Why aren’t Millennials racking up credit card debt?

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Millennials hold less credit card debt than previous generations, but they bear substantially more college loan debt than older generations. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Millennials hold less credit card debt than previous generations, but they bear substantially more college loan debt than older generations. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Despite an overall rise in Americans’ credit cards use and household debt, the percentage of credit card debt among millennials under age 35 is at its lowest since 1989.

An analysis by The New York Times reported that millennials are taking on fewer mortgage and auto loans than previous generations, and as a result, they use credit cards less than people did at their age in the past.

To explain why, the explanations vary. It’s important to note the rise of student loan debt among college graduates. The average American under 35 hold 182 percent more college loans than students graduating in 1995 did, according to Federal Reserve data.

“The large and sustained increase in student loan balances over the past decade or so has raised concerns that student loan borrowers are incurring debt burdens that will be difficult to repay and will hinder their ability to achieve life goals such as purchasing homes, starting families, investing in small businesses, or retiring from the workforce,” according to a 2015 Federal Reserve study.

New laws passed after the financial crisis of 2008 also made it harder for millennials over age 21 to obtain credit cards unless consumers could prove they have the money to pay banks.

Since the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, the number of card agreements declined from 1,045 to 617. The total number of cardholders for college affinity cards, a credit agreement offered to college students in agreement with their university, declined by 40 percent.

Currently, only 17 states require high school students take classes in personal finance and only 22 states offer such a course. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, just 24 percent of millennials demonstrate basic financial knowledge, showing little understanding of risk diversification and the relationship between interest rates and bonds.

David Weliver, founder of the Money Under 30 website, told PBS NewsHour earlier this year that many millennials don’t have credit yet.

“A lot of people were in their early 20s and in college during Great Recession and thought they were being smart by avoiding credit,” Weliver said.

The market will remain challenging for hopeful homebuyers without substantial credit history.

In January, PBS NewsHour explained why millennials are turning to payday loans and pawn shops to put cash in the bank. One factor is desperation, as many millennials don’t have any savings to fall back on.

Helaine Olen, co-author of “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated,” pointed out that alternative financial services are used when you need cash that day.

“They’re coming in with massive student loan debt, they’re having a horrific time getting a foothold in the workplace and starting salaries aren’t what they once were,” Olen told NewsHour. About two-thirds of those unbanked, people with no checking or savings accounts, report using alternative financial services including money order, pawn shop loan, auto title loan, paycheck advance, or payday loan, according to Federal Reserve data.

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