An array of common indicators -- unemployment rates, retail sales, home construction -- provide insight into a region's economy.
When the economy began to slow, many Americans also saw their credit scores drop. Homeowners defaulted on their mortgages and foreclosure rates skyrocketed in many areas of the country.
Credit reporting company Experian compiles a national score index and state averages from a sample of three million credit profiles. Minnesota's average score of 718 tops Experian's most recent list. The U.S. average is 687, with southern states typically reporting lower scores. (Refer to the map below for each state's average scores.)
For most regions, credit scores mirror unemployment rates. It's not surprising that Nevada, home to the nation's highest jobless rate, also reports the lowest average credit score. Areas of the upper Midwest and Northeast, not hit as hard during the recession, boast the highest scores.
It's important to note Experian's scale of 330 to 830 is different than the more-popular FICO scale. FICO does not report state totals, though.
A smaller set of credit scores for only mortgage applicants tells a different story.
Earlier this year, Mortgage Marvel compiled and analyzed more than 330,000 mortgage applications received in 2011. The mortgage-shopping website's data shows applicants' credit scores declined in most states last year.
Mark Calabria, the Cato Institute's director of financial regulation studies, said the numbers suggest lenders are more willing to lend to borrowers with lower credit scores, and these individuals are now more apt to apply for mortgages. He cited Phoenix and Nevada as two such markets.
"It really looks like they've hit the bottom," he said. "Lenders will be comfortable to lend in those markets."
California (754), Oregon (750) and Wisconsin (749) led the country with the highest average Mortgage Marvel FICO scores, based on a scale of 300 to 850.
Calabria said the mortgage applicant average scores are mostly driven by an area's housing market, urbanization and residents' financial literacy.
Income levels also explain the disparity in state averages for mortgage applicants, Calabria said. Mississippi and Arkansas -- the states with the lowest scores -- also report the nation's least median household incomes, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures. Similarly, the wealthiest states (New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maryland) all rank within the top 10.
Of course, the credit reporting agencies' samples are not representative of a state's entire population. Since wealthier individuals are more inclined to apply for mortgages, the numbers are not reflective of many low-income families or renters.
The following 10 states topped this list of average Experian credit scores:
|STATE||Experian Average (330-830)||2011 Mortgage Marvel Score (300 to 850)||2010 Mortgage Marvel Score (300 to 850)|
Experian Average Credit Scores
Click a state to display averages:
GOVERNING By the Numbers is a companion to GOVERNING Data that digests the growing body of work at the intersection of computer-assisted journalism, data visualization and government transparency.
GOVERNING By the Numbers is dedicated to telling important stories through numbers, with a focus on both our original work in data visualization on GOVERING Data and providing an ongoing tally of editor's picks of new and notable data releases of use to those in government and those who care about it.