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Credit Card Debt in California

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The average credit cardholder in California has more cards and more debt than the average American, according to new data from LendingTree, but not all the credit card news coming out of the Golden State is bad.

California cardholders are well below the national average in credit card utilization rate, late payments and maxed-out credit cards.

This page contains a breakdown of credit card debt in California, including a look at some key card-related data points for the state’s 10 largest metropolitan areas (also referred to as “cities” in this report).

And debt issues aren’t just about numbers. We also include answers to some frequently asked questions about credit card laws in the state.

How much credit card debt does the average Californian have?

$6,729.

That includes what is owed on both bank credit cards and store credit cards, and it is one of the highest totals in the country.

It is around $1,000 less than what is owed by cardholders in New Jersey, the state with the nation’s highest credit card debt, but it is still $160 higher than the national average.

What percentage of Californians are currently at least 30 days late with a credit card payment?

About 1 in 20 California cardholders (5.3%) are at least 30 days late with their credit card payment right now.

That’s good news, and perhaps a bit unexpected. Given that California’s average card debt is among the nation’s highest, it would stand to reason that there would be more late payments than other states, but that’s not the case.

How many credit cards does the average Californian have?

5.9, which includes both retail credit cards and bank credit cards.

Only cardholders from five states (New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida and New York) have more credit cards on average than California cardholders.

What’s the average credit card utilization rate in California?

32.7%, which ranks California fifth in the nation in terms of lowest utilization rate.

That’s really good news for Californians because utilization — how much you owe versus how much available credit you have — is the second-most important factor in credit scoring behind your payment history. The lower your rate, generally speaking, the better your score will be.

What percentage of Californians currently have a maxed-out credit card?

Just 4.4% of cardholders in California have a credit card that is currently maxed out.

That is one of the 10 lowest percentages in the nation, which is exactly what you’d expect in a state with one of the lowest average utilization rates.

Which California cities have the most and least credit card debt?

Oxnard has the most card debt among the 10 biggest California metropolitan areas, while Fresno has the least.

There’s a gap of more than $1,400 between the two, with Fresno coming nearly $1,000 below the state average.

Which cities have the highest and lowest percentage of cardholders who are at least 30 days late with a card payment?

Stockton narrowly edges out Fresno for the highest percentage of cardholders who are currently at least 30 days late on a card payment. Both have percentages that are more than twice as high as San Francisco, which had the lowest rate among the state’s 10 biggest metropolitan areas.

Which cities have the most and fewest credit cards?

Oxnard cardholders have the most credit cards of any of the state’s 10 biggest metro areas, on average, while Fresno has the fewest.

There’s not a huge amount of variation, however. The difference between the highest and lowest on this list is just 0.7 cards.

Which cities have the highest and lowest credit card utilization rates in California?

Looking at California’s 10 biggest metropolitan areas, Bakersfield cardholders have the highest credit card utilization rate in the state, while San Jose’s have the lowest.

San Jose’s rate — as well as San Francisco’s — is among the nation’s lowest. Experts have long recommended that cardholders who carry a balance aim to keep the utilization rate below 30% to keep their score strong, and both of those Bay Area cities come in below that number.

Which cities have the highest and lowest percentage of cardholders with a maxed-out credit card in California?

None of the 10 biggest California metropolitan areas has a higher percentage of cardholders with a maxed-out credit card than Stockton, while Oxnard had the lowest percentage.

Oxnard’s placement here may be surprising, given their high debt ranking. However, the fact that they also have the most cards on average and the lowest percentage of maxed-out cards could mean that folks in Oxnard are simply spreading that card debt over many cards rather than running up big balances on one primary account.

Complete data table

Credit card laws in California

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about state laws related to credit cards in California.

What is the statute of limitations on credit card debt in California?

Generally, the statute of limitations on debt in California is four years. What that means is that after four years, debt collectors can no longer sue you to collect on the debt.

However, it is important to understand that it might be possible to “restart the clock” on that debt. Debt collectors may still try to collect even after that four-year period has passed, and if you acknowledge that debt by, for example, by making even a small payment, that debt can become fair game for collectors once again.

Can your bank account be garnished for credit card debt in California?

Yes, and so can your wages.

If a debtor tries to collect debt repayment from your bank account, you have 10 days to oppose it by filing a Claim of Exemption. The creditor then can oppose that, which can end up leading to further court hearings.

In order to garnish your wages to collect that card debt, the creditor must get an Earnings Withholding Order. In most cases, the creditor can collect up to 25% of the amount earned over the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.

Are credit card surcharges legal in California?

There is a law in California against credit card surcharges — adding extra fees when a customer opts to pay with a credit card instead of cash — but in 2015, a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional and said it could no longer be enforced. That ruling effectively means that merchants in California are free to implement credit card surcharges if they choose to.

On its website, the state’s attorney general says it “believes that this decision is incorrect and has appealed that order. However, as of now, the attorney general cannot enforce the statute.”

Sources

  • More than 1 million anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021
  • United States Census Bureau population data
  • Website for the Office of the Attorney General of California
  • Website for the Judicial Branch of California