Will you find a credit card in a Millennial’s wallet? Not likely.

November 01, 2014

By Paul Brucker

Will you find a credit card in a Millennial’s wallet? Not likely.

Peek into the wallet of a Millennial and what are the odds that you’ll see a credit card? Merely 37%. That’s right: 63% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 do not own a single credit card while only 35% of those over age 30 lack one. Last year the credit scoring firm FICO reported that the number of young Americans without credit cards had doubled between 2007 and 2012.

What’s up with that? Here are some considerations:

  1. Millennials have less incentive to get a credit card. After all, they were the first generation to grow up with debit cards, a convenient plastic alternative to a credit card that simulates many of its features. Subsequently, young adults are less likely than older adults to use a credit card for everyday purchases.
  2. Imagine being a Millennial. You endured the Great Recession, but still experience its financial repercussions. You carry a hefty student loan and face a weak job market. No wonder Millennials, as a group, are financially cautious and spooked by the prospect of incurring burdensome debt. They saw, quite vividly, how the irresponsible use of credit cards could cause major problems. Some historians compare Millennials to the generation which developed a lifelong mentality of thrift – those who grew up during the Great Depression. Both generations had a childhood memory of wealth and then saw that financial security yanked out from under them during their teenage years, notes Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Momentum. Millennials have embraced thrift to help them be more in control of their finances. They make less impulse buys, rely more on apps and coupons for discounted prices, and often balk at buying big-ticket items such as homes and pricey cars. The financial newsletter Bankrate interviewed some young adults to understand their mindset. It found that many young Americans say they don’t need a credit card for the way they live, and they fear that the primary rationale for a credit card is to spend a lot of money they don’t have.
  3. The Credit Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 made it a lot harder for people under 21 years old to get a card. The CARD act was designed to protect consumers from steep credit card interest rates and fees. But it also stipulated that no one under 21 could get a card unless they got their parents to co-sign or they could prove they earned enough to pay credit card debt. The law also made it tougher for credit card companies to market to college kids.

So, should Millennials say “yes” to credit cards?
Some financial experts insist that it’s really in a Millennial’s long-term best interest to get and use a credit card. After all, possessing a credit card is not, in itself, a problem – the irresponsible use of one is. And paying with a credit card remains one of the key ways to build a solid credit score. Without a great credit score, you’ll have to pay higher rates for insurance policies, auto loans and mortgages. And you may even be denied a job because many employers do credit checks on prospective new hires. “Millennials need to approach a credit card as a way to make payments and pay off balances rather than a debt instrument,” says Bankrate reporter Jeanine Skowronski

What about the Millennials who do use credit cards?
About 40% of young adults with credit cards pay their full balance each month, compared to 53% of people over the age of 30. And 3% of Millennials say they often skip paying their monthly bills completely. “This is likely because they are using the credit card as a way to pay for things they couldn’t otherwise afford, when they should be using it as a credit building tool,” notes Skowronski.

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