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About 1 in 5 Americans live in a rural area. More specifically, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60 million people live in "housing and territory not included within an urban area." Generally, they're places—incorporated or otherwise—with fewer than 5,000 people.
While those living in the country may live differently than their urban and suburban counterparts, their financial lives still share major similarities. After all, they still fuel their vehicles, finance their homes and buy their groceries just like city folks.
So how different, or similar, are the credit profiles of country consumers and city residents, the latter of whom usually get more attention in research stories like these? Based on anonymized Experian data, we'll take a look at rural FICO® Scores☉ , debt balances and more. We'll also make comparisons with their home state's overall figures along the way.
The Average FICO® Score of Rural Consumers Was 708 in 2022
The average FICO® Score in rural, non-metropolitan areas is 708 as of the first quarter (Q1) of 2022, according to Experian data. That's lower than the average of 714 for all U.S. consumers.
Just as average FICO® Scores have been increasing for all generations and in every major metropolitan area, scores of rural consumers have been rising in recent years. The average FICO® Score for rural consumers was 697 in 2019, and 698 at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. The 11-point jump to 708 over a three-year period mirrors that of all consumers, which increased at a similar pace over the same periods.
|Average FICO® Scores for Rural and All U.S. Consumers|
|Year||Rural Consumers||All Consumers|
Source: Experian; data from Q1 of each year
Rural Consumers Carry Less Debt on Average Than Non-Rural Counterparts
In early 2022, the average credit card balance of rural consumers was $4,772, significantly lower than the overall average of $5,381 for all consumers. Average balances of rural consumers for most other borrowing show a similar pattern of lower-than-average balances. Auto loans were the sole exception.
|Average Balances of Rural and All Consumers, 2022|
|Debt Type||Rural Consumers||All Consumers|
|Total average balance||$68,054||$98,489|
Source: Experian; averages for consumers with non-zero balances
Rural consumers have more auto loans per consumer (1.9 auto loans versus 1.7 auto loans for all consumers) and for higher amounts than all consumers.
Rural Consumers Have Better Credit Scores in Northern States
Some states are more rural than others, of course. More than half of Montantans, Vermonters and Wyomingites are rural, according to Census data. But some other states one might consider mostly rural, such as Utah, have fewer than 10% of residents living in a rural area.
Rural consumers in 48 states (according to current Census definitions, there are no rural areas in New Jersey and Rhode Island) have credit scores as wide ranging as those for all consumers within the 50 states. State-level average rural credit scores in Q1 2022 ranged from 674 in Mississippi to 739 in Minnesota. Those two states also represent the lowest and highest average state scores for all consumers. Averages for all consumers ranged from 681 to 742.
Average FICO® Score for Rural Consumers in 2022
But FICO® Scores among rural residents not only vary significantly from their rural counterparts in other states. There are differences between rural and overall scores within each of the states as well.
In 11 states, rural consumers sport a higher average credit score than the state overall. In four states, rural consumers have the same average FICO® Score as the statewide average. In the remaining 33 states with rural populations, average FICO® Scores are lower than the overall state average score.
Improvement in Rural Scores More Pronounced in Western States
Rural Economic Odds and Ends Since the Pandemic
Although rural consumers have made credit score gains in recent years, rural residents face a different set of economic challenges than their non-rural counterparts.
One is population. The 2020 Census reveals that, despite recent headlines about millennials and others fleeing metropolitan areas, rural population growth hasn't nearly kept pace with urban growth in the past decade. Metropolitan areas grew by 9%, while the rural population only grew by 1% from 2010 to 2020.
Even states that grew enough to increase their representation in Congress saw their growth occur primarily in metro areas: rural populations of Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas fell, while urban and suburban counties continued to grow.
Another is income, which tends to be lower than average in rural areas. While some of that lower income can be recouped in lower costs of living in rural areas, it generally means a greater percentage of income is devoted to consumer spending categories like transportation and health care.
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.
FICO® is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the U.S. and other countries.