Managing Debt

The States With the Most Credit Card Debt

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Credit card holders are generally carrying lower balances than last year, with the average outstanding credit card debt at $3,658 per consumer in the first quarter of 2014. However, after average balances declined in every state from 2012 to 2013, some states saw consumers’ credit card debt rise again at the start of this year, according to Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence reports.

As shown by the data, sorted using Experian’s IntelliView tool, it seems people are either charging less often or paying off more of their card balances: The national average in outstanding credit card debt declined $27 year over year. It’s a good thing, considering higher balances mean consumers pay more in interest (here’s a quick explainer of how APR works).

The biggest change was in Oregon, where the average balance dropped $102 since the start of 2013 and $192 since the start of 2012. There was no change recorded among Pennsylvania credit card users, and Hawaii saw the largest spike (up $49) between first quarter 2013 and 2014.

Average balances may have gone down, but credit card spending is far from falling out of favor. Twenty-three state averages exceed the national mean, some by as much as 18% (on the far end, some states’ consumers had 23% less credit card debt than the national average). With only two exceptions, the states with the highest average credit card balances per consumer are located up and down the East Coast. Here are the 10 states with the highest average credit card debt:

10. Texas, $4,047
9. Rhode Island, $4,056
8. Virginia, $4,068
7. District of Columbia, $4,115
6. Delaware, $4,165
5. Georgia, $4,192
4. Maryland, $4,214
3. Connecticut, $4,351
2. New Jersey, $4,431
1. Alaska, $4,472

Despite the fact that Alaskans reduced their average credit card debt by $200 since the start of 2012, they’ve held the top slot in these rankings in the first quarter for the past two years. New Jersey residents are quickly closing the gap, though, even with an overall decline of $114 in their debt average. Only Vermont has seen as little as a single-digit decline in average credit card debt since 2012 ($7), but at No. 35, that’s probably not much reason for concern.

When it comes to the weight of debt, outstanding balances aren’t the only numbers that matter. Even with a comparatively high average balance, average credit limits vary by state as well, and the farther apart those numbers are, the better it is for the consumers. Whether or not you pay your balance in full has no effect on your credit scores (at least, not directly), but paying on time and keeping your debt-to-limit ratio low will help you build credit. By reviewing your credit profile — which you can do for free through Credit.com — you will get a good idea of how your credit card use impacts your credit scores and use that information to make any changes that will improve your credit standing.

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