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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.

Credit Card Debt In California At A Glance

State averageNational rankNational average
Total number of credit cards (includes both bank cards and store cards)5.9Tied for 6th highest5.6
Average credit card debt per cardholder$6,729 14th highest$6,569
Average utilization rate32.70%Tied for 5th lowest37.70%
Percentage of cardholders currently at least 30 days late with a credit card payment5.30%16th lowest6.40%
Percentage of cardholders with a maxed-out credit card4.40%9th lowest5.90%

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

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.

Average credit card debt per cardholder

Metropolitan areaAverage credit card debt
Oxnard, CA$7,196
San Diego, CA$7,061
Los Angeles, CA$6,975
San Francisco, CA$6,958
Sacramento, CA$6,697
San Jose, CA$6,646
Riverside, CA$6,586
Stockton, CA$6,056
Bakersfield, CA$5,988
Fresno, CA$5,750
California Avg.$6,729
National Avg.$6,569

Note: The statewide average includes residents from the entire state, not just the metropolitan areas included here. For that reason, the averages of the cities shown will not necessarily equal the statewide average shown.

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

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.

Percentage of cardholders who are currently at least 30 days late with a credit card payment

Metropolitan areaPercentage
Stockton, CA7.00%
Fresno, CA6.90%
Riverside, CA6.40%
Bakersfield, CA6.00%
Los Angeles, CA5.50%
Sacramento, CA5.10%
San Diego, CA4.90%
Oxnard, CA4.20%
San Jose, CA3.70%
San Francisco, CA3.40%
California Avg.5.30%
National Avg.6.40%

Note: The statewide average includes residents from the entire state, not just the metropolitan areas included here. For that reason, the averages of the cities shown will not necessarily equal the statewide average shown.

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

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.

Average number of credit cards per cardholder

Metropolitan areaAverage
Oxnard, CA6.2
Riverside, CA6.2
Los Angeles, CA6
Sacramento, CA6
San Jose, CA5.9
San Francisco, CA5.8
Stockton, CA5.7
Bakersfield, CA5.6
San Diego, CA5.6
Fresno, CA5.5
California Avg.5.9
National Avg.5.6

Note: The statewide average includes residents from the entire state, not just the metropolitan areas included here. For that reason, the averages of the cities shown will not necessarily equal the statewide average shown.

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

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.

Average credit card utilization rate per cardholder

Metropolitan areaUtilization rate
Bakersfield, CA39.10%
Fresno, CA37.80%
Stockton, CA36.50%
Riverside, CA36.30%
San Diego, CA33.10%
Los Angeles, CA32.90%
Sacramento, CA32.70%
Oxnard, CA29.40%
San Francisco, CA26.20%
San Jose, CA25.40%
California Avg.32.70%
National Avg.37.70%

Note: The statewide average includes residents from the entire state, not just the metropolitan areas included here. For that reason, the averages of the cities shown will not necessarily equal the statewide average shown.

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

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.

Page 1 Percentage of cardholders with a maxed-out credit card

Metropolitan areaPercentage
Stockton, CA5.30%
San Diego, CA5.10%
Riverside, CA4.90%
Fresno, CA4.80%
Bakersfield, CA4.60%
Los Angeles, CA4.50%
Sacramento, CA4.00%
San Jose, CA3.40%
San Francisco, CA3.40%
Oxnard, CA3.20%
California Avg.4.40%
National Avg.5.90%

Note: The statewide average includes residents from the entire state, not just the metropolitan areas included here. For that reason, the averages of the cities shown will not necessarily equal the statewide average shown.

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

Complete data table

Credit card statistics for 10 largest metropolitan areas in California

Metropolitan area% of adults with active credit cardAverage number of cards per cardholderAverage credit card debt per cardholderAverage credit card utilization rate per cardholder% of cardholders currently at least 30 days late with card payment% of cardholders that currently have a maxed-out credit card
San Jose, CA97.20%5.9$6,646 25.40%3.70%3.40%
San Francisco, CA96.80%5.8$6,958 26.20%3.40%3.40%
Los Angeles, CA95.90%6$6,975 32.90%5.50%4.50%
Oxnard, CA95.90%6.2$7,196 29.40%4.20%3.20%
San Diego, CA95.20%5.6$7,061 33.10%4.90%5.10%
Sacramento, CA95.00%6$6,697 32.70%5.10%4.00%
Riverside, CA94.70%6.2$6,586 36.30%6.40%4.90%
Fresno, CA94.70%5.5$5,750 37.80%6.90%4.80%
Stockton, CA94.60%5.7$6,056 36.50%7.00%5.30%
Bakersfield, CA94.20%5.6$5,988 39.10%6.00%4.60%
California Avg.95.50%5.9$6,729 32.70%5.30%4.40%
National Avg.94.20%5.6$6,569 37.70%6.40%5.90%

Note: The statewide average includes residents from the entire state, not just the metropolitan areas included here. For that reason, the averages of the cities shown will not necessarily equal the statewide average shown.

Source: Review of anonymized LendingTree users’ credit reports from January 2021 through February 2021

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