Credit card spending has increased significantly in the past 12 months, according to Experian data. Nationwide, the average credit card balance increased to $6,365 by the end of June 2023, up 11.7% from $5,699 in June 2022.
All metro areas in the U.S. saw increases in their average balances since June 2022, but some cities' balances are increasing much more than the national average. We'll take a look at these outlier metros at both ends of the spectrum; these 50 cities are among the nearly 400 metropolitan statistical areas tracked by Experian.
Card Balances Increased Sharply in Cities Along the West Coast
The biggest jumps—those metros where average credit card balances increased by 15.4% or more in the past year—occured in the 25 metros below. Nearly all were spread across several states in the Western U.S., with a dense portion of these cities in California. There's a belt of cities with fast-growing balances beginning near California's southern border in El Centro and extending north through the Central Valley to Fresno, Modesto and Stockton, then even farther north to cities in Oregon and Washington, all the way to the Canadian border.
Metro Areas With the Highest Percentage Increases in Credit Card Balances
Although not all the cities on this map are metros of a million or more residents—the Bend, Oregon, metro, for instance, had a population of just over 200,000 in 2022—it also includes major cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Portland, Oregon.
Balances Grew Most Modestly in These Metros
There are also the cities where balances are only modestly increasing, all less than 8% since mid-2022. These metros, for the most part, are smaller cities scattered throughout the Midwest and the South.
Lowest Percentage Increases in Credit Card Balances
Among these 25 metros, average credit card balance growth ranged from a modest 4.9% increase (for Casper, Wyoming) to a not quite as modest but still relatively low 8% in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The Balance of East and West
So what's driving all the increases in the Western U.S.? Did everyone near the Pacific decide to go on a YOLO spending spree?
Most likely, residents in these areas are experiencing jumps in the costs of various big ticket items due to inflation. And while some of these costs, such as rent, vehicle purchases and upkeep, and insurance premiums affected most U.S. consumers in the past couple years, they're likely even more pronounced in California, which is facing a perfect storm of household expense hikes.
A non-exhaustive list of challenges Californians are experiencing includes: some home and auto insurers no longer writing policies here, or if they do, sharply increasing premiums; smaller cities seeing an influx of new residents moving away from more expensive metros like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which drives up rental and moving costs; and recent layoffs in the tech sector, disrupting income flows for many once highly compensated workers. Any of these could cause consumers to rely on credit cards more than they may have in the past.
Fortunately, according to Experian data, consumers appear to be bending more than breaking. Only five of these 25 metros saw a decline in their average FICO® Scores☉ over that past year, and even then it was only a one-point loss. More broadly, average credit utilization has ticked up 1 percentage point over the past year, from 27% to 28%—not drastic, but lower is always better.
Methodology: The analysis results provided are based on an Experian-created statistically relevant aggregate sampling of our consumer credit database that may include use of the FICO® Score 8 version. Different sampling parameters may generate different findings compared with other similar analysis. Analyzed credit data did not contain personal identification information. Metro areas group counties and cities into specific geographic areas for population censuses and compilations of related statistical data.
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