What Generation’s Debt Changed the Most in the Last Year?

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Debt levels are constantly changing, but since 2017, shifting balances have shown two things: Younger consumers are taking on more debt, and older Americans are shedding some of their outstanding loans.

To find out more about which generation's debt changed the most over the past year, Experian reviewed consumer credit data from the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018. We looked specifically at the average total debt balances across all open tradelines, or accounts, and how they shifted in the past 12 months. Read on for our insights and analysis.

Generation Z Adults Have 26% More Debt Since 2017

Adult members of Generation Z—Americans ages 18 to 22—increased their average total debt amount by 26% since last year, according to Experian data. These young adult consumers carried an average total debt balance of $10,891 in the fourth quarter of 2018, up $2,214 from $8,677 in the same period in 2017.

Millennials—ages 23 to 38—also saw a spike in average debt levels, increasing their overall debt total by 11%. Millennials' average total debt balance was up $7,678 from $72,988 in the same period in 2017, totaling $80,666 in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Members of Generation X—ages 39 to 54—also saw an increase in debt, but not on the level that younger generations did. Since 2017, Generation X's average total debt balance increased only 1%, or just $1,311.

Older Generations Reduced Total Debt Amounts by 3% Since 2017

When it comes to Americans in older generations, total average debt amounts decreased year over year, according to Experian data. Since 2017, both baby boomers (ages 55 to 73) and members of the silent generation (ages 74 and above) decreased their average debt balances by 3%.

For baby boomers—who carry more than double the total debt of the silent generation—this decrease represented a $2,768 drop in balances, moving average total boomer debt from $97,863 in 2017 to $95,095. Members of the silent generation—who carried only $38,817 in total average debt in 2018—saw a drop of $1,035 from $39,853 in 2017.

Student Loan Balances Increased Across All Generations

Regardless of whether a given generation saw an overall decrease in total debt figures, average student loan debt still increased, according to Experian data. For both baby boomers and members of the silent generation—who saw a 3% decrease in total debt—student loan balances increased 6.5% and 4.1%.

Members of Generation Z had the largest increase in student loan debt, growing a little over 38% since 2017. Their average student loan debt grew from $10,203 to $14,119 in the span of 12 months. Millennials saw the second-highest spike, growing their average student loan debt by 7.9% to $34,770, a $2,531 increase from $32,239 in 2017.

Debt Shifts Show Younger Generations Borrowing More

According to Experian's larger look at debt in the U.S., Americans' credit spending continued to grow in 2018, reaching a record high of $13.3 trillion in debt. The shifts in generational debt since 2017 show that younger consumers are carrying more debt, while older consumers may be slowly getting rid of their balances. Middle-aged consumers—Generation X—hovered right in the middle, only seeing a 1% increase since last year.

If you're interested in learning more about your debt and credit, consider getting a free copy of your credit report from Experian to see what's in your credit file. If you're struggling to manage your debt and are looking for ways to shave off some of your balances, consider creating a repayment plan or learning more about debt consolidation.

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.

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