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How Your Neighbor Paid for That Wedding and Vacation

Feb 18, 2016

What are you willing to go into debt over? It turns out Americans have some peculiar priorities that vary by region, according to research from LendingTree, an online bank.

In the Northeast, where everything seems more expensive (and often more extravagant), proud parents disproportionately take on debt to pay for weddings. In the South, where households have lower incomes, they borrow more to pay medical expenses—and vacations. In the sensible Midwest, it’s all about buying and improving homes.

LendingTree examined all customer personal loan requests last year in which the borrower gave a reason for wanting the money. Its chief finding was no surprise: nationally, 55% of personal loans are taken to consolidate or refinance debt. This was fairly constant across all regions, ranging from 53% in the South to 60% in the West. There is virtually no seasonal fluctuation—debt restructuring occurs at about the same pace in winter, spring, summer and fall.

But regional flavors surface when it comes to other reasons for borrowing. The top reason for taking a personal loan other than debt restructuring is to buy a car, accounting for 8% of all personal loans nationally. In the South, the figure is 8.4%, while it is only 7.6% in the Northeast, where public transportation is more readily available.

Moving expenses claim the next largest share of personal loans at 7.3% nationally. Those most on the go are in the Northeast, especially Washington D.C., where 11.4% of personal loans are used to move in or out—and some might argue even more should be spent on moving out. In the Midwest, folks tend to stay put. Just 6.2% of personal loans are for moving expenses, lowest share of any region. The Midwest also has a higher-than-average rate of borrowing for home improvements.

Read Next: What Debts Should I Pay Off First?

Medical expenses have the next largest share at 5% nationally. Again, the Northeast has the lowest share of borrowing in the category (4%) while the South has the highest (5.6%), perhaps reflecting the wide income disparities in those regions.

Medical-related borrowing is by far the biggest single ticket for those taking out personal loans. Nationally, the average personal loan for medical purposes is $44,753—more than double the average personal loan for debt restructuring. Interestingly, that average loan amount is more than triple the $13,881 taken for buying a home (possibly, funding the down payment). This points up the critical nature of planning for medical costs, especially late in life.

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