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Finances out of control? Move to Montana.

A new study ranking all 50 states on their residents' money management skills finds that Montana comes out on top, thanks largely to the state's low cost of living and unemployment rate. Which states fared the worst?

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    Yellowstone National Park bison forage for grass in the snow near an icy Madison River in Montana. A new study indicates that Montana is one of the best states in the nation at managing its finances.
    Lloyd Blunk/The Billings Gazette/AP/File
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Where should you live if you want to build or maintain good financial habits? According to a new study, it may just be Montana.

Creditcards.com, an online credit card marketplace that compares credit card offers, recently compiled a study that ranked all 50 states' residents on their money management from best to worst. To form the rankings, the site compared a state's average credit scores to the median income of its consumers.

The study found that income levels don’t always correlate to financial smarts.

"Credit scores reflect your ability to manage the debt you have, regardless of your assets," Rod Griffin, Experian director of education, said in the report. "Just because you have high assets doesn't mean you use those funds to pay your bills."

Montana, for instance, has the nation’s 11th-best credit score, but its its collective income is 13 percent below the national median.

The state’s low unemployment rate may contribute to this profile, as well as a population that is more rural than it is urban. Rather than being concentrated in large and expensive cities, Montanans are spread out throughout the state. They are also fairly circumspect when it comes to money.

“We do have a population that is pretty conservative about their personal finances," John Rogers, chief business development officer at the Montana Office of Economic Development, said in the Creditcards.com report. "I think it's a cultural thing ... also probably a more rural thing."

These were the five best states for money management:

1. Montana

2. South Dakota

3. North Dakota

4. Maine

5. Vermont

What about the habits of the ten states that really aren’t so good at managing their personal finances? Creditcards.com found that Maryland, the worst state overall for money management, shares some common traits with the other states that have poor financial habits. These include loading up on credit card debt to compensate for the state’s high cost of living: Thanks  to its proximity to the D.C, area, Maryland has some of the highest housing prices in the nation, as do Washington, D.C. and Virginia, two other financial under-performers.

These four states ranked worst at managing their personal finances, along with the nation's capital:

47. Texas

48. Virginia

49. Alaska

50. Washington, D.C.

51. Maryland

However, not all of a state’s poor financial scoring can be directly attributed to things like high housing costs and overuse of credit cards. Alaska, for example, comes in 49th on the list despite a low cost of living. Yet the state is also in the grips of a fiscal crisis, with a $3.5 billion deficit. This, combined with plunging oil prices and a drop in energy production, have pushed job losses to their first high in seven years, reports the Alaska Dispatch News. This may push some residents to reach for their credit cards just get by with day-to-day expenses.  

"Alaska is basically in a depression right now," said Michael  Sullivan, director for education at Take Charge America, a credit counseling service, said in the Creditcards.com report. "Say you work in the oil fields; you're used to working 60 hours a week, now you're working 30 hours a week," Sullivan said. "That does happen -- there isn't a whole lot you can do about it."

To compile the study, Creditcards.com used credit scores from Experian's 2015 State of Credit report, as well as median household income statistics from the US Census as predicted for 2012-2013, the most recent period available,  Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst, explained in an e-mail to The Christian Science Monitor. 

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