Generation Z sees biggest increase in credit card debt, Gen X has highest balance: Report

Credit card balances for Americans hit a record $1 trillion this year.

August 22, 2023, 6:00 AM

Generation Z is racking up more credit card debt than previous generations, while Generation X holds the highest average of credit card debt, according to recent data from Credit Karma.

Between April and June 2023, Gen Z, people born between 1997 and 2012, had an average credit card balance of $3,328, a 4.23% increase from January to March 2023, where their average balance was $3,193, according to Credit Karma.

"I think that's the effect of COVID. I think Gen Z was able to spend more on things like electronics, computers and streaming services, while older generations' spending patterns decreased," Dr. Balbinder Singh Gill, an assistant professor of finance at the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, told ABC News.

Credit card balances for Americans hit a record $1 trillion this year, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Between April and June 2023, credit card balances increased by $45 billion, an over 4% increase from the previous quarter, the New York Federal Reserve said in its report.

The increase was the largest in total household debt, which reached $17.6 trillion in the second quarter of 2023. "Other balances, which include retail credit cards and other consumer loans, and auto loans increased by $15 billion and $20 billion, respectively," according to the New York Federal Reserve.

While credit card debt increased the most among Gen Z in the second quarter of the year, Gen Z holds the least amount of debt, while Gen X, individuals born between 1965 and 1980, hold the most, according to Credit Karma data.

STOCK PHOTO: A consumer uses a credit card
A consumer uses a credit card
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Gen X had an average credit card balance of $9,589 between April and June, a 1.89% increase from the previous quarter, according to Credit Karma. Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, have the second-highest credit card debt, at about $8,192, according to second-quarter data from Credit Karma.

"Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are outspending their younger counterparts in leisure spending," Gill said.

The spending growth for older generations is outperforming that of younger generations, according to data from Bank of America.

"Older households benefited from the cost-of-living adjustment, social security increase and typically have significantly more wealth, while younger generations are more exposed to higher housing costs and the pending end of the student loan repayment moratorium," Bank of America said in a June 2023 report.

Older generations are splurging on cruises and restaurants and dining out more than younger consumers, who are spending more on housing and basics, according to Gill. However, they're vastly spending more in pharmacies because they tend to take more medications.

Gen X are at the peak of their careers and are earning a lot more money, Gill told ABC News.

"They're earning a lot, they want to spend a lot and they have a very expensive lifestyle," Gill said. "They have much larger households and they're willing to spend very big on consumer goods and services, and they're willing to do big investments like buying homes and cars."

Millennials, individuals born between 1981 and 1996, saw the second-highest increase in credit card debt between April and June at 2.55%, with an average debt of $6,959, according to Credit Karma.

STOCK PHOTO: A consumer uses a credit card
A consumer uses a credit card
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Credit card spending habits for Millennials mostly involve hobbies, buying clothes and the latest electronics, and going out with friends, according to Gill.

Gill said that Gen X being at the peak of their careers leads to higher purchasing power, and can buy homes and other things.

"Younger generations are moving quickly," Gill told ABC News. "Meaning they are willing to relocate for jobs, so the desire to purchase a home will go down."

The climbing cost of living stemming from high inflation and stagnant wages compared to increased expenses, is why credit card usage is on the rise, which is a sign of systematic failures of the market for households, according to Gill.

Credit card delinquency rates during the pandemic were "extraordinarily low" but considerably worsened during the second quarter of 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

"Credit card balances saw brisk growth in the second quarter," Joelle Scally, regional economic principal within the Household and Public Policy Research Division at the New York Fed, said in a press release. "And while delinquency rates have edged up, they appear to have normalized to pre-pandemic levels."

Baby Boomers led the generations as the group who paid off the most credit card debt between 2021 and 2023, having decreased their credit card balances by 35.4% during that time, according to data from LendingTree.

Gen X followed Baby Boomers by decreasing their balances by 7.2%, the data shows.

Millennials and Gen Z, however, acquired significant credit card debt between 2021 and 2023, increasing their balances by 26.2% and 174%, respectively, according to LendingTree.

"I have two dogs, so a lot of doggy care goes there and since I am in grad school and don't really work, most of my hair appointments go on my credit card," Kayla Wilson, a 23-year-old graduate student living in Philadelphia, told ABC News.

Wilson said her credit card is maxed out at $5,000, and she pays her rent and groceries using her card, as well as some streaming services for entertainment.

She doesn't, however, use her credit card to pay for her travels, and prefers using cash.

"Once I pay this [credit card] off, I want to get an airline credit card and use that for travel," Wilson said.

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