Generational Credit Card Habits, Does Age Make a Difference?

Auriemma Consulting Group conducted a study in June 2011of 502 U.S. credit cardholders regarding credit card habits among the three generations – Baby Boomers (ages 48 to 65), GenXers (ages 31 to 47) and Millennials or GenYers (ages 20 to 30). The study revealed that economic conditions have impacted balances, credit limits, interest rates and card fees.

All three generations paid down balances and charged less over the past two years, resulting in a decrease in the proportion carrying balances and the balance amount. In addition, all experienced a decline in credit limits and an increase in interest rates. The Millennials, which is the youngest group, had the largest increase in annual fees and credit line changes. The proportion of Millennials paying an annual fee doubled in two years from 13 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2011.

Credit cards carried

Baby Boomers carried fewer premium cards (Gold, Platinum, and Silver) in their wallets in 2011 (52 percent), compared to 63 percent in 2007. More of the responders carried Visa than MasterCard – 80 percent compared to 61 percent. Discover Card was carried by 35 percent of Baby Boomers, 28 percent of GenXers, and 24 percent of Millennials.

Balances

The proportion of responders carrying balances dropped over four years, with 58 percent carrying balances in 2011 compared to 65 percent in 2007. The average credit card balance was the lowest in four years, which indicates they are charging less and paying down balances. The average credit card balance was $1,890 in 2011, $2,517 in 2009 and $2,260 in 2007.

Credit limits

The average credit limit declined over two years, which is attributed to credit card issuers reducing them. Baby Boomers had the highest credit limits among the groups. Average credit limit for Baby Boomers was $9,662 in 2011 compared to $10,561 in 2009, for GenXers was $6,974 in 2011 and $8,423 in 2009, and for Millennials was $4,208 in 2011 and $5,660 in 2009.

Interest rates

Interest rates increased for all generations, but increased the most for the Baby Boomers between 2009 and 2011. As a result of the increases, interest rates did not differ that much by generation in 2011. Interest rates for Baby Boomers were 13.7 percent in 2011 compared to 11 percent in 2009; for GenXers was 13.3 percent in 2011 and 12.4 percent in 2009; and for Millennials was 14 percent in 2011 and 13.7 percent in 2009.

As expected, Baby Boomers have higher credit limits and lower interest rates than the younger generations because they have used credit longer. The Millennials are newer to credit and pay higher card fees and interest rates. This study indicates that credit card issuers lowered credit limits, increased interest rates and increased annual fees in 2011. All generations lowered their spending and have been paying down balances.

John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  Follow him on Twitter here.

Leave a Reply