This generation has the most credit card debt in America

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Age matters not only for wine and cheese, but also for credit card use. With shorter credit histories and lower incomes, younger people generally have less access to credit. Meanwhile, adults in their peak earning years with longer credit histories often have higher credit limits and run up higher credit card balances.

 

LendingTree researchers examined credit card balances by generation, discovering Gen Xers have the highest average at $6,527. Meanwhile, Gen Zers have the lowest average balances at $1,857.

 

Read on to learn about generational breakdowns around credit card use.

Key findings

  • Gen Xers have the highest average credit card balances, while Gen Zers have the lowest. Gen Xers have average credit card balances of $6,527 — $530 more than baby boomers. Gen Zers have average credit card balances of $1,857 — $2,231 less than millennials.
  • On average, older Americans have more credit cards, contributing to them having the highest average credit card balances. Gen Xers and baby boomers have an average of 5.5 credit cards, more than double that of Gen Zers (2.5).
  • While younger Americans have lower credit card balances, they also have low credit limits — leading to the highest utilization rates. Gen Zers have an average utilization rate of 32.5%. That’s more than double that of baby boomers (14.3%), who have average credit card limits more than seven times higher than Gen Zers.
  • Gen Zers in Rhode Island and baby boomers in Vermont (both Northeastern states) and millennials in Wyoming and Gen Xers in Alaska (both Western states) have the highest average credit card balances. Among the states with the lowest average credit card balances by generation, the Midwest and West are represented.
HOW WE DEFINED GENERATIONS

LendingTree researchers analyzed more than 250,000 anonymized credit reports of credit card holders from February 2022 to determine average and median credit card balances by generation, among other things.

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To define generations, LendingTree analysts used the following ranges from the Pew Research Center:

  • Generation Zers (1997 to 2004)
  • Millennials (1981 to 1996)
  • Generation Xers (1965 to 1980)
  • Baby boomers (1946 to 1964)

To give this further context, LendingTree aligned generations to ages when the data was collected in February 2022. The age range for each generation generally aligns as follows:

  • Gen Zers: 18 to 25
  • Millennials: 26 to 41
  • Gen Xers: 42 to 57
  • Baby boomers: 58 to 76

From X to Z: Gen Xers have highest average credit card balances, while Gen Zers have lowest

With average credit card balances of $6,527, Gen Xers are at the top — just ahead of baby boomers at $5,997. Of the four generations analyzed, Gen Zers have the lowest average credit card balances at $1,857. Average credit card balances among millennials ($4,088) are more than double that of Gen Zers.

Average credit card balances by generation

However, LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz cautions against reading this as an indicator of indebtedness.

“High balances don’t necessarily equal high debt,” Schulz says. Instead, he suggests that high balances may indicate high cash flow: “There are plenty of people who run up really large balances on their credit cards each month but pay them off in full every time.”

 

In fact, according to median weekly earnings data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average credit card balances that LendingTree found generally correlate with higher earning potential. Those with higher cash flow will logically run higher balances, or may have additional expenses, such as child care. Meanwhile, younger people with less work experience may have lower incomes and, consequently, lower balances.

 

Members of Gen X are likely in their peak earning years, so it’s not surprising they would also have the highest average credit card balances.

 

As more baby boomers approach retirement and see their incomes decrease, it’s plausible that the gap in average balances between Gen Xers and baby boomers will continue to widen. Similarly, as more millennials age into their peak earning years, their balances may increase.

 

Generational median credit card balances reflect same trends with less distortion.

 

We see a more nuanced picture when we look at median credit card balances rather than average. Average and median are statistical measures of central tendency in a dataset, with average summing all values and dividing that figure by the total number of data. As a result, averages can be skewed by those at both the higher and lower end of groups.

 

By contrast, the median represents the middle value in a dataset. “Looking at the median balance eliminates the extremes and gives you a clearer picture of what the typical person actually owes,” Schulz says.

 

At $2,730, Gen Xers have the highest median credit card balances, followed by baby boomers, millennials and Gen Zers, respectively. However, the difference between the generations is smaller.

 

For example, millennials’ median credit card balance is only $1,234 less than Gen Xers, while the generational gap by average was nearly twice that at $2,439. This suggests that the median figure is more representative of older millennials aging into peak earning years.

Gen Xers, baby boomers have highest average number of credit cards

The average number of credit cards by generation aligns closely with generational average balances. Gen Xers and baby boomers have the highest average number of credit cards at 5.5 per person. Millennials have an average of 4.1 cards, while Gen Zers have an average of 2.5 cards.

