Despite record unemployment and financially uncertain times, America’s struggle with debt showed signs of improving during the first year of the pandemic. Our team of analysts found that credit card scores improved, more people got caught up on their student loans and the number of people in debt collection has declined over the last year.

Key findings:

  • Minnesota, Wisconsin and Idaho had the biggest decreases in debt.
  • Debt levels stayed largely the same in Nevada, Texas and Alaska.
  • The number of people with a subprime credit score went from 24% to 21%.
  • Median debt increased by as much as $120 in some states and nearly $2,500 in certain counties.
  • Student loan delinquency decreased by 33% nationwide.
  • Credit card delinquency dropped by 45% nationwide.

To get an accurate picture of how debt changed during the beginning of the pandemic, our analysts evaluated five key metrics. We then monitored how these metrics changed over an eight-month period from February 2020 to October 2020.

This article includes:

Debt during the pandemic

We found that Wisconsin had the largest reduction in their amount of debt, while Kansas had the smallest.

When we looked at all of the debt factors mentioned above, we found that Minnesota had the biggest change in their amount of debt and Alaska and Texas had the smallest. In Minnesota, credit card scores improved by three percentage points, the number of people in collections dropped by three percentage points, median debt increased by $27, student loan delinquency declined by 33% and credit card delinquency decreased by 73%.

Compare those numbers to Alaska, which had a two-percentage-point drop in subprime credit scores, a one-percentage-point decrease in debt collection, a $108 increase in median debt, a 24% drop in student loan delinquency and a 60% decrease in credit card delinquency.

States with the largest decreases in debt during the pandemic
State Overall rank Decrease in subprime credit scores Decrease in debt collection Change in median debt Decrease in student loan delinquency Decrease in credit card delinquency
Minnesota 1 -15% -4.8% $27 -35% -73%
Wisconsin 2 -15% -11.3% -$148 -33% -40%
Idaho 3 -11% -5.5% -$45 -34% -73%
Connecticut 4 -12% -3.6% -$79 -32% -60%
Arizona 5 -13% -5.4% $1 -29% -79%
Michigan 6 -12% -4.3% -$51 -29% -75%
Delaware 7 -10% -2.0% -$44 -36% -71%
Maine 8 -11% -1.8% -$3 -39% -77%
Iowa 9 -13% -5.0% $30 -32% -67%
Colorado 10 -12% -3.9% -$45 -31% -70%
Montana 11 -13% -3.2% -$38 -29% -75%
North Carolina 12 (tie) -11% -4.0% -$102 -31% -70%
Massachusetts 12 (tie) -15% -4.2% $35 -31% -55%
Rhode Island 14 -13% -4.9% $9 -32% -20%
New Jersey 15 -13% -2.6% -$7 -32% -50%
New Mexico 16 -12% -4.2% -$37 -29% -64%
North Dakota 17 -8% -1.5% -$244 -31% -79%
Maryland 18 -13% -3.6% $41 -32% -56%
Nebraska 19 -11% -2.4% $92 -43% -67%
Oregon 20 -13% -5.1% $2 -27% -25%
New York 21 -12% -1.8% -$5 -31% -64%
Washington 22 -14% -5.4% $62 -28% -40%
Virginia 23 -11% -3.5% $28 -33% 0%
Ohio 24 (tie) -8% -1.0% -$29 -33% -50%
Georgia 24 (tie) -10% -2.0% $35 -33% -64%
Missouri 26 (tie) -9% -1.2% $73 -35% -71%
Oklahoma 26 (tie) -8% -3.7% $120 -34% 9%
South Dakota 28 -10% -3.7% $11 -32% 0%
Vermont 29 (tie) -13% -3.2% $46 -31% -57%
New Hampshire 29 (tie) -14% -2.7% $54 -29% 0%
Kentucky 31 -8% -1.7% -$27 -32% -44%
Indiana 32 -9% -1.7% -$16 -29% -64%
Illinois 33 (tie) -10% -2.1% $25 -31% -55%
Alabama 33 (tie) -8% -1.6% $36 -37% -56%
California 35 -12% -0.5% $54 -31% -67%
Arkansas 36 (tie) -7% -0.7% -$8 -38% -25%
Wyoming 36 (tie) -9% -2.6% $31 -32% -25%
Pennsylvania 38 -13% -2.8% $1 -27% 0%
South Carolina 39 -8% -1.8% -$100 -31% -17%
Hawaii 40 -6% 4.6% -$73 -27% -80%
Louisiana 41 -8% -1.3% $35 -35% -29%
Florida 42 -8% -0.3% $39 -34% -38%
Kansas 43 -7% -1.8% $5 -26% -73%
Mississippi 44 -10% -1.1% $71 -33% -36%
West Virginia 45 -7% -0.2% -$62 -33% 67%
Tennessee 46 -8% -2.0% $12 -31% 33%
Utah 47 -11% -2.3% $75 -27% -25%
Nevada 48 -10% -1.6% $83 -29% -17%
Texas 49 (tie) -7% -0.1% $61 -33% -60%
Alaska 49 (tie) -7% -0.7% $108 -26% 67%

