Americans’ Credit Card Debt at Every Age

Paying off debt is the most common source of financial stress, found a recent GOBankingRates.com survey. But to find out which type of debt is the most burdensome, we surveyed 2,780 people and asked them how much debt they currently have — including credit card debt.

Although 62 percent of respondents claim to have zero credit card debt, the 38 percent of those who do carry balances on their cards have a median balance of $2,000, found the survey.

That’s across all age groups, though. There’s actually a big difference in how much credit card debt each generation has. Read on to see the survey results  — you might be surprised to discover which age group carries the most debt.

woman smiling and using laptop to input credit card info
Stock Rocket / Shutterstock.com

Median Credit Card Debt Among Younger Millennials: $587

Surprisingly, younger millennials are the least likely to have credit card debt than all other generations — perhaps the argument that millennials have better money habits than older generations is valid. The GOBankingRates survey found that among adults ages 18 to 24:

  • 73% reported having zero credit card debt.
  • But, more than 1 in 4 young millennials is carrying a balance.

Young adults who have credit card debt should be careful, as “this debt can quickly get out of hand and have a lasting impact on financial futures,” said Sandra Bernardo, manager of consumer education at credit reporting agency Experian.

Unfortunately, some young adults don’t get financial education in school, “even going as far as to give their colleges’ a grade of a C when it comes to financial education,” continued Bernardo. “These young adults need to take the initiative to educate themselves on their finances so they can better reach their goals and steer clear of debt.”

One way to become better educated about debt and credit — especially your own — is to check your credit report.

“Under federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three national credit bureaus, which can be accessed through AnnualCreditReport.com,” said Bernardo. Your report will show how many credit accounts you have, your balances and your payment history. Check your report to make sure the information is accurate and to find out whether you’re handling credit responsibly.

Learn: 20 Easy Ways Millennials Can Boost Their Credit

“Also, don’t forget to raise your hand and ask the right questions,” said Nancy Bistritz, director of public relations and communications for global consumer solutions at Equifax, one of the credit reporting agencies. “Do you know what APR means? Do you understand the paperwork that may come with credit that you are being offered? Ask questions along the way, and be sure you know your rights as a consumer.”

man handing credit card to waiter
Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.com

Median Credit Card Debt Among Older Millennials: $2,000

Our survey found a noticeable jump in the percentage of older millennials (ages 25 to 34) with credit card debt:

  • 40% of older millennials have credit card debt versus just 27% of younger millennials.
  • Older millennials owe a median amount ($2,000) that’s more than three times as high as the median amount younger millennials owe.

This difference might be explained by other surveys that show older millennials are more likely to have credit cards.

For example, a 2016 Experian survey found 42 percent of college students ages 18 to 24 have one credit card, and another 26 percent have two or more cards. However, 83 percent of millennials ages 25 to 34 use credit cards to fund their lifestyle, according to a survey by FICO, an analytics software company. About half in that age group have at least three credit cards, the survey found.

If you’re carrying balances on several credit cards, you might want to consolidate that debt into one low monthly payment — especially if your cards have double-digit interest rates, said Bernardo. Look for a low interest rate personal loan to consolidate your card balances.

Or, if you have a good credit score, you may be able to transfer your balances to a low-rate credit card.

“Some cards offer a 0 percent or low teaser rate,” said Bernardo. “But if you do this, be sure you can pay off the card before it balloons back up to the regular rate. Also, watch for any hidden fees — like balance transfer fees. And, keep in mind that the terms can change at any time.”

Ranked: Best Low-Interest Credit Cards

3-age35-andresr-shutterstock_151160105
Andresr / Shutterstock.com

Median Credit Card Debt Among Young Gen Xers: $4,000

Adults ages 35 to 44 are actually more likely to have credit card debt than any other age group, found the GOBankingRates survey. According to the survey:

  • 46% of young Gen Xers say they carry a credit card balance; only 54% carry a zero balance.
  • With a median amount of $4,000 owed, this generation also owes the most credit card debt.

A lack of cash flow and overspending are some of the common reasons why consumers, in general, have credit card debt.

“In particular with this age group, one can guess that perhaps many have a family with children to support as well as a mortgage,” said Bernardo of young Gen Xers. They also might be caring for older parents.

“All of these life occurrences can potentially put a strain on finances if you don’t plan ahead,” she said. “As a result, you rely more heavily on credit cards to cover added expenses.”