 

This suggests that people with higher balances often have multiple cards. Although there’s a correlation between more cards and higher balances, Schulz explains that a likely reason why older generations may have more credit cards on average is that they have the advantage of having a longer credit history.

 

“Older generations have had more time to prove themselves responsible with credit, and that’s a big deal,” he says. “The more times you’ve shown that you can handle a loan wisely, the more likely someone is to give you one.”

 

A longer history of on-time payments will help boost your credit score and may make someone from an older generation more attractive to credit card companies looking to lend.

 

When looking at the median number of credit cards rather than the average, the generational breakdown by the number of credit cards remains consistent. However, the numbers decline a bit.

 

Gen Xers and baby boomers’ median number of credit cards drops to 4, compared with an average of 5.5 cards. Millennials drop from an average of 4.1 to a median of 3, while Gen Zers drop from 2.5 to 2. This suggests that there are individuals whose higher number of credit cards somewhat skew the average among millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

Baby boomers have lowest average credit utilization rates

Balances and numbers of cards don’t tell the full story of credit card use by generation — that’s where credit utilization comes into play. Credit utilization is displayed as a percentage, representing the amount of credit you’re using relative to your available total. It’s a common measure of how well you can manage your repayments.

 

“Utilization rates are very telling because they take someone’s credit limits into account rather than just what they owe,” Schulz says. “Someone with a relatively low balance can have a very high utilization rate, while someone with a sizable balance can have a relatively small utilization rate.”

 

Of the four generations studied, Gen Zers have the highest average credit utilization at 32.5% — meaning that, on average, members of Gen Z are using roughly a third of their available credit each month.

 

Just as the average number of credit cards generally increases by generation, credit utilization generally declines as generations age — for similar reasons. Older generations have had more time to prove their responsibility by paying back credit cards and other loans, such as student loans, mortgages or personal loans. As a result of their track records, credit card lenders are more willing to extend higher credit limits.

 

“You combine that trust with the fact that older generations may be more likely to be in their prime earning years, and it makes perfect sense that they’d have higher credit limits,” Schulz says.

 

Millennials have an average credit utilization of 24.4%, Gen Xers have an average utilization of 21.7% and baby boomers have the lowest average utilization rate at 14.3%.

 

“Someone just getting started may owe just $500 on their card, but since their available credit is just $1,000, their utilization is a sky-high 50%,” Schulz says. “On the other hand, someone else may owe $5,000, but since they have $25,000 in available credit, their utilization rate is a relatively comfortable 20%.”

 

When you compare the farthest ends of the generational spectrum — baby boomers and Gen Zers — Schulz’s comments explain why baby boomers have credit utilization rates more than half those of Gen Zers.

 

Baby boomers, Gen Zers keep average balances low in Wyoming, but millennials don’t

 

The list of states with the highest average balances by generation features several repeats. Hawaii has the dubious honor of ranking among the five states with the highest average balances most frequently: It appears on the top 5 list among Gen Zers, millennials and Gen Xers. Alaska, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland rank in the top 5 on two different generations’ lists.

Rhode Island Gen Zers have the highest average balances, while baby boomers run up the highest average balances in nearby Vermont.

 

Wyoming is an unusual case. Among millennials, Wyoming residents have the highest average credit card balances — yet, its residents have the lowest average balances among baby boomers and the second-lowest among Gen Zers.

 

Wyoming’s nickname may be the Equality State, but it appears to be anything but when it comes to the generational breakdown of average credit card balances.

 

In addition to Wyoming appearing on the list for multiple generations’ lowest average credit card balances, Kentucky holds the honor of recurring on the list among millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. Idaho is featured among the lowest for Gen Zers and baby boomers, while Arkansas is for Gen Zers and millennials.

Methodology

Analysts used data from more than 250,000 anonymized credit reports of credit card holders from February 2022 to calculate the average and median credit card balances, average credit card limits and average utilization rates for the four major adult generations. Analysts also looked at the average and median number of credit cards held by each generation.

Using definitions from the Pew Research Center, generations were defined as:

  • Generation Zers (1997 to 2004)
  • Millennials (1981 to 1996)
  • Generation Xers (1965 to 1980)
  • Baby boomers (1946 to 1964)

To provide context within the study, we associated general age ranges based on the birth years and when the data was collected in February 2022. That breaks down as follows:

  • Gen Zers: 18 to 25
  • Millennials: 26 to 41
  • Gen Xers: 42 to 57
  • Baby boomers: 58 to 76

This article originally appeared on Lendingtree.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org

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6 strategies for becoming debt free

 

It isn’t the $5 cups of coffee. Or the $50 a month for the gym.

