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Retail Credit Cards

Thanksgiving is traditionally known for spending time with family and eating delicious food. But more recently, time spent eating and giving thanks has been losing ground to time spent shopping. Black Friday is now just as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as turkey is. With this in mind, SmartAsset delved into the data to find the places with the most retail credit card debt in America.

Looking to pay off credit card debt? Consider a balance transfer credit card.

In order to conduct this study on retail debt, we looked at data on average number of retail cards, average retail debt, retail debt as a percent of non-mortgage debt, retail debt as a percent of income and percent increase in average retail debt. Read our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together.

Key Findings

  • Texas and West Virginia – Nine of the top 10 places where retail debt is the most prevalent are in Texas or West Virginia. Texas leads the way with seven while West Virginia has two. Only Albany, Georgia stops these two states from sweeping the top 10.
  • Retail debt rising – The average amount of retail debt is rising pretty fast across the country. On average, retail debt is up about 19% from 2010 to 2016, across the metro areas we analyzed. But there is quite a bit of variance between cities. For example, Parkersburg, West Virginia saw average retail debt held by residents grow over 48% from 2010 to 2016. But in Honolulu, it shrunk 11%.
  • No Northeast – Retail credit cards and retail debt do not seem to be a popular way to shop in the Northeast. The highest ranked Northeast city is Elmira, New York at 33. After that it’s Utica, New York at 50.

Retail Credit Cards

1. Corpus Christi, Texas

According to our data, Corpus Christi residents use their retail credit cards more than anyone else in the study. This area has the second-highest average amount of retail debt at $1,590.

That $1,590 makes up a good chunk of Corpus Christi residents’ debt. The average resident here has about 3.84% of their non-mortgage debt tied up in retail debt. That is the sixth-highest rate in the country.

2. Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Texas

Residents here are no strangers to opening retail credit cards. Our data shows that residents in this area have the highest average number of retail cards (2.02) and the third-highest amount of retail debt ($1,577).

While $1,577 may not seem like an enormous figure, it’s actually worth around 9% of the average resident’s annual income. For that metric Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen ranks first.

3. Parkersburg, West Virginia

Parkersburg secured the third spot thanks to the average resident’s rising amount of retail debt. In 2010 the average resident had about $880 worth of retail debt. By 2016 that figure had shot up 48% to $1,303.

While that rise in total retail debt is important, what is more important is the average resident’s debt-to-income ratio. While retail debt has gone up, incomes, for the most part, have not. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that median individual incomes in this area dropped around $2,000 from 2014 to 2015. Currently, residents of Parkersburg have the ninth-highest amount of retail debt relative to median income.

4. Victoria, Texas

Victoria, Texas residents are some of the most active retail credit card users in the country. First of all they have the sixth-highest average number of retail credit cards. Secondly, average retail debt in this part of the country is on the rise. From 2010 to 2016, average retail debt shot up over 30% on average.

The good news for residents here is that they do not seem overly reliant on retail cards. Our data shows the average resident only has retail debt worth about 5% of their income.

5. Odessa-Midland, Texas

By 2016 the average Odessa-Midland resident had racked up about $1,660 in retail debt. In no other place in the study can residents claim to have more retail debt.

Other evidence also points to Odessa-Midland residents as people who like to use retail cards. Take average retail debt as a percent of non-mortgage debt. The average resident here holds retail debt worth just under 4% of their overall debt, the seventh-highest rate in our study.

6. Clarksburg-Weston, West Virginia

This West Virginia metro area takes sixth. Clarksburg-Weston climbed our ranks because of the recent uptick in the average resident’s retail debt. From 2010 to 2016 the average resident increased the amount of retail debt by 32%. That is the seventh-highest increase in the study.

That increase means retail debt now takes up a larger chunk of the average resident’s annual income. Retail debt in this area is worth about 5.62% of the average resident’s income, that’s the 22nd-highest rate in the study.

