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Boomers or Millennials: Which Generation Is Hooked On Credit Cards?

Credit cards are still an essential tool for many Baby Boomers. Younger generations, however—especially Millennials—are often more skeptical of plastic. Just look in their wallets.

Data from Experian’s recent State of Credit report indicates that Boomers (Americans born 1947-1966) carry an average of 3.53 credit cards, while Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born 1982-1995), average just 2.52 cards per person. Generation X (born 1967-1981) is sandwiched right in between, averaging 3.22 cards per person.

And while Boomers carry, on average, just one more card than Millennials, they charge a lot more money to them.

The average credit card balance for Boomers is $7,550, while Millennials average $4,315.

Gen X-ers actually carry fewer cards than Boomers but have a higher debt load, with an average balance of $7,750.

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The data may be indicative of Millennials’ overall attitudes toward debt and credit card usage. More than half of all Millennials prefer paying with cash rather than credit, while a Bankrate survey found that only a third of Millennials actually even own a credit card.

Why Do Millennials Use Less Credit?

One possibility is tied to our recent financial history. Millennials came of age during the financial crisis of 2008—when they witnessed firsthand the effects of out-of-control debt. They are also saddled with student loan debt. Americans in their 20s pay an average of $351 a month on their student loans.

Millennials Should Take Advantage of Their Credit

Some experts say that Millennials shouldn’t be completely spooked by credit cards. Instead, they should learn to use them to their advantage. For example, even though they carry fewer credit cards and average lower balances, their average revolving credit utilization ratio is at 36%—much higher than Boomers’ 28%.

That means that Millennials are using a higher percentage of the total credit available to them than Boomers are. That can have a negative impact on their credit scores—which will impact their ability to get the lowest rates on mortgage and auto loans.

Brian Kelly, the founder of ThePointsGuy.com, says that instead of eschewing credit cards completely, Millennials should find ways to make the cards work for them. If they pay their cards off on time and in full every month, he says, they can take advantage of a number of perks, like rewards and other benefits, offered by credit cards—all the while building excellent credit scores that will save them money in the long run.