Generation X Fails to School Millennials

July 30, 2015 by Editor

This guest post from Erin Lowry. Erin is the founder of Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers about finances. Erin lives and works in New York City, so she’s developed quite the knack for finding deals and free events.


If we looked at current generations in a family structure, Baby Boomers are mom and dad, the Greatest Generation are grandma and grandpa, Generation X are the older siblings and Millennials are those overindulged younger siblings that always got later curfews and more relaxed rules. For that reason, there is a natural, friendly, sibling-type rivalry between Generation X and Millennials. And this week, millennials came out the victors because Generation X failed to school its younger sibling when it came to average debt load.

Millennials are Growing Into the Credit Industry

Generation X shouldn’t be completely ridiculed for carrying an average $185 more in debt than it’s obnoxious younger sibling (this is debt is excluding mortgages). Millennials may be drowning in student loan debt, but they’ve also had less time to get into credit card trouble, take out personal loans for life milestones that needed funding or get auto loans.

In fact, the CARD Act stopped many of the younger millennials from even obtaining a credit card in college to do serious financial damage in the first place. Doesn’t the younger sibling always have it easier? Consequently, the CARD Act does make it a bit harder for a college graduate with no credit history to get a credit card (thank goodness for those secured cards).

But there is one place millennials are significantly outshining Generation X and that’s credit card balances.

Millennials carry an average $3,403 balance while Generation X deals with $6,752 – the highest of all four generations.

Another possible reason millennials haven’t done quite as much damage to their debt burden is simply a lack of resources. Generation Xers likely has significantly higher credit limits. Not only do they probably have a higher paying job, but Generation X has been in the credit game longer and would naturally have earned higher credit limits. After all, even with millennials having an average 50% lower credit card balance, they still are 43% utilized (use of total available credit limit) while Generation X is only 41% utilized.

Tsk, tsk to both generations on that one. Shoot for 30% utilization or less.

The high utilization could help explain millennials’ 625 average credit score – or a mixture of irresponsible repayments or lack of history and diversity of credit could be anchoring the number.

Why a High Credit Score is Important

It’s time for millennials to grow up, take charge and be building their credit scores in order to make the rest of their lives more affordable.

The higher the credit score, the more access you have to top-notch financial products. For instance, a 625 credit score would receive a significantly higher interest rate on an auto-loan than a 750 credit score. And millennials are currently seeking auto loans with 14% of all recently opened accounts on credit reports being for the purchase of a car. This compares to just 1% of Generation X at the same age in 1998.

Next up will be a mortgage, and where just half a percent difference on a loan could mean spending tens-of-thousands more across 30 years. It’s key to get that credit score into the high 700s (or even 800+) to have access to the prime rates.

Millennials Aren’t Just Less Trusting – They Prefer to be Alternative

Yes, millennials watched the economy collapse as the older part of the generation was entering college or the workforce. Yes, plenty of millennials saw their parents lose retirement funds or college savings or their homes to the Great Recession. Yes, it has inherently made millennials less trusting of big banking and investing – but that’s not really the reason millennials are seeking alternative financial options.

Hipsters certainly aren’t an exclusively a millennial trend, but the mentality of wanting something outside of the mainstream does appeal to the generation. Perhaps growing up in an age of social media overexposure coupled with being taught they’re special from a young age created a craving to be unique – even in financial decisions. Plus, the digital natives are comfortable with the idea of online bank, sourcing loans by clicking a few buttons online and uploading oodles of personal information without speaking with a human being.

These factors have created a perfect storm for millennials to turn their backs on the world of big banking and instead use startups, apps, Internet-only banks and whatever new, eclectic, mobile-friendly option exists. Banks like Ally, Simple and Moven quickly get millennial attention while student loan refinance and personal loan options like SoFi, Earnest and Upstart are specifically designed to appeal to the 20 to young 30-something demographic.

Millennials are the aging into the housing market, dealing with student loan debt, planning weddings*, having babies and looking for the best way to borrow money, refinance existing debt or getting a personal loan. Lenders would do well to remember these customers want digital access, easy-to-use apps, friendly customer service and instant access.

*Ideally you do this without incurring any debt, but let’s be realistic about what happens…