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NerdWallet Study: California’s Counties Show Credit Divide

June 6, 2012
Credit Cards
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In a time of sharp disparities in access to credit, California’s counties perfectly illustrate the lending divide. In a NerdWallet analysis of approval data, Sacramento and Marin Counties were far more likely to qualify for credit than the state average, while San Bernadino and Riverside faced sharply lower approval rates.

NerdWallet compared credit card approvals with 2010 median incomes, and found that incomes had limited correlation with approvals. Though Marin enjoys both high incomes and approval rates, and San Bernardino suffers in both categories, the median income is not predictive of credit card approvals for the majority of counties.

Credit card approval rates compared to state average

Overall: The money is in Marin, but Sacramento punches above its weight class.

Marin and Sacramento Counties enjoyed disproportionately high approval rates compared to the state average: Marin was almost twice as likely to qualify for a credit card, while Sacramento was a respectable 2/3 more likely. Riverside, Fresno and San Bernardino, on the other hand, were about 43% less likely to qualify.

County Approval rate compared to state average Median income Median income compared to state average
Marin 96.22% $82,383 42.90%
Sacramento 67.23% $52,655 -8.70%
Santa Barbara 19.23% $56,243 -2.50%
San Diego 18.41% $59,759 3.60%
Santa Clara 12.53% $84,627 46.80%
Alameda 6.75% $66,937 16.10%
San Mateo 3.01% $82,413 42.90%
Los Angeles -1.71% $52,595 -8.80%
Orange -6.69% $70,727 22.70%
Contra Costa -10.16% $73,678 27.80%
San Luis Obispo -28.46% $53,620 -7.00%
Riverside -41.20% $53,981 -6.40%
Fresno -41.47% $44,869 -22.20%
San Bernardino -43.31% $52,270 -9.40%

 Rewards credit cards: Sacramento leads the pack, with Marin and San Diego distant followers.

Rewards credit cards often have higher qualification standards than usual. In this climate of heightened scrutiny, it is surprising that Sacramento is a full 70% more likely to qualify for a rewards card, given that the median income is actually less than the state’s average. Marin and San Diego enjoyed higher approval rates as well: residents were 30% more likely to qualify. Once again, Riverside lagged far behind, a full 40% less likely to be approved for a rewards credit card.

County Approval rate compared to state average Median income Median income compared to state average
Sacramento 69.68% $52,655 -8.70%
Marin 30.32% $82,383 42.90%
San Diego 29.91% $59,759 3.60%
San Bernardino 4.98% $52,270 -9.40%
Los Angeles 4.90% $52,595 -8.80%
Santa Clara 3.07% $84,627 46.80%
Alameda -6.89% $66,937 16.10%
Orange -8.38% $70,727 22.70%
San Mateo -14.97% $82,413 42.90%
Contra Costa -16.01% $73,678 27.80%
Riverside -41.86% $53,981 -6.40%

 Bad credit: San Bernardino faced far lower approval rates than any other county.

Even among only credit cards for bad credit, San Bernardino lags behind – in this case, far behind – in approval ratings. Residents were a full 71% less likely to qualify, a shocking disparity.

County Approval rate compared to state average Median income Median income compared to state average
Sacramento 189.08% $52,655 -8.70%
Alameda 42.44% $66,937 16.10%
Los Angeles -34.48% $52,595 -8.80%
San Bernardino -70.75% $52,270 -9.40%


NerdWallet conducted this analysis with proprietary approval data indexed to the state average. Only counties in with sample sizes of more than 35 were included; we analyzed 1,983 credit card applications made between January 1st, 2012 and May 7th, 2012.

Median income data published by the USDA Economic Research Service.