It isn’t that new smartphone, or your shoe addiction, or even that pricey cable subscription. These are common things everyone likes to waggle their finger at when they talk about overspending. But it isn’t necessarily any one of those expenses that really gets people into debt.

It’s usually all of them. And then some.

According to the 2018 U.S. Financial Health Pulse survey by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, 46.5% of Americans said their spending equaled or exceeded their income in the past 12 months. 33.9% said they were unable to pay all their bills on time. And 29.5% said they had more debt than they could manage.

That’s a lot of people who are worried about money.

Though frivolous or impulsive spending can be part of the problem, the slide sometimes starts with the best of intentions — with the desire to get a college education, perhaps, or to own one’s own home.

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning and Progress Study, mortgages and student loans, along with credit cards, are among the leading sources of debt in the U.S.

And when the nonprofit organization Student Debt Crisis surveyed student loan borrowers in 2018, 86% said student debt is a major source of stress. Add in credit card payments, car payments, utility bills, groceries and gas, and all the other things — big and small — that take our money every single day, and it’s clear how debt can become a deep, dark hole.

Which is why it’s so important to have a plan to get back out.

If you’ve wanted to become debt-free for a while, but didn’t know how to get there, think of your plan as a rescue rope you can hold onto during the climb. Everyone’s situation is different, but here are some popular strategies you might consider on your journey to becoming debt-free.

Related: Are you bad with money? How to know & what to do 

 

Doucefleur / istockphoto

 

If you have a significant amount of debt to pay off, you’ll likely be looking to cut costs in a meaningful way. A budget can help with that. First, when you’re going through bills, it can help to determine your priorities, this information can assist you in making informed decisions about what can go and what should stay.

Later, it can create a feedback loop, as you (and your partner, spouse, or other family members) compare real-world spending to the numbers in the budget and consider whether to take corrective action to stay on track.

And over time, it also may be possible to uncover the behaviors that have been holding you back.

If the idea of bird-dogging every penny has been a barrier to budgeting, or if you’ve tried and failed in the past, it may help to keep the process simple. The 50/30/20 rule is a simplified budgeting strategy that’s gained traction because it limits the number of spending categories a budgeter must establish and then follow.

After determining net take-home pay (what’s left after paying taxes), it breaks down the spending money that’s left into three buckets: needs, wants, and savings:

•   50% of the money goes toward needs, including housing costs, utilities, groceries, transportation, medical expenses and any regular debt payments that have to be made (credit card bills, loans, etc.). From there, it’s up to whoever is drawing up the budget to determine what are the true necessities and what belongs in the wants bucket.
•   30% goes to those wants. That’s everything from grabbing takeout, to your Netflix subscription, to getting your car washed and detailed for date night. Logically, this is the portion of the budget that has the most potential for trimming, but emotionally, it might require some real effort to get everything to fit the allocated funds.
•   20% goes to savings. This money might go into an emergency fund, some sort of savings account for short- and long-term goals and/or an investment savings/retirement account. If you decide to pay extra toward your credit card or student loan debt, that expense also would go in this category.

The percentages are meant as a guideline, and they can be tweaked to fit individual needs. The key is to make a budget that’s strict but doable.

 

fizkes/istockphoto

 

Yes, this is easier said than done, but before rolling your eyes and moving on, consider the possibilities.

Is it time for a pay raise? If a bump is overdue, it might be time to have a talk with the boss.

Is there side-gig potential? Do you always have nights or weekends off, and would your employer be OK with your taking on a part-time or occasional job for extra money? Maybe a friend does catering, landscaping, house-painting, or some other work and could use an extra hand from time to time.

Could a hobby become a money-maker? Crafty folks can sell their wares online or at craft fairs and flea markets. History buffs can give lectures or teach classes. Animal lovers can offer dog-walking or cat-sitting services. Where there’s a passion, there’s often a way to earn income.

 

MARHARYTA MARKO

 

If that raise comes through, or you earn a bonus at work, or you get a tax refund from Uncle Sam, instead of living it up while the money lasts, consider using it to pay down some debt.

A few hundred dollars might not feel like it’s making much of a dent, but every dollar you pay over the minimum can help reduce the interest you owe on a credit card or student loan.

To get some idea of how paying even a little extra toward a bill can help, check out the alert on your monthly credit card statement. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 requires card issuers to warn consumers about how long it will take to pay off a balance if only the minimum is paid each month.

 

Farknot_Architect / istockphoto

 

One way to consolidate debt is with an unsecured personal loan. You may be able to consolidate all or some of your debts at better terms, such as a lower or fixed interest rate and possibly pay them off in less time than you expected.

