Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Credit cards are a staple of the American financial system. They offer easy access to funds on short notice and serve as a foundational financial instrument for building up one’s credit score.
However, credit has been harder to come by for many consumers in the U.S. Rapidly rising inflation in 2021 and 2022 motivated the U.S. Federal Reserve to embark on a series of interest rate hikes that have continued into this year. As interest rates have risen, it has become more expensive for banks to borrow money.
Banks can respond to these constraints in several ways. Often, they simply pass on higher interest rates¹ to consumers. But in many cases, the banks may also get choosier about issuing credit, whether by limiting how much they lend out or raising the standards for borrowers to get approved. This increased scrutiny can be felt across all lending products, from bank and vehicle loans to consumer credit cards that many Americans rely on every day.
Credit Card Rejection Rate and Factors
In this environment, more people’s credit card applications are being denied. According to findings from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s June SCE Credit Access Survey, the rejection rate for credit card applications as of June 2023 sits at 22%, one of the highest rates in a decade. After falling to a recent low of 10% in February 2020, the rejection rate spiked to 26% in just 1 year. Credit card rejection rates fell briefly in 2021 but have risen steadily over the last year.
Big-picture economic trends can certainly affect how likely a credit card application is to be approved, but credit card companies are also always looking at factors specific to each application when making an approval decision. Common reasons for rejection include low credit scores, high levels of debt, a history of late payments or bankruptcy, and insufficient income. But the biggest obstacle for many applicants is a “chicken or the egg” dilemma: it’s harder for someone to get approved for credit if they don’t already have a credit history.
Who Lacks Credit Cards?
According to FICO, one of the leading credit scoring agencies in the U.S., nearly 1 in 10 credit-eligible adults — 25.3 million out of 258 million — have no traditional credit bureau record. An additional 28 million adults have sparse credit files, whether because they are newer borrowers with limited history, older borrowers who have stopped using credit, or borrowers who have lost access to credit, most typically due to economic hardships.
While each of these groups can struggle to access credit cards and the financial benefits they can provide, those with no history at all are often at the greatest disadvantage. According to analysis from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, these “credit invisibles” are more likely to be Black or Hispanic or to come from a low-income area, factors that already face greater financial challenges.
Where Americans Lack Credit Cards
Given these demographic differences, certain parts of the country are more likely to lack credit cards.
A total of 20 states have a higher share of households without credit cards than the national rate of 28.5%. Most of these states are found in the Southeast — such as Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina — and the Southwest — such as Nevada and New Mexico — where incomes are lower and the Black and Hispanic populations tend to be higher.
In some states, more than 1 in 3 households do not have access to a credit card, and in 1 state — Mississippi — over half (50.2%) of all households have no credit cards.
For a breakdown of all 50 U.S. states, here is the report’s complete data table:
The data used in this analysis is from the 2021 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.
To determine the states where the most people lack credit cards, researchers at Upgraded Points calculated the share of households that did not possess any Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover credit cards in the past 12 months. In the event of a tie, the state with the greater total households without credit cards was ranked higher.
Note, for the purposes of this analysis, unbanked households are those without a checking or savings bank account. Underbanked households were considered to be those households with a checking or savings bank account but who also relied on alternative financial services, such as: check cashing, money orders, international remittances, payday loans, rent-to-own services, pawn shop loans, refund anticipation loans, and auto title loans.
Credit cards are a staple of the American financial system and serve as a foundational financial instrument for building up one’s credit score. However, as interest rate hikes have made it more expensive for banks to borrow money, credit has been harder to come by for many consumers in the U.S.
In this environment, more people’s credit card applications are being denied. The rejection rate for credit card applications as of June 2023 sits at 22%, one of the highest rates in a decade. This also poses the dilemma that it’s harder for someone to get approved for credit if they don’t already have a credit history.
Certain parts of the country are more likely to lack credit cards. A total of 20 states — mainly in the Southeast and Southwest — have a higher share of households without credit cards than the national rate of 28.5%. In some states, more than 1 in 3 households does not have access to a credit card, and in one — Mississippi — over half (50.2%) of the state’s households have no credit cards.
1. Consumer Reports. (2022, September 21). Credit Card Balances Are Rising—and So Are Interest Rates. https://www.consumerreports.org/money/credit-cards/credit-card-balances-are-rising-and-so-are-interest-rates-a5136029907/. Retrieved August 29, 2023.
Featured Image Credit: Upgraded Points
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