Whether they're getting flack for looking at their smartphones or being blamed for killing every industry, millennials take a lot of heat. But as it turns out, younger millennials are absolutely killing it when it comes to managing their credit card debt, compared to older generations.
How do we know this? Because in 2017, GOBankingRates surveyed more than 2,000 American adults, gathering detailed information on debts including mortgages, credit cards, loans and medical expenses. We definitely found a huge disparity among how different age groups use their plastic. Click through to see how much debt Americans really have.
Here’s the Average Credit Card Debt Amount in America
Credit card debt: $6,879.99
As we reflect on 2017, we can look back at a year full of ups and downs. To add to the down side of the ledger, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that the amount of U.S. consumer debt rose to $12.96 trillion in the third quarter of 2017. That's $280 billion above the previous third-quarter high in 2008.
Credit card debt makes up a big chunk of that figure, too. Our survey found that half of all Americans have credit card debt, making it the second-most common type of debt after mortgages.
The good news? Another GOBankingRates survey of more than 4,000 adults finds that about 64 percent of Americans claim to have more money saved than they have credit card debt.
Average Credit Card Debt by Age: Young Millennials (18-24)
Credit card debt: $709.79
On average, the youngest adult age bracket in our survey has the least amount of credit card debt. In fact, the numbers aren't even close, with the average young millennial carrying far less than half of the credit card debt of the next-lowest age group — seniors over the age of 65.
For some millennials, witnessing the 2008 financial crisis during their formative years might have cured them of the desire to swipe too much plastic.
Are You Surprised? 17 Signs Millennials Are Better With Their Money Than You
Average Credit Card Debt by Age: Seniors (65-plus)
Credit card debt: $1,755.33
Though seniors have, on average, nearly 2½ times as much credit card debt as the average young millennial, our survey found that the oldest age group has the highest amount of respondents who claim to have no medical debt — 84 percent of those polled, to be exact.
What they do have, though, is a fixed income. The Social Security Administration reports that in 2016, 66 million Americans received Social Security benefits, and their most recent data says that 62 percent of those people relied on Social Security for at least half of their income.
When your income is fixed and unexpected expenses arise, credit cards can become a financial haven. It's possible that many seniors turn to credit cards for medical expenses that fall outside of their fixed budget.
Average Credit Card Debt by Age: Young Gen Xers (35-44)
Credit card debt: $3,382.35
Compared to younger millennials, those between ages 35 and 44 are a lot more likely to have families, parents in retirement homes and mortgages. For Gen Xers on the younger side, that translates to credit card debt. And, unfortunately, it also translates to some bad financial habits.
In December 2017, Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America released a study that revealed that non-mortgage debts — including credit card debt — for Gen Xers has increased 15 percent since 2014. Worse, Allianz found that a whopping 49 percent of Gen X card holders only pay a portion of their credit card debt each month, thus breaking the first rule of responsible credit card usage: Always pay your balance in full.
Average Credit Card Debt by Age: Older Gen Xers (45-54)
Credit card debt: $4,290.07
The average amount of credit card debt remains fairly consistent across Generation X, though the older Gen Xers do have a notable spike of nearly 25 percent more debt than the amount owed by their younger generational contemporaries.
Allianz's study also found that their high average credit card debt is affecting the future of Gen X. Fifty percent of study respondents in this age bracket say that they won't start saving for retirement until their credit card debt is a thing a past. So, it's no coincidence that only 58 percent of them are confident that their income will last a lifetime — and more than 40 percent don't know how they're paying for retirement, according to a separate survey.
Average Credit Card Debt by Age: Older Millennials (25-34)
Credit card debt: $7,327.42
Wrapping up the stats, Allianz presents one more interesting tidbit: Compared to 16 percent of Gen Xers, 23 percent of millennials consider themselves "impulsive spenders." That might just explain why the average millennial on the older end of the generational spectrum is saddled with a massive amount of credit card debt — more than 10 times that of younger, post-1990s millennials.
As a 2017 study from LendEDU put it, these millennials often exhibit credit card usage habits that are "a bit cavalier," with more than 30 percent of respondents relying on their plastic for basic expenses such as rent, groceries and utility bills. Moreover, a startling 7 percent reported having five or more credit cards.
Average Credit Card Debt by Age: Baby Boomers (55-64)
Credit card debt: $9,878.09
The baby boomers were the first generation to have credit cards in their pockets, making it only natural that they also carry the highest amount of credit card debt.
One straightforward reason for the booming amount of credit card debt is that they just plain have too many cards. According to Experian's 2016 State of Credit report, the typical boomer has 2.93 credit cards, compared to the paltry 1.29 cards held by millennials born in the mid-1990s or later.
Similarly, another GOBankingRates study found that more than 55 percent of young millennials have only one credit card, while more than 10 percent of boomers have six or more cards.
Credit Card Debt Trends
The $12.96 trillion debt milestone reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York also revealed that credit cards are trending — and not in a good way.
While mortgages climbed 0.6 percent in the third quarter, student loans rose 1 percent and auto loan balances increased by 1.9 percent, credit card balances jumped by 3.1 percent.
Likewise, credit card flows into delinquency increased overall in 2017. Over the course of the year, Americans increased their amount of credit card debt by $61 billion, bringing the total amount to $808 billion worth of debt by plastic.
Getting Out of Credit Card Debt
If your monthly credit card balance is contributing to that $808 billion debt, don't lose hope. Instead, take action to ease the burden.
First, pick up the phone and call your credit card company. These companies will typically agree to a lower interest rate if you simply ask for one, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars in the long run.
If you're still spending on your cards, track your costs, create a budget and eliminate the expenses that you can do without. That means you might have to go without your theater season tickets and start brewing your coffee at home this year — but it'll be worth it.
If you need more help, reach out to a nonprofit consumer credit counseling organization to develop a debt management plan. Once you're back on track, commit to the cardinal rule of credit cards: Pay your entire balance every month. Otherwise, you'll be paying much more in interest charges.