Credit in America: 20 Surprising Facts

Americans don’t like to talk about credit card debt. Really, really don’t. In a January 2009 survey by, respondents said that credit card debt is their least favorite topic of conversation. Eighty-one percent said they’d be very or somewhat unlikely to discuss it with someone they’ve just met. This places the subject even with personal love life (also at 81 percent) and ahead of salary (77 percent), amount of mortgage or rent payment (72 percent), health problems (62 percent), and weight (50 percent).

And with good reason. After pausing for a deep breath during the recession, U.S. consumers are charging forward once again, waving around the plastic like it’s 2006. Research firm Card Hub reports that Americans piled up $18.4 billion in credit card debt in the second quarter of 2011. That’s 66 percent more than in the same quarter of 2010, and it’s a whopping 368 percent more than in the second quarter of 2009. Card Hub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou called the numbers “mind boggling.”

Here are 20 more — if not mind boggling at least interesting — facts about Americans and their love-hate (and love again) relationship with credit:

  1. The average credit card debt of each household that has credit card debt is $15,799.
  2. The typical U.S. cardholder has an average of three and a half credit cards.
  3. Of the $793.1 billion in revolving debt held by Americans, 98 percent is credit card debt.
  4. Visa is the most popular credit card in the United States, with 269 million cards in circulation as of September 30, 2010. Next is MasterCard, with 171 million, then Discover, with 54 million. American Express trails, with 48.9 million.
  5. The J.D. Power 2011 Credit Card Satisfaction Study ranks American Express and Discover far ahead of every other company. American Express won for the fifth straight year.
  6. Eighty percent of U.S. consumers have a debit card; 78 percent have a credit card.
  7. Consumers under age 35 got their first credit card at the average age of 20.8 years. Consumers over 65 got their first credit card at the average age of 40.6 years.
  8. The average consumer has 13 credit obligations on record at a credit bureau. Of those 13, an average of nine are credit cards.
  9. One in five residents of New Hampshire and New Jersey has 10 or more credit cards (the most in the United States).
  10. Residents of Corpus Christi, Texas, have the worst credit scores in the United States.
  11. Residents of Sioux Falls, S.D., have the best credit scores.
  12. Residents of Jackson, Miss., use the highest percentage of their credit limit.
  13. Residents of Lincoln, Neb., use the lowest percentage of their credit limit.
  14. Residents of Nevada file for the most bankruptcies — 11 bankruptcies per 1,000 residents — followed by residents of Tennessee and Georgia. Fewest bankruptcies: Alaska.
  15. Residents of Miami charge the most. The average Miamian owes more than 22 percent of their median yearly household income to credit card companies.
  16. Seventy-six percent of U.S. undergraduates have credit cards, and the average undergraduate has $2,200 in credit card debt. The average undergraduate will take on $20,000 in student debt.
  17. Credit cards are the source of financing used most often by small business owners.
  18. In 2009, 20 percent of small businesses tried to get a new credit card. More than 20 percent of them could not.
  19. Thirty-six percent of respondents don’t know the interest rate on the card they use most often.
  20. Young Americans have the second highest rate of bankruptcy, after those aged 35 to 44.

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