Credit card scores

Having a good credit score can affect everything from home mortgages and credit cards to what you pay for insurance and cell phones. We found that the number of people with subprime credit scores dropped by 3% nationwide during the first year of the pandemic. Mississippi and Maryland had the highest decreases in subprime scores. Vermont and Minnesota have the fewest residents with subprime scores.

Credit scores and the pandemic
State % of people with a subprime credit score in February 2020 % of people with a subprime credit score in October 2020
Alabama 33% 30%
Alaska 25% 23%
Arizona 26% 23%
Arkansas 32% 30%
California 20% 18%
Colorado 20% 18%
Connecticut 21% 18%
Delaware 26% 23%
Florida 26% 24%
Georgia 32% 29%
Hawaii 16% 15%
Idaho 19% 17%
Illinois 23% 21%
Indiana 27% 24%
Iowa 19% 17%
Kansas 23% 21%
Kentucky 29% 27%
Louisiana 35% 32%
Maine 21% 19%
Maryland 25% 21%
Massachusetts 17% 14%
Michigan 24% 21%
Minnesota 14% 11%
Mississippi 36% 32%
Missouri 26% 24%
Montana 19% 17%
Nebraska 18% 16%
Nevada 30% 27%
New Hampshire 16% 14%
New Jersey 21% 18%
New Mexico 29% 26%
New York 20% 17%
North Carolina 28% 25%
North Dakota 16% 15%
Ohio 26% 24%
Oklahoma 32% 29%
Oregon 18% 15%
Pennsylvania 22% 19%
Rhode Island 22% 19%
South Carolina 32% 29%
South Dakota 15% 14%
Tennessee 29% 27%
Texas 32% 29%
Utah 19% 17%
Vermont 15% 13%
Virginia 24% 21%
Washington 16% 14%
West Virginia 31% 29%
Wisconsin 19% 16%
Wyoming 22% 20%

Median debt in collections

While the number of people with subprime credit scores dropped significantly nationwide, the number of people with debt in collections did not: Our team found a 1% drop in the number of people facing collections. Wisconsin’s three-percentage-point drop was the largest change in the amount of people facing collections; however, 19 states reported no change.

Debt and the pandemic
State % of people with debt in collections - February 2020 % of people with debt in collections - October 2020
Alabama 38% 37%
Alaska 27% 26%
Arizona 32% 30%
Arkansas 37% 37%
California 23% 23%
Colorado 24% 23%
Connecticut 25% 24%
Delaware 31% 31%
Florida 33% 33%
Georgia 37% 36%
Hawaii 18% 18%
Idaho 22% 21%
Illinois 28% 27%
Indiana 31% 31%
Iowa 23% 21%
Kansas 27% 27%
Kentucky 35% 35%
Louisiana 42% 41%
Maine 28% 27%
Maryland 28% 27%
Massachusetts 19% 18%
Michigan 29% 28%
Minnesota 15% 14%
Mississippi 39% 39%
Missouri 32% 32%
Montana 22% 22%
Nebraska 19% 19%
Nevada 36% 35%
New Hampshire 20% 19%
New Jersey 25% 24%
New Mexico 36% 34%
New York 22% 22%
North Carolina 35% 34%
North Dakota 17% 17%
Ohio 32% 31%
Oklahoma 38% 37%
Oregon 20% 19%
Pennsylvania 27% 26%
Rhode Island 25% 23%
South Carolina 41% 40%
South Dakota 17% 16%
Tennessee 35% 35%
Texas 40% 40%
Utah 21% 21%
Vermont 18% 18%
Virginia 28% 27%
Washington 18% 17%
West Virginia 40% 40%
Wisconsin 23% 20%
Wyoming 27% 26%
U.S. average 28% 27%

Changes in median debt

Fewer people had debt in collection by October of 2020, but the amount they owed slightly increased over the first year of the pandemic. Nationwide, the median debt in collections increased by $3; however, the change in median debt varies significantly from state to state. We found that median debt increased by as much as $120 in Oklahoma and decreased by nearly $250 in North Dakota.

