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2022 SmartAsset Study: Where Millennials Are Struggling to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Across all generations, millennials spend the most time worrying about money (seven times a day, on average). Additionally, nearly three in four millennials have credit card debt and carry an average balance of $4,576. Tackling that debt can be challenging when you take into account high housing costs and rising inflation that Americans face in some parts of the country.

In this study, SmartAsset investigated the places where millennials are struggling the most to pay off their credit card debt. Specifically, we compared data from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. across five credit-related metrics, including average credit card debt, housing and employment. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, read the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Six Southern states rank among the 10 worst for millennial credit card debt. Across these states, the average credit card debt is nearly $4,700 and the average credit score is 672. Rent makes up roughly 17% of the average millennial income.
  • Millennials carry at least $3,700 in credit card debt in every state. Alaska has the highest balance ($5,388), while millennials in Mississippi have the lowest average ($3,724). Nationally, average credit card debt for millennials is $4,576.
  • There’s less correlation between credit card debt and credit scores than you’d expect. Washington, D.C. has the second-highest credit score (715) among millennials, but also the second-highest average credit card debt ($5,118) for the same population. Conversely, Mississippi has both the lowest average millennial credit score (644) and credit card debt ($3,724).
  • Millennial credit card debt is back on the rise. The average credit card debt balance decreased in 2020 to roughly $4,350, but has since risen by more than 5% to $4,576 in 2021. It is worth noting that this figure is below pre-pandemic totals.

1. Florida

On average, millennials have $4,888 in credit card debt in Florida and combined with expenses such as rent, it is increasingly difficult for millennials here to get a handle on credit card debt. A year’s worth of rent in this state will make up nearly 20% of the median income (worst overall) and a one-bedroom apartment will cost roughly $1,000 per month (11th-highest).

2. Georgia

Millennials in Georgia have the eighth-lowest credit score on average (662) and carry the 17th-highest average credit card debt (roughly $4,600). The rent-to-income ratio (17.69%) is relatively high, taking the sixth-worst spot for this metric. The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Georgia is just under $1,000, but it still ranks 14th-highest overall.

3. Nevada

Millennials in Nevada are experiencing the seventh-highest unemployment rate (nearly 6%). The population ranks 12th-worst for both its low average credit score (670) and high average credit card debt ($4,725). Rent in the state makes up nearly 17% of income and median rent for a one-bedroom apartment costs about $900.

4. California

The Golden State has the 16th-highest average credit card debt for millennials ($4,578), but that is not where the major problem lies. The state ranks No. 2 for both its high rent-to-income ratio (over 19%) and median rent for a one-bedroom apartment ($1,342). Additionally, millennial unemployment in California ranks seventh-worst, at 5.6%.

5. Washington, D.C.

Despite having the highest millennial median household income in the country ($105,346), the nation’s capital still ranks as the No. 5 spot where millennials struggle to pay off credit card debt. Washington, D.C. has the highest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment (over $1,500) and fourth-worst rent-to-income ratio (17.82%). Millennials also have the second-highest average millennial credit card debt (roughly $5,100).

6. Texas

The Lone Star state ranks in the 10 worst states for three metrics. It has the eighth-highest millennial credit card debt ($4,885 on average) and the ninth-worst rent-to-income ratio (16.73%). Additionally, millennials in Texas have the 10th-lowest average credit score (667).

7. Alaska (Tie)

Alaska millennials have the highest credit card debt on average ($5,388) and experience the third-highest unemployment rate relative to other states (6.8%). The median household income for millennials in Alaska is roughly $82,100 and median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is roughly $900.

7. New York (Tie)

The Empire State ties for seventh overall. New York millennials have the 10th-highest average credit card debt (nearly $4,800) and experience the 15th-highest unemployment rate (5.3%). Additionally, the rent-to-income ratio is third-worst, at almost 19%.

9. Louisiana

Louisiana millennials carry roughly $4,200 in credit card debt and have the fourth-lowest credit scores on average (658). The Bayou State unemployment rate for this generation is also quite high (6.3%, taking the No. 5 spot). Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is typically $750 and over a year, this makes up roughly 16% of median income for millennials.

10. South Carolina

Though millennials in South Carolina have the 29th-highest credit card debt ($4,352, on average), they have the third-lowest credit scores (656, on average). The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment here is roughly $800, but that expense makes up 16% of a year’s earnings (13th-worst).

Data and Methodology

To determine where millennials are struggling to pay credit card debt, we looked at data for all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Specifically, we looked at data on the following five factors:

  • Average credit score for millennials. Data comes from Experian and is for 2021.
  • Average credit card debt for millennials. Data comes from Experian and is for 2021.
  • Median gross rent for a one-bedroom apartment or house. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Rent-to-income ratio. This is median annual rent divided by the annual median household income for persons ages 25 to 44. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Millennial unemployment rate. This is the weighted average unemployment rate for persons ages 25 to 44. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.

We ranked each state and Washington, D.C. in every metric, half weighting median gross rent. We then found each state’s average ranking. The state with the best average ranking places first in our study while the state with the lowest average ranking places last.

Tips for Managing and Paying Off Credit Card Debt

  • Learn where you stand financially. To better understand some of the ways you can tackle the burden of credit card debt or when to consider asking for help, check out our guide on debt consolidation.
  • Debt snowball or avalanche? Pick a strategy that works best for you. “With debt avalanche, you pay the highest balance first but that can take a long time and become discouraging to a lot of people,” says Brandon Ashton, Director of Retirement Security at Cornerstone Financial Services, LLC. “With debt snowball, you pay off the smaller balances first, therefore reaching milestones quicker. For a lot of people, this gives them a sense of accomplishment and motivates them to stay the course and reach debt freedom.” Use our credit card calculator to understand how interest will impact your final balances and how long it will take to pay off your credit card debt.
  • Consider greener pastures. “Reports show that millennials spend almost 50% of their income on housing. In this arrangement, you’re only able to barely keep your head above water, let alone pay off debt,” says Dan Kroytor, Founder of TailoredPay. “Moving in with family and friends, or moving somewhere much cheaper is a fast way to reduce these costs.” If you’re considering a move, SmartAsset has you covered. We’ve conducted analysis to highlight the best places to get out of credit card debt.

Questions about our study? Contact

Photo credit: ©iStock/Pheelings Media

Anja Solum Anja Solum is a data journalist at SmartAsset covering a variety of personal finance topics, including retirement and debt management. Before joining SmartAsset, she worked on both agency and in-house content marketing teams where she developed her love for data analysis and visualization. In her free time, she nurtures a passion for gaming, a recent addiction to anime & KDramas, and a mischievous labrador retriever. A bit of a nomad, she’s lived in Norway, Jamaica, and Denmark in addition to the U.S. but now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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