Gen Xers, the most neglected generational group in America, lugs around the most credit card debt. If you’re involved in the struggle, here’s a quick list of excuses:
It’s Richard Nixon’s fault. I thought Three Mile Island was going to melt down. The Challenger space shuttle explosion left me scarred for life.
Those events happened as Generation X was quietly coming of age between the Baby Boomers and oh-so-precious Millennials. Sociologists say Gen Xers helped form a fatalistic attitude as the world seemed to crumble around us.
A president resigned in disgrace. Three Mile Island meant we could nuke ourselves without communist help, and NASA went from producing glorious space adventures to horrific disasters.
When you believe there’s no tomorrow, you live for today. You kick cans down the road and ignore the throbbing pain in your toes. In this case, the can is credit card debt and the pain is interest rates.
Studies show that Americans born between 1965 and 1983 have more credit card than any other age demographic. That time span covers about 65 million people. Millennials (75.4 million) passed Boomers (74.9 million) as the largest generation group in April 2016.
So if you’re a Gen Xer with a credit card problem, at least you’re not alone. Especially if you’re a Gen Xer between ages 35 and 44.
Average Credit Card Debt for Generation X
Gen Xers’ average credit card debt is $4,000, according to a survey by GoBankRates.com. Research by the credit bureau Experian put the average at a whopping $6,752. That’s about $1,100 more than Baby Boomers and $3,300 more than Millennials.
The GoBankRates.com findings came from a survey of 2,780 people. It found the median credit card debt among Millennials was $587, and that 73% of them carried zero balance.
Though the studies produced different numbers, the fundamental finding was the same.
Millennials handle their finances better than Gen Xers. We’ll pause now to allow 65 million people to scream, “Nooooooo!”
Aren’t Millennials supposed to be the group everybody makes fun of for being selfie-addicted slackers living in their parents’ basements?
To be fair to Gen Xers, there are extenuating circumstances. Most say they got their first credit card by age 24, so they are conditioned to use plastic. And in general, Millennials haven’t moved into the expensive “house and kids” phase of life yet.
Millennials have more debt than previous generations, but it’s not credit card debt. They have a lot more student loan debt than any other group. Credit cards are actually the fourth-largest source of overall U.S. debt, behind mortgages, student loans and auto loans.
But plastic is the worst kind of debt due to high interest rates (average interest rate of 15.18% according to the GoBankRates.com survey) and the fact you’re not building equity in anything. You’re just spending money you probably don’t have.
This makes it hard to save money for emergencies and meet other short- and long-term financial goals. Yet millions still kick the “consequences can” down the road, figuring that somehow tomorrow will be magically better.
They don’t all need to make up excuses, of course. The Great Recession gutted many family budgets and turned a credit card into a survival tool.
How to Get Control of Credit Card Debt
Getting ahead is simple but hard. You have to cut expenses, live within your means and keep a keen eye on where your money goes. It can be done, but sometimes people need help. A debt management program incorporates all those well-intentioned goals into a single plan of attack.
A credit counselor works with lenders to reduce your interest rates, and all your monthly bills are consolidated into one payment. You make a budget and — brace yourselves, Gen Xers — your credit cards are taken away.
An added bonus for Gen Xers is they no longer have to blame Nixon or Three Mile Island or NASA for their financial problems.
They can even give Millennials some hard-earned credit card advice: When you live for today, there might be no tomorrow.
Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.
- (Huddleston, C.)(2016, Oct. 24) Americans’ Credit Card Debt at Every Age. Retrieved from https://www.gobankingrates.com/credit-cards/americans-credit-card-debt-age/
- Fry, R. (2016, April 25) Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/
- (Norris, C.)(2016, Aug. 15) Why Aren’t Millennials Racking Up Credit Card Debt? Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/arent-millennials-racking-credit-card-debt/
- (Ashford, K.)(2016, Oct. 30) The Generation With the Most Credit Card Debt? It’s Not Millennials. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kateashford/2016/10/30/generation/#6604755c62c9
- (NA) (ND), Millennials Have the Lowest Credit Scores of All Generations. Retrieved from https://www.experianplc.com/media/news/2015/millennials-have-the-lowest-credit-scores-of-all-generations/?WT.srch=PR_CIS_Millennials_20150730_pressrelease_GPO