Men or Women: Who's More Responsible With Credit Cards?

By Christine DiGangiLifestyle and

Stating the obvious: Men and women often approach things differently. Credit card spending is no exception.

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A similar share of men and women carry balances on their credit cards — 18% of men and 19% of women responded to a BMO Harris survey saying they always carry a balance, but that’s just about the extent of the similarities. The survey results, which include responses from 1,004 American adults and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%, indicate men are more likely to exercise good credit habits than women.

One of the best ways to maintain a good credit score is to keep your credit card balances low, which is easier to do when you pay off your balance every billing period. According to the BMO Harris survey, 39% of men said they always pay off their credit card balances, while only 27% of women said they do so. When it comes to people who usually pay their balances off but sometimes don’t, men and women are pretty comparable: 14% of men said they usually pay their balances in full, but only 10% of women said they do so. That’s within the margin of error, but tracks with the more significant differences when it comes to paying credit card bills in full and paying bills on time.

That’s another huge aspect of credit scores: payment history. Most people pay their bills on time, but when you look at the differences between genders, men are more likely to make on-time payments: 74% of men said they always pay their bills on time, as opposed to 59% of women.

Now, a lot of bills aren’t regularly reported to credit reporting agencies, and even if they are, credit scores only factor in certain ones that have been deemed risk-predictive by the people who build credit scoring models. Things like rent, the electric bill and cellphone bills don’t affect your credit score. That is, they don’t, unless you don’t pay them and the company you owe sends the bill to a collection agency. Then you’d have a collection account on your credit report, which will seriously damage your credit score.

It’s interesting: Men have considerably more student loan debt than women, on average: $44,248 vs. $34,208, but they’re comparably concerned about paying it off. (20% of women said it’s a major issue, while 17% of men said so.) Granted, expressing concern is much more subjective than whether or not you pay your bills on time and in full. Women consistently expressed more concern about financial goals, like saving for retirement and setting aside money for kids’ college expenses, but perhaps women are more likely to respond to the idea of “major financial concern” (the terminology used in the BMO Harris survey).

The thing that really stands out from this survey is the statistic on paying bills on time. Paying bills late can cause credit problems, yes, but it’s also expensive. Even if you don’t go long enough to have the bill sent to a debt collector, you’ll probably have to pay late fees. It’s crucial to stay on top of your finances to avoid paying more than you need to and avoid credit issues. With that in mind, if you’re not already doing so, you should check your credit scores regularly, to make sure you’re not unknowingly harming your scores. You can get two of your credit scores for free on

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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record.