as a dealership finance manager in Texas, says this might be in part because it’s not a strong part of the Hispanic immigrant culture to negotiate on price. “They consider it rude, and dealerships can make a killing,” he said.

Image Credit: Joseph Sohm/shutterstock.

2. Houston

Median balance: $20,925

The fourth-largest city in the United States, Houston has a median balance significantly lower than the No. 1 city on this list. But it’s still relatively high, running neck and neck with No. 3 El Paso, by only 1.85% on median balance. Across the board, it also has high auto debt numbers, including an average auto loan balance of $26,471.

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1. McAllen, Texas

Median balance: $23,704

Right on the border with Mexico, this mid-sized city is one of the poorest communities in the country. Its millennial generation takes the top tier for deep auto debt.

It’s not just tops — McAllen is a strong outlier. Millennials here have a median auto debt 13% higher than the No. 2 city, Houston. And their average balance of $31,598 is shockingly high, $5,000 more than Houston. 

Kali McFadden, LendingTree’s senior research analyst who led the study, said “The big difference between median and average debt in McAllen suggests that millennials are buying more expensive cars, not just taking longer to pay them.”

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Top 5 places millennials owe the least on their vehicles

The places in which millennials owe the least on their vehicles are also the places that feature prolonged and harsh winters. All five cities are in the Great Lakes area where plenty of ice and snow translate to plenty of salt on the roads that eat away at vehicle bodies.

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5. Cleveland

Median balance: $12,717

Cleveland sits on the shore of Lake Erie and comes in with a median balance only $39 more than No. 97. Its average balance ($15,871) isn’t much greater either, at $46 more, a far shot from McAllen’s average balance of $31,598.

Image Credit: Ron_Thomas/istockphoto.

4. Toledo, Ohio

Median balance: $12,678

Toledo is an hour drive south of the No. 1 city where millennials owe the least on their vehicles, and looks out onto Lake Erie, falling well into the trend of cold, northern cities having low auto debt numbers. Along with a low median balance, Toledo’s millennials have an average auto balance of $15,825.

Image Credit: Ron_Thomas/istockphoto.

3. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Median balance: $12,429

With a population a bit over a million, Grand Rapids is not far from Lake Michigan. Its median balance isn’t significantly higher than the No. 2 least expensive city or lower than No. 4 Toledo, but its average auto balance is less than both by 5.5% and 6.3% respectively.

Image Credit: DenisTangneyJr/istockphoto.

2. Rochester, New York

Median balance: $12,165

Allan Jones, a native of Rochester who’s owned his Ford F-150 since 1997, said that most residents of the city don’t seem to be attentive to pristine car appearances. “The important thing is that it runs,” he said. Old car bodies “end up looking like lace, with pockets and holes from the salty wet eating them.”

With the second-lowest median balance, about 60% of millennials in Rochester have a higher average balance of $15,962. That’s almost $1,400 more than the No. 1 city’s average balance and $1,006 more than No. 3 Grand Rapids. This suggests that when Rochester millennials do replace their vehicles, they do so with more expensive cars than those in either of these cities.

Image Credit: DenisTangneyJr/istockphoto.

1. Detroit

Median balance: $10,841

The place where millennials owe the least on their cars is Motor City itself, Detroit. It’s similar to McAllen in how much of an outlier it is. When you compare both extremes, Detroit’s median auto debt is less than half of McAllen’s. And compared with the runner-up for the lowest median balance, Detroit is 11% less than Rochester.

Motor City’s population of almost 4.3 million has a lower percentage of millennials than any other metro in the top or bottom tiers of this list at only 18.8%. The average balance is also the lowest out of all 100 metros at $14,573.

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