Minnesota residents can brag about more than their 10,000 lakes — they typically have the country's best credit scores too. As in previous years, the midwestern state has America's highest average credit score, according to Experian.
Those living in Minnesota have an average score of 713, which falls into the "good" range of scores between 670 to 739, according to Experian. The company's annual State of Credit report and state ranking is based on Vantage Scores, which range from 300 to 850. South Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts round out the top five states with the highest average credit scores for 2018.
At the other end of the spectrum, residents in southern states had the lowest average credit scores. The lowest score, 652, belonged to those living in Mississippi. Louisiana, Nevada, Georgia and Texas are all in the bottom of Experian's ranking as well, with scores of 659 or below.
"The southern tier of the U.S. has historically had lower scores than the Midwest and the northern part of the country," Rod Griffin, Experian's director of consumer education and awareness, tells CNBC Make It. That said, he notes that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why, saying that it's likely a mix of the economic environment and cultural norms.
While there is no single cause, the rate at which people in the South are using their available credit tends to be consistently higher than in other parts of the country, Griffin says.
"That, to me, is a telling issue. People may be using their credit cards as a supplement to their income in the South, or are just using them more and carrying a higher balance," Griffin says. Credit utilization, as it's called, is the ratio of money you have on your credit cards to the total amount of credit you have available. And it plays a big factor in calculating credit risk and therefore credit scores. When you use more than 30% of your available credit, your credit score is typically going to be lower because there's a greater risk you may not pay it all off, or that it may take a while to do so, he says.
Those living in Arkansas and Mississippi have the highest average credit utilization rates in the country at 36% and 35%, respectively.
But Griffin says it's important to keep in mind that these are average scores within each state, so while they provide insight generally, there are lots of individuals with really strong credit scores in all of these states.
If you're looking to improve your credit score, the fastest way to do so is by making timely payments.
"There are two keys to every credit score and having a good score: You have to pay your bills on time every single time, and you have to keep balances as low as possible," Griffin says. Most experts recommend that you spend less than 25% of your credit limit.
If you have a high credit card balance that's getting close to, or is already at, your credit limit, paying the balance down will increase your score, says Jeff Richardson, spokesman for credit score company VantageScore Solutions.
There are also two new tools that aim to help improve credit scores by giving consumers the opportunity to add more data points to their credit report. Experian Boost, which rolled out earlier this year, allows consumers to add to add their payment history on utility, phone and cable TV bills.
UltraFICO, which is still in the pilot program stage, aims to give consumers the opportunity to have their credit score take banking account information into consideration.
This is particularly helpful for those without a robust credit history because they may not have taken out credit cards or loans in the past, Griffin says. "They simply don't have the history to show they're a good credit risk," Griffin says.
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