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It's a common belief that millennials—many of whom came of age during the Great Recession—are credit-shy compared with other age groups. But it's one being disproven more and more as the generation ages. In fact, when it comes to credit cards, millennials are on the fast track to outspend baby boomers.
Boomers still carry more credit cards than millennials on average, but the number of cards in their wallet and their average credit card balance is shrinking. At the same time, millennials are doing the opposite—getting more credit cards and quickly increasing their balances.
Recent data from Experian shows that baby boomers—consumers ages 56 to 74—carried an average of 4.8 credit cards in the second quarter (Q2) of 2019. That's down since Q2 2015 when they carried an average of 5 credit cards. By comparison, millennials had 3.2 credit cards on average in Q2 2019—an increase from the 2.9 they carried five years ago.
Millennials' Credit Card Balances Are on the Rise
Millennials—consumers ages 24 to 39—may owe less and have fewer credit cards than baby boomers, but this pattern is quickly changing. Per credit card account, millennials carried an average balance of $1,527 in Q2 2019, compared with $1,447 per card for baby boomers, according to Experian data. And while total credit card debt grew just over 1% for baby boomers from 2015 to 2019, millennial credit card debt grew nearly 40% over the same time period.
|Average Total Credit Card Debt by Generation|
Source: Experian data
The further out millennials get from the financial crisis of the late-2000s—when they witnessed the effects of out-of-control debt—the more open they seem to be taking on new credit and debt.
In the past five years, millennials have seen their total debt grow the most of any generation: 58% from Q2 2015 to Q2 2019. Generation Z saw the second-largest increase (22%) in their total debt, followed by Generation X, whose debt grew by 10% since 2015.
How Millennials Can Use Credit to Their Advantage
As millennials begin to use credit cards more, it's important they know credit cards can be used to their advantage. When used properly, credit cards can help improve credit scores and can accumulate valuable rewards consumers can use for travel and other purchases.
As payment history is the most important aspect of a credit score, making all your credit card and other debt payments on time is key to achieving or maintaining a top score. Additionally, making sure you don't max your cards out will help keep your credit utilization—the second most important aspect of a credit score—in check.
Currently, millennials' credit utilization ratio—the total of all their balances compared to the total of all their credit limits—is at 36%. For a good credit score, aim to keep your utilization ratio to under 30%. As millennials add more cards to their wallet and their available credit grows (assuming they don't charge up their cards), this figure could shrink and ultimately help the generation's scores.
Methodology: The analysis results provided are based on an Experian-created statistically relevant aggregate sampling of our consumer credit database that may include use of the FICO® Score 8 version. Different sampling parameters may generate different findings compared with other similar analysis. Analyzed credit data did not contain personal identification information. Metro areas group counties and cities into specific geographic areas for population censuses and compilations of related statistical data.
FICO® is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the U.S. and other countries.