Median debt in each state
State median debt in collections - February 2020 median debt in collections - October 2020 Change in median debt
Alabama $1,917 $1,953 $36
Alaska $2,073 $2,181 $108
Arizona $2,051 $2,052 $1
Arkansas $1,671 $1,663 -$8
California $1,842 $1,896 $54
Colorado $1,682 $1,637 -$45
Connecticut $1,625 $1,546 -$79
Delaware $1,891 $1,847 -$44
Florida $2,186 $2,225 $39
Georgia $1,948 $1,983 $35
Hawaii $1,999 $1,926 -$73
Idaho $2,307 $2,262 -$45
Illinois $1,547 $1,572 $25
Indiana $1,872 $1,856 -$16
Iowa $1,647 $1,677 $30
Kansas $1,746 $1,751 $5
Kentucky $1,342 $1,315 -$27
Louisiana $1,899 $1,934 $35
Maine $1,694 $1,691 -$3
Maryland $1,569 $1,610 $41
Massachusetts $1,549 $1,584 $35
Michigan $1,553 $1,502 -$51
Minnesota $1,700 $1,727 $27
Mississippi $1,774 $1,845 $71
Missouri $1,948 $2,021 $73
Montana $1,837 $1,799 -$38
Nebraska $2,003 $2,095 $92
Nevada $2,132 $2,215 $83
New Hampshire $1,674 $1,728 $54
New Jersey $1,379 $1,372 -$7
New Mexico $1,761 $1,724 -$37
New York $1,755 $1,750 -$5
North Carolina $1,670 $1,568 -$102
North Dakota $2,158 $1,914 -$244
Ohio $1,529 $1,500 -$29
Oklahoma $2,122 $2,242 $120
Oregon $1,540 $1,542 $2
Pennsylvania $1,821 $1,822 $1
Rhode Island $1,794 $1,803 $9
South Carolina $2,197 $2,097 -$100
South Dakota $2,201 $2,212 $11
Tennessee $1,947 $1,959 $12
Texas $2,102 $2,163 $61
Utah $1,891 $1,966 $75
Vermont $1,702 $1,748 $46
Virginia $1,776 $1,804 $28
Washington $1,794 $1,856 $62
West Virginia $1,643 $1,581 -$62
Wisconsin $1,854 $1,706 -$148
Wyoming $2,478 $2,509 $31
U.S. average $1,836 $1,839 $3

When our analysts looked at the debt picture in over 3,000 counties, we found even more drastic changes. Median debt in parts of Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Texas is nearly $4,000 or more. And we found 10 counties where median debt increased by as much as 160% in just eight months.

Counties with the most debt

Counties with the largest change in debt
County Median debt - February 2020 Median debt - October 2020 % change in debt
Callahan, TX $1,510 $3,989 164%
Lee, NC $1,201 $3,128 160%
Crook, OR $578 $1,333 131%
Oglethorpe, GA $834 $1,912 129%
Jefferson, MS $1,463 $3,216 120%
Kingfisher, OK $810 $1,765 118%
Transylvania, NC $886 $1,922 117%
Mayes, OK $1,676 $3,503 109%
Dade, GA $1,712 $3,547 107%
Socorro, NM $1,004 $2,066 106%

Student loan delinquency

Student loan delinquency rates underwent a major change during the pandemic. We found that nationwide, the number of people who are delinquent on their student loans dropped by 33%. Student loan delinquency dropped by 50% in Nebraska, 40% in Alabama and 25% or less in Utah and Alaska.

Student loan delinquency and the pandemic
State % of people delinquent on their student loans - February 2020 % of people delinquent on the student loans - October 2020 Change in student loan delinquency
Alabama 20% 12% -40%
Alaska 17% 13% -24%
Arizona 18% 12% -33%
Arkansas 21% 13% -38%
California 15% 10% -33%
Colorado 14% 9% -36%
Connecticut 13% 8% -38%
Delaware 16% 10% -38%
Florida 18% 12% -33%
Georgia 19% 13% -32%
Hawaii 14% 10% -29%
Idaho 14% 9% -36%
Illinois 14% 10% -29%
Indiana 18% 13% -28%
Iowa 14% 9% -36%
Kansas 16% 11% -31%
Kentucky 20% 13% -35%
Louisiana 20% 13% -35%
Maine 13% 8% -38%
Maryland 15% 10% -33%
Massachusetts 10% 7% -30%
Michigan 17% 12% -29%
Minnesota 11% 7% -36%
Mississippi 22% 15% -32%
Missouri 18% 11% -39%
Montana 15% 11% -27%
Nebraska 12% 6% -50%
Nevada 21% 15% -29%
New Hampshire 11% 8% -27%
New Jersey 13% 9% -31%
New Mexico 20% 14% -30%
New York 13% 9% -31%
North Carolina 16% 11% -31%
North Dakota 11% 7% -36%
Ohio 17% 11% -35%
Oklahoma 23% 15% -35%
Oregon 15% 11% -27%
Pennsylvania 14% 10% -29%
Rhode Island 14% 10% -29%
South Carolina 19% 13% -32%
South Dakota 10% 7% -30%
Tennessee 18% 13% -28%
Texas 17% 11% -35%
Utah 12% 9% -25%
Vermont 10% 7% -30%
Virginia 14% 9% -36%
Washington 12% 9% -25%
West Virginia 20% 13% -35%
Wisconsin 13% 8% -38%
Wyoming 12% 8% -33%
U.S. average 16% 10% -33%

