In this article:
Entering 2019, the U.S. economy was in the midst of a government shutdown, battling a trade war and waiting to see whether interest rates would increase. Consistently sidestepping the persistent threat of recession each time it hit a bump, the economy remained strong.
Indeed, the U.S. economy exceeded expectations: Record job growth caused unemployment rates to drop to historic lows, while the stock market flexed throughout the year. Consumers, in return, showed their confidence as they continued to borrow and spend energetically, most recently evidenced by the strong 2019 holiday shopping season.
While it's difficult to predict whether the economy will see continued growth this year, we can look back at 2019 to examine consumer credit behavior for clues on how Americans have responded to economic trends. The data also can reveal how consumers have rebounded from the Great Recession of 10 years ago and what their path might be going forward.
Our 2019 Consumer Credit Review analyzes FICO® Scores* and credit products nationwide to provide a scorecard of the 2019 U.S. consumer credit market, focusing on how it varies geographically, demographically and across different debt products. Read on for our insights and analysis.
Average U.S. FICO® Score Reaches an All-Time High
The average FICO® Score in the United States hit a record high of 703 in 2019, according to Experian data. That's up from 701 in 2018 and up 14 points since 2010. That may seem surprising, but it shouldn't be, as more people are monitoring their credit reports and credit scores using the wide array of available free solutions. In fact, 72% of consumers responding to a recent Experian study say their credit score is important or very important to them.
"We've seen the average FICO® Score of the U.S. population steadily increase each year since the Great Recession in the mid 2000s," says Tom Quinn, vice president of scores at FICO. "The increase is being driven by changes in consumer credit behaviors. For example, the percent of the population with a 30-plus-day past-due [payment] reported in the last year has decreased by 22% between April 2009 and April 2019, and average credit card utilization has decreased by 28% during the same time period."
Most Americans Have a FICO® Score Above 700
Today, 59% of Americans have a FICO® Score of 700 or higher—the biggest percentage ever seen at that level. A credit score of 700 or above is generally considered the marker of good credit by many lenders, who often view consumers with credit scores in this range as favorable borrowers. These borrowers may receive a wider variety of credit product offers, at better interest rates, than those with scores below 700. A score of 800 or higher is usually considered excellent.
"There is no big secret to having a good credit score," says Rod Griffin, Experian's director of consumer education and advocacy. "It's a matter of self-discipline and consistency. If you are intentional with your bill payments and spending habits, you can make your credit work for you."
Looking at the FICO® Score ranges, the percentages of U.S. consumers in each range did not change from 2018. Over the long term, however, the number of people with a very poor FICO® Score decreased 5 percentage points over 10 years.
|Average FICO® Score Percentage by Range|
|FICO® Score Range||2010||2018||2019|
Analyzing the data further shows that 1.2% of Americans held a perfect FICO® Score in 2019, a figure that's been growing.
The number of Americans with a perfect FICO® Score of 850 has increased by 63% in 10 years
"Americans are making better credit decisions, reflected by the 703 average FICO® Score in 2019, which is an indication of consumers being more educated on their credit," says Shannon Lois, Experian's head of analytics, consulting and operations. "Late-payment rates have decreased for several credit products this past decade. Credit card balances saw moderate growth over time along with overall consumer debt signaling healthy credit behavior that provides confidence to lenders."
Millennials Are the Driving Force Behind Record FICO® Score Increases
Millennials, ages 24 to 39 in 2020, now outnumber baby boomers and are finally hitting their credit stride. Their economic emergence is reflected by a 25-point increase in average FICO® Score since 2012 (the earliest available Experian data)—the biggest increase of any generation. With an average FICO® Score of 668, millennials' improving credit shows opportunity for reaching an average in the "good" FICO® Score range if growth trends continue.
Millennials' average FICO® Score has increased 25 points since 2012
It's an impressive boost for this generation of Americans, who are becoming an increasingly important factor in driving economic growth while also changing the narrative on credit and what the "appropriate" age should be for attaining certain credit milestones.