Budgeting can help you get your credit card debt under control. Start by adding up your fixed daily living costs, such as rent, utilities, insurance, child care and commuting costs. Then, subtract that amount from your income, said Bistritz.

“Compare the amount of money that you have left with what you usually pay toward your debts,” she said. “Evaluate your spending habits to see if you have other options to contribute more toward paying down your credit card debt.”

Happy mature couple sitting together at table using laptop and credit card for shopping online
alvarez / iStock.com

Median Credit Card Debt Among Older Gen Xers: $2,000

Older Gen Xers aren’t doing much better than younger Gen Xers when it comes to credit card debt. Among adults ages 45 to 54:

  • 42% said they have credit card debt.
  • But, the median amount they owe ($2,000) is half the amount their younger counterparts owe.
  • In fact, they owe as much as older millennials (ages 25-34).

Although older Gen Xers have the same median amount of credit card debt as older millennials, they owe more than younger millennials ages 18 to 24. Perhaps this is because they’re not saving as much as younger millennials.

An earlier GOBankingRates survey found that among older Gen Xers, 37 percent have $0 in savings accounts. In comparison, only 31 percent of younger millennials have $0 stashed aside. With less money saved, it might be harder for this generation to quickly pay down their credit card balances.

Older Gen Xers might also be more focused on their retirement savings rather than paying down credit card debt. After all, not including baby boomers, this generation is closest to retirement age. In fact, 40 percent of older Gen Xers have $50,000 or more saved in retirement accounts, found a 2016 GOBankingRates survey on Americans’ retirement savings.

5-Age55-oliveromg-shutterstock_249165517
oliveromg / iStock.com

Median Credit Card Debt Among Baby Boomers: $3,000

Although Baby Boomers ages 55 to 64 are less likely to have credit card debt than Gen Xers:

  • About 1 in 3 of adults in this age group is carrying a credit card balance.
  • The median they owe is $3,000 — which is $1,000 more than what older millennials and older Gen Xers owe.

“Unfortunately, it is not surprising that we are seeing so many people close to retirement still in debt,” said Bernardo.

That credit card debt might be hindering some boomers’ ability to save for retirement. GOBankingRates’ 2016 retirement savings survey found approximately three in 10 adults ages 55 and over have no retirement savings. And, only 26 percent of baby boomers ages 55 to 64 have a retirement savings balance of $200,000 or more — which is considered a “healthy” savings amount.

Saving for retirement is important, especially for this age group. But, many baby boomers might be able to save for this milestone and pay off their credit card debt by simply cutting unnecessary expenses. Bernardo recommended pinpointing which fixed expenses can be cut to free up more cash for debt repayment.

“Monthly reoccurring expenditures, like cable and mobile phone bills, are a great place to start,” she said. “Do you really need unlimited texting? The movie channels? Determine what you really need, and modify your plans accordingly.”

After trimming expenses to quickly pay down credit card debt, you’ll have more room in your budget to boost retirement savings.

6-age65-speedkingz-shutterstock_293152349
SpeedKingz / Shutterstock.com

Median Credit Card Debt Among Adults 65 and Older: $1,600

Along with younger millennials, adults ages 65 and older are least likely to have credit card debt. The survey found:

  • 72% of respondents have zero credit card debt, with just 28% reporting that they owe money on their card.
  • The median amount this group owes — $1,600 — is lower than the median owed by all age groups except the youngest surveyed.

Interestingly, a 2015 LendingTree survey found that this generation actually has the highest credit card ownership rate of all age groups, with nearly 97 percent owning at least one card.

However, the survey also found that this group is the most responsible when it comes to paying off credit card debt, with about 72 percent paying balances in full each month. Those results mirror GOBankingRates’ findings that 72 percent of adults 65 and older have no credit card debt.

Keep Reading: How to Trick Yourself Into Paying Off Your Credit Card Debt

Yet, it’s still troubling that one in four adults 65 and older is dealing with credit card debt at a time when many in this age group are in retirement with fixed incomes.

“Credit card debt seems to be an issue at any age,” said Bernardo. “And with people still recovering from the economic downturn, it may be years before we see people truly catch up. While credit cards are a tool to build credit and a safety net in case of emergencies, they can also be a person’s worst enemy if they are abused.”

That’s important to keep in mind at any age because how you handle credit now can have lasting effects on your finances. But remember: If you are dealing with credit card debt, there are many ways to tackle it.

“What works for one person may not work for you,” said Bistritz. “So, be sure to set a strategy that works for your financial situation and your lifestyle.”