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State residents rank among most fiscally responsible

When it comes to creditworthiness, it's hard to top the consumers of Wisconsin.

Four Wisconsin cities - including Wausau at No. 1 - are among the 10 communities in the nation with the highest average credit scores, a new survey shows.

Wausau residents posted an average credit score of 789 in the survey conducted by the credit-rating agency Experian. Madison was third, at 785; Green Bay sixth, at 780; and La Crosse 10th, at 777.

Milwaukee, with a score of 765, was 33rd of 143 cities included in the survey.

"Wisconsin residents remain among the nation's most fiscally responsible," Experian stated Tuesday in announcing the survey results.

Higher credit scores generally give consumers the ability to borrow money at lower interest rates.

Credit scores are based on a consumer's payment history, debt balances and several other factors. Among those factors are how much of a person's available credit is used, how long a person has had credit and whether late payments have occurred recently.

Wausau unseated Minneapolis, with the Minnesota city slipping to second in the annual survey with a 787 average credit score.

Rose Oswald Poels, chief executive of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, wasn't surprised by the survey's findings.

"The consumers in this state are generally very conservative with their money and smart about credit decisions, and that's true of the financial institutions that serve those citizens," Oswald Poels said. "I think it's just the combination of the types of values and people we have in this state, coupled with the type of financial institutions that we have. We both share similar values in being fiscally conservative, hardworking and smart about credit."

An executive with Wausau-based Peoples State Bank said he's noticed before that many of the bank's customers bring credit scores higher than 700.

"I think people here were raised in a conservative fashion, and they live the way their parents do," said John Proulx, senior vice president for Peoples State Bank. "I think that probably is a big reason as to why we have the good scores."

Overall, the survey found that Midwesterners have the highest credit scores while Southerners have more financial struggles.

Experian said that while no one factor determines a consumer's credit score, the weak economy continues to cause major setbacks, such as foreclosures and unemployment. Those troubles were drivers in the rankings and trends for different regions of the country, the firm said.

Of the cities with top 10 credit scores, only San Francisco had a jobless rate higher than the national rate. Texas had four cities in the bottom 10.

The credit scores in the report were based on the VantageScore scoring system, which has a range from 501 to 990, in designated market areas from January through June of 2011, Experian said. The analysis was based on a statistically relevant sampling of Experian's consumer credit database, the firm said.

"We have our issues just like any other city does. We have some foreclosures and things like that, but probably not as much as some of the other areas do," Proulx said. "So some of that doom and gloom has hit Wausau, but it's maybe not as prevalent in this area."

Wausau Mayor James Tipple was proud of the ranking for his city, which has a population of 41,800.

"I think the quality of life and the people we attract to the region, and not only the region but the city of Wausau, speaks volumes for the score," Tipple said.

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