Average Age to Reach a 700 FICO® Score Is the Lowest Ever
The average age Americans are reaching a FICO® Score of 700 is the lowest it's ever been, at 54. Since 2012, eight years have come off the average age, which was 62 nine years ago. That same trend carries over to the age a person reaches their peak FICO® Score age. In 2019, the average age a person's FICO® Score peaked was 78, down 11 years from the average age of 89 that stood for five years from 2012 to 2016.
Let's take a closer look at FICO® Scores around the country.
42 States Increased Their Average FICO® Score
Since 2018, 42 have states improved their average FICO® Score. Wisconsin recorded the biggest increase of seven points—more than double the next-highest increase—reaching an average FICO® Score of 725. Nine states saw no change to their average scores, while 34 states had an average FICO® Score of 700 or higher—the same amount in 2018.
Wisconsin's seven-point increase over one year is especially impressive when taking a further look back at states' average FICO® Scores. Over the past five years, 10 states improved their average credit scores by 10 or more points. Michigan and Nevada experienced the largest increase of any state over five years, at 13 points.
50 States had average FICO® Scores in the "good" range of 670 to 739
Minnesota Holds the Highest Average FICO® Score for Eighth Straight Year
Minnesotans boast higher FICO® Scores than residents of any other state for the eighth straight year, with an average FICO® Score of 733 in 2019. Minnesota is also home to consumers with the lowest ratio of delinquent credit accounts to total credit accounts, a factor that likely contributes to the state's higher average FICO® Scores. In 2019, just over 10% of consumers' average total accounts in the state were delinquent.
Following Minnesota in top FICO® Scores among states were South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.
|Average FICO® Scores by State|
|District of Columbia||700||703|
Boulder, Colorado, Metro Area Has the Highest Average FICO® Score
Among U.S. metro areas, Boulder, Colorado, maintained the highest average FICO® Score of 743 in 2019, an impressive 40 points higher than the national average and a three-point increase from 2018, when it also had the highest average score. Madison, Wisconsin; Rochester, Minnesota; Bismarck, North Dakota; and Corvallis, Oregon, rounded out the top five metro area FICO® Scores.
Overall, 78% of U.S. metro areas saw their average FICO® Scores increase in 2019. That includes 60% of metro areas with a FICO® Score average of 700 or higher, 7 percentage points higher than in 2018. Nine metro areas improved their FICO® Score average to move into the coveted 700-and-higher score range.
78% of metro areas in the U.S. improved their average FICO® Scores in 2019
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin, had the largest average FICO® Score increase in the past year of 15 points, closely followed by Racine, Wisconsin, with 14 points. Wisconsin was home to four of the top five metro areas to see the largest year-over-year increase to their average FICO® Scores in 2019.
Additional metro area highlights from 2019 include:
- Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York, improved its average FICO® Score by 79 points in five years, the most of any market
- 163 metro areas improved their average FICO® Scores by two points or more from 2018, while 69 metro areas saw their average FICO® Scores stay the same
- 34 metro areas saw a decrease in their average FICO® Scores in 2019
- 89 metro areas have improved their average FICO® Scores by 10 points or more over the past five years
- 58 metro areas improved their average FICO® Scores to 700 or higher in five years
|Top 50 Metro Areas Ranked by Average FICO® Score|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||735||737|
|State College, PA||734||737|
|Burlington-South Burlington, VT||733||735|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||732||734|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA||730||733|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA||731||733|
|Barnstable Town, MA||731||732|
|La Crosse, WI-MN||731||732|
|St. Cloud, MN||732||732|
|Holland-Grand Haven, MI||730||731|
|Green Bay, WI||728||730|
|Iowa City, IA||729||730|
|Mankato-North Mankato, MN||729||730|
|Ann Arbor, MI||726||729|
|Fort Collins-Loveland, CO||726||729|
|Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA||727||729|
|Sioux Falls, SD||729||729|
|Fond du Lac, WI||728||728|
|Eau Claire, WI||725||727|
|Grand Forks, ND-MN||726||727|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||725||727|
|Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA||722||724|
|Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME||720||724|
Let's take a closer look at the 2019 U.S. consumer credit market.