7. Albany, Georgia

The only place to secure a spot in our top 10 outside of either Texas or West Virginia is Albany, Georgia. Residents here have a low number of average retail credit cards for an area in our top 10. The average resident has 1.48 retail cards.

But while Albany residents may not have a large collection of cards, they do frequently use the ones they have. This area has the 13th-highest amount of average retail debt in the country at $1,377. That retail debt is worth 6.19% of the individual median income in the area, the eighth-highest rate in the country.

8. Lubbock, Texas

The key to managing any kind of debt is to make sure you are able to pay it off. While that may be simple in practice, debt can sneak up on you. Lubbock residents may have found that their retail debt sneaked up on them. Average retail debt here rose 25% from 2010 to 2016.

Residents have the fourth-highest average retail debt in the study. Overall residents here have about $1,489 in retail debt, that’s equal to around 6.6% of the area’s median individual income.

9. El Paso, Texas

El Paso residents have top 10 scores in four out of five metrics. But one metric, percent change in retail debt from 2010 to 2016, almost drags El Paso out of the top 10. Retail debt in this area only increased by 15% from 2010 to 2016. That’s the lowest rate of increase in the top 10 and 142nd overall.

However El Paso residents were already holding a lot of retail debt in 2010. Despite the lack of growth, retail debt here is worth 6.7% of the average resident’s annual income. Retail debt is also worth about 3.4% of total non-mortgage debt. In both those metrics El Paso ranks third.

10. Houston, Texas

Houston is the final and biggest city in our top 10. Residents have the 10th-highest amount of average retail debt in the study. But thanks to relatively high average incomes that debt is not crippling. Overall the average resident here has retail debt worth about 4.5% of their income.

But retail debt may become a problem if Houston residents continue to pile it on at the rate they did from 2010 to 2016. Over that time period average retail debt in the area grew just under 25%.

Retail Credit Cards

Data and Methodology

In order to conduct this study of retail credit card debt, we compared 199 cities across five metrics. Specifically, we analyzed data on the following five metrics:

  • Average retail debt. This is the average amount of retail debt per resident. Data comes from the Experian State of Credit Report for 2016.
  • Average number of retail cards. This is the average number of retail cards held per resident. Data comes from the Experian State of Credit Report for 2016.
  • Retail debt as a percent of non-mortgage debt. Data on average retail debt and average non-mortgage debt from the Experian State of Credit Report for 2016.
  • Retail debt as a percent of median income. Data on average retail debt comes from the Experian State of Credit Report for 2016. Data on median individual incomes comes from the U.S. Census Bureau 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Percent change in average retail debt from 2010 to 2016. Data comes from the Experian State of Credit Report for 2016.

First we ranked each metro area in each of these metrics. Then we found each metro area’s average ranking, giving equal weighting to each metric. Using this average ranking we created our final score. To create our final score we gave the metro area with the best average ranking a score of 100. We gave the metro area with the worst average ranking a score of 0.

Tips for Responsibly Using Retail Credit Cards

Many stores offer their own credit cards to shoppers. But before you jump at the chance to get 20% off your initial purchase, it’s a good idea to consider a few things before signing up.

First what is the card’s APR? If the store credit card comes with a really high APR and you are not sure you will be paying off the whole balance each month, it may not make sense to open it. Whatever rewards you may earn could be outweighed by the added interest payments. Ideally you would pay off the entire balance on any credit cards you have every month. It’s also crucial that you make your payments on time to avoid late fees.

You’ll also want to find out if there is an annual fee. If you are only getting the card for the initial benefit or you don’t frequent the store often, getting a credit card with an annual fee may not make sense. There are plenty of reward credit cards, which you can use at every store, that come with no annual fees.

Lastly, if you do decide to open a credit card at your favorite store, remember that as with all credit cards, it’s best not to charge more than you can comfortably afford to pay.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/stockvisual

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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