In the contest for the gender with the best credit, men win—but only by a hair.
The average credit score in the U.S. for men is 630 out of a possible 850, compared with 621 for women. What's more intriguing: Men maintain that credit edge even though their average overall debt and average credit card balance exceed the averages for women.
Men's higher wages may help explain the difference in results, which come from a study of users of the website Credit Sesame. While income isn't a factor in credit scores, 23 percent of men in the study, which sampled more than 2.5 million of the site's 7 million members, said they earned at least $75,000 a year, while only 18 percent of women reported earning that much. Greater financial flexibility makes managing credit easier, apparently.
Here are other ways the credit picture differs for men and women:
Women use a higher percentage of available credit
The income gap strikes again here, leading to a bit of a Catch-22. If a higher income means you manage your credit better, you may get a higher credit score and a higher credit limit. A higher limit means that you can carry the same or a higher balance than the next person, but you'll be using a smaller percentage of your available credit. And utilizing a low percentage of your total credit is good for your credit score.
Credit scores for both genders improve with age
This makes sense, assuming consumers get smarter about how to use credit, and more aware of how important a good score can be, as they get older. Also, as the years add up, odds are you're paying down your mortgage and working to get rid of debt. Even if you have a high limit on your credit cards, you're likely (hopefully) able to draw on a lesser percentage of it than you did when you were younger.
The benefits of age accrue more to men in credit scores. At age 65 or above, male users of Credit Sesame had a score of 705, while women in the same age range had a score of 690. Credit scores rose significantly for both genders after age 54.
Male and female credit ninjas live in affluent coastal pockets
Three of the five ZIP codes with the highest credit scores for women were in New York City, with scores ranging from 728 to 733—and median household incomes, the Census Bureau shows, ranging from $100,763 to $115,485. The other two ZIP codes were in San Francisco (average score of 733); the 94114 ZIP code there has a median household income of just under $123,000.
The ZIP codes with the highest credit scores for men are in Arlington, Va. (745); Cupertino, Calif. (740); and New York (734). Cupertino, home to Apple's headquarters, takes the cake for the ZIP code with the highest median household income in the group, at $130,961. The median value of owner-occupied housing units in Appledom tops $1 million. But here's one thing about those folks not worthy of envy—how many annoying credit card solicitations they get in the mail.
In cities where men have the lowest scores, women score higher
Here's a Pyrrhic victory: In six of the 10 ZIP codes where men's credit scores are the lowest, women's scores beat them. That includes places like Columbus, Ohio, and Detroit, where men have an average credit score of around 570. Women score five points higher.
That gender gap is also probably tied to income. Credit Sesame found that the unemployment rate for women in some of those cities is lower than it is for men. But the median incomes are very low—under $45,000 for Columbus and just more than $26,000 for Detroit—and the poverty levels are striking. The share of people living below the poverty level in Detroit is almost 43 percent. That compares with 4.3 percent in Cupertino.
"In some ways, it's good news that the study shows there isn't a huge discrepancy between the credit scores for men and women," says Stew Langille, Credit Sesame's chief strategy officer. "But it doesn't feel as equitable as it should."