U.S. Consumer Credit Snapshot
Americans are accumulating debt on a consistent basis at an average of 3% per year over the past 10 years for non-mortgage loans. In 2019, personal loans continued to be the fastest-growing debt category, even though just a quarter of U.S. consumers have a personal loan. In contrast, 67% of consumers hold at least one credit card. Credit card debt is second behind personal loans in terms of growth.
While the U.S. population as a whole saw average FICO® Scores increase in 2019, so, too, did average balances across most of the consumer debt landscape.
Here's a look at how credit numbers changed over the past year.
|U.S. Consumer Credit Snapshot|
|Category||2018 Averages||2019 Averages|
|Estimated annual household income*||$77,762||$79,834|
|Credit card balance||$6,040||$6,194|
|Retail card balance||$1,124||$1,155|
|Student loan balance||$33,672||$35,620|
|Auto loan balance||$18,945||$19,231|
|Personal loan balance||$16,345||$16,259|
*Income (estimated or actual) is not considered in a FICO® Score calculation.
Average Credit Card Balances Increase 3% in 2019
Credit card debt is the second-fastest-growing debt behind personal loans. The average credit card debt for Americans reached $6,194 in 2019, as balances increased 3% compared with 2018, according to Experian data. The average FICO® Score for consumers with a credit card is 727, and 67% of Americans carried a credit card in 2019.
Alaska had the highest average credit card balance of $8,026 among states in 2019. The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut, metro area had the highest average credit card balance among metro areas of $8,679.
Looking at average credit card balances shows 75% of consumers who have one or more credit cards carry an average credit card balance over $6,200. Average total balances above $6,200 have grown 3% over the past five years.
Average Retail Card Debt Grows 3%
The average retail credit card balance for Americans is $1,155, with balances increasing 3% in 2019 compared with 2018. The average FICO® Score for someone who has a retail credit card is 717.
Overall, 62% of Americans carried a retail card in 2019. By generation, baby boomers made up 33% of consumers with a retail card, followed by Generation X at 27%.
Average Mortgage Debt Tops $203,000
The average mortgage balance for Americans reached $203,296 in 2019, an increase of 2% or $4,919 from 2018, according to Experian data. The average FICO® Score for someone who has a mortgage is 747, and 36% of Americans held a mortgage in 2019.
Looking at the numbers across generations, 41% of baby boomers and 32% of Generation Xers carry a mortgage, accounting for 73% of total mortgages held. Millennials represent 15% of mortgage holders among generations but have seen their numbers rise 76% in the past five years.
The number of millennials with a mortgage has increased 76% in the past five years
While rising overall mortgage debt may cause jitters among market watchers who remember the Great Recession all too well, positive indicators show that consumers are making payments on time. Since 2010, delinquencies for mortgage payments 30 to 59 days late have decreased by 52%; payments 60 to 89 days late have decreased by 69%; and payments 90 to 180 days late have decreased by 85%.
The District of Columbia's average mortgage balance of $421,499 in 2019 was higher than any other state's (the category in which the district is included), while the Silicon Valley market of San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, held the highest average balance among metro areas at $522,076.
Personal Loans Remain Fastest-Growing Debt Category
Consumers looking to make big purchases or consolidate debt are turning to personal loans in record numbers. Personal loan accounts have increased 11% year over year from 2018 and continue to comprise the fastest-growing debt category in the U.S.
Personal loans were once associated with being a last resort for people trying to escape debt, but the rise of financial technology firms, or fintechs, in recent years has helped fuel this category's growth.
While personal loan debt is growing at a faster rate than auto, mortgage, credit card and student loan debt, it accounts for just 2% of total U.S. consumer debt in dollars. Examining personal loans among U.S. consumers shows that nearly 80% have balances of $20,000 or lower. The average U.S. consumer personal loan balance reached $16,259 in 2019, down 1% or $86 compared with 2018. That said, the number of personal loans with a balance of $20,000 or more has grown 14% in the past five years.