This strategy could be useful for those who aren’t up for keeping tabs on several bills every month. A personal loan can consolidate multiple debts together into one manageable payment, which could help make it easier to keep tabs on what you’ve paid and what you still owe.

And because the interest rates offered for personal loans can sometimes be lower than the rates on credit cards, you could end up paying less in interest over the life of the loan than you would have if you just kept plugging away at those individual revolving credit card balances.

Typically, the better your financial and credit history, the better the loan terms are likely to be, so it can be a good idea to check your credit record and make sure the information listed on credit reports is accurate.

Then look for a lender who offers the best terms to fit your needs. Keep the length of the loan in mind, as well as the interest rate and other terms to help you on the road of becoming debt-free.

 

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It could be difficult (okay, next to impossible) to stop using credit cards completely since they’re commonly used for things like booking or holding flights, making online purchases and more. But making a commitment to reduce credit card utilization could help you cut spending and reduce the amount of money that’s only going toward interest on those cards.

A credit card is a convenient way to pay — if you can keep your balance at zero. But if you can’t afford to erase the balance each month with a full payment, the interest can start piling up.

And though many credit cards make limited-time “no interest” offers, it’s good to review the terms in detail.

For instance, some cards may have terms where if consumers don’t pay off the entire balance by the end of the promotional period, they may be charged all of the interest accrued since the date of purchase.

To better the chances of staying in check, some options may be to consider recording all credit card purchases with a budgeting app or pen and paper and to try and face the costs in real-time, instead of weeks later when the bill arrives.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

Seeing progress is inspiring for many people. Think about how good you feel when you lose a little weight from dieting or gain some muscle from working out. Even small wins can be motivating.

How does that apply to downsize your debt?

Two of the commonly recommended approaches to debt repayment are the Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche methods. These strategies vary but primarily focus on paying extra toward just one balance at a time instead of trying to put a little extra money toward all your balances at once.

The Debt Snowball

The Debt Snowball method directs any excess free cash you might have to the debt with the smallest outstanding balance. Here’s how it can work:

•   Start by listing outstanding debts based on what you owe, from the smallest balance to the largest. (Disregard interest rates.)
•   Make the minimum payment on all other debts and pay as much as possible each month toward eliminating the smallest balance on your Debt Snowball list.
•   After you pay off the smallest debt, turn your attention to the next-lowest balance.
•   Keep going until you are debt-free.

The Debt Avalanche

The Debt Avalanche method targets the highest interest rates rather than the balance that’s owed on each bill. It’s more about math than motivation — you can save money as you eliminate each of those high-interest loans and credit cards, which should allow you to pay off all your bills sooner. Here’s how it can work:

•   Disregard minimum payment amounts and balances, and list balances in order starting with the highest interest rate.
•   Make the minimum payment on all other debts and pay as much as you can each month to get rid of the bill with the highest interest rate.
•   Move through the list one debt at a time until you pay off all the balances on your list.

Though the methods are different, both plans provide focus, and as each balance disappears, momentum grows. But a newer approach, the Debt Fireball method, may be a better fit for modern-day debt, which could include a large amount of low-interest student loan debt.

The Debt Fireball

The Fireball method takes a hybrid approach to the traditional Snowball and Avalanche strategies. It’s called the Fireball because it can help blaze through bad debt faster by making it a priority. Here’s how it can work:

•   Categorize all debts as either “good” or “bad.” “Good” debt is generally things that can increase your net worth such as student loans or mortgages. (Interest rates under 7% could be considered good debt—rates above 7% would likely fall into the “bad” category.)
•   List all those “bad” debts from smallest to largest based on each bill’s outstanding balance.
•   Make the minimum monthly payment on all other debts and funnel any extra cash available each month toward the smallest balance on the Fireball’s “bad” debt list.
•   Once that balance is paid in full, move on to the next smallest balance on that list. Keep blazing until all “bad” debt is repaid.
•   Pay off “good” debt on the normal schedule while investing for the future. Apply everything you were paying toward “bad” debt to investing in a financial goal.

The Fireball makes sense mathematically because it gets rid of expensive (or bad) debt first, but it also provides plenty of motivation because momentum can grow as you approach the finish. These two combined elements could provide an extra boost to your efforts.

 

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The deeper the hole you’re in, the longer it may take to climb out. But having the right plan in place before you start could give you a better shot at sticking to a budget, minimizing your dependence on credit cards and methodically reducing your debt in a way that keeps you motivated and saves you money.

Learn more:

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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