Your credit score shapes much of your financial life, such as the chance of approval for a new credit card or loan. That three-digit number varies greatly nationwide, stretching to a nearly 80-point difference between the median credit scores of people living in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the states with the highest credit scores, and those in Mississippi, the state where residents have the lowest median scores.
A credit score reflects borrowing history and debt payments, but its importance goes much further. A strong score makes it easier to get loans, better insurance rates, a nicer place to live and credit cards with better perks.
NerdWallet examined June 2016 VantageScore 3.0 data from the credit reporting agency Equifax to find the median credit score in each state and Washington, D.C. We did the same for the 100 largest metro areas. VantageScore 3.0 has a 300-850 scale, like traditional FICO scores.
Here’s what we found:
Scroll through the chart to see the median VantageScore 3.0 credit score in the 100 largest metro areas:
|Rank||Metro area||Median VantageScore 3.0|
|2||San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||754|
|3||San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||751|
|4||Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||750|
|7||Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||747|
|7||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||747|
|10||North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL||744|
|12||Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI||743|
|16||Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA||741|
|16||Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY||741|
|20||Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA||740|
|21||Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA||739|
|25||New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||736|
|30||St. Louis, MO-IL||735|
|32||Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, VA-MD-WV||733|
|32||New Haven-Milford, CT||733|
|40||San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||731|
|40||Kansas City, MO-KS||731|
|43||Salt Lake City, UT||730|
|45||Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||728|
|45||Colorado Springs, CO||728|
|45||Boise City, ID||728|
|45||Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL||728|
|57||Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN||724|
|58||Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL||723|
|60||Austin-Round Rock, TX||721|
|65||Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL||715|
|70||Oklahoma City, OK||710|
|70||Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||710|
|72||Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||708|
|76||Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR||704|
|79||Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||702|
|79||Greensboro-High Point, NC||702|
|81||Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||699|
|81||Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||699|
|81||Charleston-North Charleston, SC||699|
|81||New Orleans-Metairie, LA||699|
|85||Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||698|
|88||Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||697|
|90||Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV||694|
|90||San Juan-Carolina-Caguas, PR||694|
|92||Baton Rouge, LA||690|
|92||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||690|
|94||Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC||689|
|96||San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||687|
|99||El Paso, TX||672|
Midwest states dominate. Six of the 10 states where residents have the highest scores are in the Midwest — with Minnesota and Wisconsin tied at the top with a median credit score of 752. Of the 12 states counted by the U.S. Census Bureau as part of the Midwest, the median of those scores is 741.5. That’s a higher median credit score than for people in the Northeast (741), West (733) and South (709).
The top metros are geographically diverse. The Northeast claims five spots of the 10 metro areas with the highest scores, while the Midwest claims three. And the California metro areas around San Jose and San Francisco take the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively. While the South doesn’t crack the top 25 on the state list, the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area of Florida is tied for the No. 10 spot, with a median credit score of 744. That’s 37 points higher than Florida’s median credit score of 707. This graphic shows how each city’s score compares with its state score:
Low scores in the South. Eight of the 10 states where residents have the lowest median scores are in the South, with Mississippi at the bottom (674). Even Virginia and Washington, D.C., which tie for the highest scores in the South (729), are No. 27. The nine metro areas with the lowest median credit scores are in the South, with the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area of Texas at the bottom of the 100-city list. That metro area’s median credit score is 658 — which is over 100 points lower than the highest median score of (760) in Madison, Wisconsin.
Income correlates with credit scores in many metro areas. Although income isn’t part of a credit score, it was a dividing factor in the list. Residents in many of the metro areas with the highest median credit scores also have among the highest median household incomes, according to the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey. In fact, the areas surrounding San Jose and San Francisco, California; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Boston have four of the five highest median incomes of the 100 metro areas examined. Each of the 10 metro areas with the lowest median credit scores had annual household incomes below the 2014 national median of $53,482. Equifax’s data includes San Juan, Puerto Rico, which had the lowest median income of the cities analyzed at $21,295 and a median credit score of 694.
The basics of credit scores
The two most common credit-score models. FICO scores are most commonly used in lending decisions, followed by VantageScore, which was developed by the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — in 2006. Like FICO, VantageScore’s most recent model, VantageScore 3.0, has a 300-850 scale. The two scores use almost all of the same factors.
NerdWallet used VantageScore 3.0 in this analysis. Use our tool below to find your credit score, then see how it compares with the median scores in your state or hometown.
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Factors that determine your credit score. Your record of paying bills on time influences credit scores the most, followed by credit utilization, which is the percentage of your credit limit for all accounts and on each account that you’re using at a given time. To learn more, read how credit utilization ratios are calculated. While they play a lesser role, a long credit history of responsibly borrowing money and a diverse range of accounts (revolving accounts such as credit cards and installment loans such as mortgages) also will positively affect your score. And while adding a new line of credit can help your number by lowering the utilization ratio, be careful — each new application will trigger what’s known as a “hard inquiry,” which can drag down your score.
Improve your credit score. Responsibly handling a credit card is one way to build or repair credit history. If you can’t get approved for a standard credit card, consider a secured credit card, which requires a cash deposit that issuers use as collateral if you fall behind on bills. Secured cards are typically good credit cards for bad credit, because they’re easier to get approved for. Pay your bills on time, every cycle and you’ll likely boost your score and get the chance to upgrade to an unsecured card. When rebuilding your credit score, remember to keep credit utilization low and be thoughtful about new credit card applications, which can hurt your score.
Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected].