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Research of the Week: A Snapshot of Credit Card Debt by State in 2019

Director of Education and Corporate Communications
Financial Literacy Specialist

California has the most credit card debt in total, but Nevada had the biggest gains over a year.

Consolidated Credit searches for financial research that can help you understand consumer debt in the U.S. That way, you can make practical plans to deal with your debt and budget. This week…

The interesting study

Experian has released an update to their annual State of Credit Cards report. This report looks at how U.S. consumers are fairing when it comes to credit cards and credit usage. The study looks at factors such as average credit card debt by state, most popular credit cards and average credit limits.

This latest study explores total credit card debt by state, including who had the biggest gains year over year. It also looks at the percentage of accounts that are delinquent in each state. Accounts officially become delinquent when they are more than 90 days past due.

The big result

When it comes to which state has the most total credit card debt, California tops the list. California consumer credit card debt tops out at over $104 billion. But when you consider that California has the highest population in the U.S. (and one of the highest average cost of living), it’s not all that surprising that they top the list for total unsecured debt.

What’s more surprising is the states that have had the biggest gains in total debt from 2017 to 2018.  If you look at these gains, Nevada has added the most debt over the past year. Their total credit card debt grew by 8.5% in 12 months.


The fascinating details

Nevada credit users also have one of the highest delinquency rates in the U.S as well. Overall, 2.1% of Nevadans have delinquent credit card debt. That puts them at the third highest delinquency rate in the U.S.

  • Arizona 2.32%
  • Mississippi 2.21%
  • Nevada 2.1%

According to Experian’s data, credit card debt problems are increasing across the U.S. Almost 60% of Americans have at least one credit card as of the end of 2018. The average balance crept up 11% from 2017.

Experian’s new study did not provide the average credit card debt by state or the average number of cards by state, but here is where those numbers stood at the end of last year. Given that balances have increased since last year, these numbers are undoubtedly higher now…

Here were the Top 5 highest and lowest average credit card debt by state, as last reported by Experian:

Highest BalancesLowest Balances
1. Alaska: $8,51550. Iowa: $5,155
2. Connecticut: $7,25849. Wisconsin: $5,363
3. Virginia: $7,16148. Mississippi: $5,421
4. New Jersey: $7,15147. North Dakota: $5,511
5. Maryland: $7,04346. West Virginia: $5,547

These were Top 5 highest and the lowest average number of credit cards by state:

Highest Number of CardsLowest Number of Cards
1. New Jersey: 3.4950. Mississippi: 2.57
2. New York: 3.3450. Mississippi: 2.57
3. Rhode Island: 3.2648. Alabama: 2.69
4. Hawaii: 3.2547. Oklahoma: 2.71
5. Connecticut / California: 3.2346. West Virginia / Arkansas: 2.76

What you can do

“Most Americans could benefit from focusing on paying off debt in 2019,” says Gary Herman, President of Consolidated Credit. “Reducing credit card debt offers several benefits. It’s good for your credit, debt-to-income ratio and budget.”

  1. First, paying off credit card debt helps you save money by eliminating high interest rate debt that costs you every month you carry a balance.
  2. Next, if you eliminate a debt, you eliminate a bill, which frees up cash flow in your budget; that makes it easier to afford all your monthly expenses.
  3. As you pay off balances, you also decrease your credit utilization ratio, which is the second biggest factor used in credit scoring.
  4. Finally, cutting debt decreases your debt-to-income ratio. This not only makes you more financially stable, it makes you more creditworthy to lenders and creditors. That could be key if you plan on applying for new financing this year.

“There’s no good reason that you need to carry a credit card balance,” Herman continues. “It’s not good for your credit score and it’s hard on your budget. The idea that carrying balances improve your credit score is a myth. It’s better for your score to pay off your debt and get to zero. Plus, then you can make charges and pay them off in full at the end of each month. This strategy allows you to use credit interest-free.”

Need help crafting a plan to pay off credit card debt? Talk to a certified credit counselor for a free debt and budget evaluation.

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