The average FICO® Score for someone who has a personal loan is 681. Overall, 26% of Americans had a personal loan in 2019, with Generation X and baby boomers neck-and-neck among generations with the most personal loans, at 33% and 32%, respectively.
Average Student Loan Debt Increases 6%
The average student loan balance per borrower in the U.S. was $35,620 in 2019, increasing 6% or $1,948 from 2018, according to Experian data. The average FICO® Score for someone who has a student loan is 681.
Overall, 17% of Americans had a student loan in 2019. And perhaps not surprising is that 48% of millennials carry a student loan balance, which is the highest percentage among all generations. Generation X carries the highest average student loan balance at $39,981, followed by baby boomers with $34,957 and millennials with $34,795 in average student loan balances.
48% of millennials carry a student loan balance
Student loan debt represents the second-largest debt category for Americans, trailing only mortgage loans. One trend taking shape in recent years is that people with a student loan balance below $40,000 now have a higher FICO® Score than those with a balance above $40,000. While this may seem obvious, from 2010 to 2018, the opposite was true, as consumers with a student loan balance above $40,000 averaged a higher FICO® Score.
Auto Loan Balances Increase Slightly
The average auto loan balance for Americans was $16,259 in 2019, as balances increased 2% from 2018, according to Experian data. The average FICO® Score for someone who has an auto loan is 705. Overall, 30% of Americans carried an auto loan in 2019. Generation X represents the largest percentage among the generations with an auto loan at 33%. Millennials carry 30% of auto loans, edging out baby boomers, who hold 29%.
18% of Americans Have a Subprime Credit Score
A little less than a fifth of Americans, or 18%, have a FICO® Score of 580 to 669, often considered "subprime" credit scores by lenders. Zooming out, 34% of Americans have a FICO® Score in the 300-to-669 range, a figure that's down 4 percentage points from 10 years ago.
Lenders use different criteria to measure credit risk when a borrower applies for a loan, and falling into the subprime credit score range can hurt a borrower's chance of qualifying for a loan or receiving good terms, such as a low interest rate. Consumers with subprime credit scores tend to have higher balances for credit cards, retail cards, student loans and auto loans.
|U.S. Consumer Credit Snapshot: Subprime vs. National Average|
|Category||Subprime Consumer Average||Consumer Average|
|Estimated annual household income*||$70,990||$79,834|
|Credit card balance||$6,489||$6,194|
|Retail card balance||$1,820||$1,155|
|Student loan balance||$36,264||$35,620|
|Auto loan balance||$19,811||$19,231|
|Personal loan balance||$10,187||$16,259|
*Income (estimated or actual) is not considered in a FICO® Score calculation.
Looking Back to Look Ahead
At the close of the decade, the Great Recession that kicked it off is in the rearview mirror for many Americans, with those who endured it perhaps changing credit behaviors as a result.
Younger generations, meanwhile, witnessed their parents or others deal with the ramifications of the financial crisis, which may have shaped their views on how they interact with credit. With FICO® Scores seeing a 14-point increase and loan delinquencies significantly reduced since 2010, Americans seem to be maintaining healthier overall credit habits while also feeling bullish about growing balances across credit cards, retail cards, auto loans and even mortgages.
"Credit should be a financial tool," says Experian's Rod Griffin. "If you check your credit history and use the tools available to you to help boost your credit score, you may have some bumps along the way, but ultimately you will benefit from a lifelong impact on your personal finances."
The analysis results provided are based on an Experian-created statistically relevant aggregate sampling of our consumer credit database using the FICO® Score 8 version from the second quarter of 2019. Different sampling parameters may generate different findings compared with other similar analyses. This is the first year that we are using FICO® Scores in our reporting. 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 totaling 413 markets analyzed.
FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the U.S. and other countries.