Which U.S. States Have the Biggest Credit Card Balances? [Data-Driven Analysis]

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As a site that deals with the intricacies of everyday credit card use, we thought it might be interesting to look at some trends of credit card usage in each state.

We analyzed how big of a balance the average person in each state carries on their credit card, as well as how much credit they use as a percentage of their annual income.

Data of average credit card balances by state is from Experian’s State of Credit: 2017, and data of average annual income by state in 2017 is from research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The data from Experian measured the average balance (not the debt carried over) of each American in a particular state. For the 58.8% of American households that pay off their balances in full, credit card debt is not a problem. But the other 41.2% carry some amount of debt every month and must pay interest fees.

We turned our findings into interactive maps as well as a complete chart, so you can easily view the data for yourself. Just hover your mouse over a state or click on it to see its credit card data.

NOTE: Having a credit card balance isn’t an issue as long as you pay it off in full every month. But when you have a high amount of credit card debt relative to your income, then you might fall into a situation where you can’t pay off your credit cards. That’s when credit can get you into trouble!

Which States Have the Highest Credit Card Balances?

You can see that states near the coasts tend to have the highest absolute credit card balances. The only 2 states in the top 10 that aren’t by the ocean are Texas and Colorado.

Alaska has the highest average credit card balance by far at $8,515; the next closest is Connecticut at $7,258.

States in the Midwest tend to have the lowest average credit card balances. Only 3 states in the bottom 10 were not in the Midwest: West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

The states with the lowest credit card balances overall are Iowa and Wisconsin, with an average of $5,155 and $5,363, respectively.

Which States Have the Highest Credit Card Balances as a Percentage of Income?

When we mapped each state by credit card balance as a percentage of income, we saw a more complete story: the average American has a high amount of credit card debt as a percent of income.

Consider this: each month, you only get 1/12 (or 8.3%) of your income. This means anyone with credit card debt over 8.3% of their annual income probably can’t pay it off with their income alone. They’d have to use savings or carry a balance (which is something you should not do!).

In every state we analyzed, the average credit card balance as a percent of income was over 9%. This means that the average American with a credit card balance is carrying more credit card debt than they can pay off.

While this may seem shocking, it’s part of a growing trend of credit card debt. In 2017, overall American credit card debt broke through the $1 trillion mark and set an all-time high. The last time credit card debt was over $1 trillion was right before the great recession happened in 2008.

In 2017, a survey by Pew Research found that only 46 percent of Americans made more than they spent, which also makes sense when we take a look at our map. Overall, we see that average Americans across the country have significant amounts of credit card debt that would make it hard to pay off all their bills.

Bottom Line: In every state, the average American’s credit card balance is higher than what can be paid off with their income each month. This isn’t that surprising when we learn that less than half of Americans make more money than they spend.

Regional Trends in Credit Card Debt vs. Income

Across the South and Southwest, where incomes are often lower for many residents, we see a high amount of credit card debt relative to income. Only 1 state in the top 10 was outside these regions: Alaska.

By far, New Mexico had the most credit card debt as a percentage of income with 16.19%. The second-highest state was Georgia at 15.43%.

In states with higher average incomes (like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California), we see residents using a lower amount of credit card debt relative to their income. Even though they use their credit cards more, people in these states tend to have a greater ability to pay off their credit cards overall.

Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts have the lowest credit card debt as a percentage of income at 9.04% and 9.60%, respectively.

Finally, people in the Midwest seem to use credit cards responsibly, as they tend to be in the bottom half of credit card debt as a percent of income. They don’t use their credit cards as much, but when they do it looks to be with a more manageable balance.

Which States Have the Most Credit Cards?

This chart showing the average number of credit cards opened is similar to the chart of average credit card balance: people in higher-income coastal states tend to open the most credit cards.

Residents in the Midwest and South tend to open fewer credit cards, which makes sense as those areas tend to have lower incomes. However, people in the South definitely carry higher balances on the cards they do have (see above).

The states where people opened the most credit cards were New Jersey and New York, with an average number of 3.49 and 3.34 cards per person, respectively.

Residents of Iowa and Mississippi opened the fewest credit cards, with an average of 2.67 and 2.57, respectively.

Tips for Managing Your Credit Cards

Since this data highlights the large amount of credit card debt in America, we also thought it might be important to share a few tips for managing your credit card debt.

  1. Be sure to pay off your credit cards completely each month. As long as you do that, you won’t carry a balance and won’t have to pay any interest.
  2. Set up automatic payments. All major credit cards allow you to automatically withdraw from your bank account. This means you won’t owe a penalty because you forgot to pay off your credit card.
  3. Set a budget. Credit cards are designed to make it easy to spend a lot of money quickly. To help keep track of your finances, you might consider a finance app like Mint.
  4. Be wary of 0% introductory APR cards. Cards that offer 0% interest at first seem like a great deal, but they come with a catch: you must pay off your credit cards in full before the introductory period ends, or you’ll still be charged an interest fee. Make sure you prepare for this and plan your spending accordingly.

Final Thoughts

It might be a bit surprising to see how much credit card debt the average American has.

While Americans in high-income states like California, New York, and Connecticut have the highest amount of credit card debt, their absolute amounts aren’t that high as a percentage of their income.

Americans in the South and Southwest are doing worse, with the nation’s highest levels of credit card debt as a percentage of income found here. Though they’re in the middle of the pack for overall credit card debt, lower wages mean many residents of these states have a tougher time paying their credit cards off.

Americans in the Midwest don’t take on the most credit card debt, and when they do it tends to be more reasonable as a percentage of their income.

Still, our analysis shows that in every state, the average American with a credit card balance has problematic credit card debt as a percentage of their income. Based on these numbers, it’s likely that the average credit card user in the U.S. finds it difficult to pay off their balance in full each month.

This just reinforces how important it is to pay off your credit cards in full every billing cycle. If you don’t, the interest fees can force you to pay much more than you would have originally.

We hope you found this research useful. To see the data we used, take a look at this complete chart of credit card data by state:

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