Credit card delinquency

The biggest change in regards to debt during the pandemic happened in credit card delinquency rates. Our analysts found that credit delinquency declined by 42% nationwide and by 70% or more in 10 states. Only four states, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas, reported increases in credit card delinquencies.

Credit card delinquency and the pandemic
State % of people delinquent on their credit cards in February 2020 % of people delinquent on the credit cards in October 2020 Change in credit card delinquency
Alabama 11% 5% -55%
Alaska 10% 4% -60%
Arizona 19% 4% -79%
Arkansas 8% 6% -25%
California 12% 4% -67%
Colorado 10% 3% -70%
Connecticut 10% 4% -60%
Delaware 14% 4% -71%
Florida 8% 5% -38%
Georgia 12% 6% -50%
Hawaii 15% 3% -80%
Idaho 11% 3% -73%
Illinois 9% 4% -56%
Indiana 11% 4% -64%
Iowa 9% 3% -67%
Kansas 11% 3% -73%
Kentucky 9% 5% -44%
Louisiana 7% 5% -29%
Maine 13% 3% -77%
Maryland 9% 4% -56%
Massachusetts 10% 3% -70%
Michigan 12% 3% -75%
Minnesota 11% 3% -73%
Mississippi 11% 7% -36%
Missouri 14% 4% -71%
Montana 12% 3% -75%
Nebraska 9% 3% -67%
Nevada 6% 5% -17%
New Hampshire 7% 3% -57%
New Jersey 8% 4% -50%
New Mexico 11% 4% -64%
New York 11% 4% -64%
North Carolina 11% 5% -55%
North Dakota 14% 3% -79%
Ohio 11% 4% -64%
Oklahoma 11% 12% 9%
Oregon 4% 3% -25%
Pennsylvania 4% 4% 0%
Rhode Island 5% 4% -20%
South Carolina 6% 5% -17%
South Dakota 3% 3% 0%
Tennessee 3% 4% 33%
Texas 3% 5% 67%
Utah 4% 3% -25%
Vermont 3% 3% 0%
Virginia 4% 4% 0%
Washington 5% 3% -40%
West Virginia 3% 5% 67%
Wisconsin 5% 3% -40%
Wyoming 4% 3% -25%
U.S. average 9% 4% -42%

Debt and demographics

People of color have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing pandemic. And that includes changes in debt. Before the pandemic started, people of color had a higher rate of subprime credit scores, more debt in collections and a higher rate of student loan delinquencies than majority-white communities.

We found that while those debt indicators changed for people of color during the pandemic, they did not always change as much as in white communities. For example, Black communities had a 9% decrease in subprime credit scores and a 2% decrease in collections during the first year of the pandemic. White communities, meanwhile, had an 11% and 3% change, respectively. Native American communities experienced one of the biggest changes. The number of people with debt in collections dropped by 4% in Native communities and median debt dropped by more than $200.

Debt and race demographics  

We believe there are several main reasons why debt changed so much during the pandemic. One, lockdowns kept people at home. And with less money to spend on travel and entertainment expenses, Americans simply saved more. Two, the first round of stimulus payments was issued in March 2020. This put an extra $1,200 or more in people’s pockets that they could use for expenses or to pay off student loans. Finally, the United States experienced unprecedented job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. So, while the employed had extra money to pay off their debts, those who lost their jobs fell deeper into debt, leading to an increase in the median debt in collections.

Methodology

Changes in subprime credit scores, median debt in collections, median debt and student loan delinquency were calculated using data from the Urban Institute. To calculate changes, QuoteWizard looked at 33 different debt indicators for all 50 states and 3,138 counties every two months from February 2020 to October 2020. We then compared those changes across each debt indicator for each state and location.

Subprime credit score is defined as a credit score of 580-619.

Student loan delinquency is defined as not making a student loan payment for 60 days.

Credit card delinquency is defined as not making a credit card payment for 30 days.