Gen Z Shuns Credit Cards

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Influences Behind The Trend

FICO speculated that two main influences might be behind the trend:

  1. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 introduced new restrictions on the issuing of plastic to those under 21.
  2. The recent recession has changed young people’s attitudes to credit, resulting in growing a preference for debit over credit cards.

While we hate to disagree with FICO’s experts, we suspect that the impact of the first was very limited for three reasons:

  1. The trend was already well established before the CARD Act came into force.
  2. The under-21s who were affected by the new regulations make up only a small proportion of the whole 18-29 age group.
  3. As we’ve repeatedly highlighted (see, for example, Student credit cards effectively unregulated), card issuers have exploited loopholes in the legislation in a way that has effectively negated the relevant rules.

Student Loan Debt a Big Factor

Certainly, kids who watched their parents struggle with debt during the recession may have promised themselves they’d never get themselves into a similarly vulnerable financial position. Indeed, FICO’s figures show that the overall debt burden on those in this age range dropped to an average of $32,587 in October 2012 from $39,372 in October 2007.

But a breakdown of those numbers by types of debt reveals another factor that must surely influence youngsters: the huge increase in student loan debt. While all other forms of indebtedness within this age group fell over that five-year period, average student loan debt rocketed to $11,444 from $6,490. Nationally, the value of current student loans stands at over $1 trillion.

That’s spread across 37 million Americans, most of whom in previous generations would have been the prosperous graduates who drove the real-estate and new-car markets. But all that’s changed. Research published in June by the One Wisconsin Institute and ProgressNow Education found that, regardless of household income, home ownership was 36.1% higher among those who’d finished paying off their student loans — a process that on average took 21.1 years.

Meanwhile, those still paying were so much more likely to buy used vehicles that researchers estimated these loans could be costing the American economy $6.4 billion a year in new-car sales. If millions of people are being forced to change their home- and car-buying habits, isn’t it likely that student loan debt is also impacting the credit card market?

If that’s the case, card issuers face serious challenges. Coming up with slightly more generous rewards credit cards or a bit less onerous fee structures is unlikely to cut it. If they’re not careful, kids really could consign credit cards — at least as we know them — to history.

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  • Val

    The last thing I want right now is more debt. My student loans are about twice the national average and I’ll be paying those off for the next couple decades. Using debit instead of credit allows me to feel more repsonsible.

  • Guest

    Good. Credit is good to have for big ticket items like mortgages, student tuition and cars, but it makes no sense for day-to-day purchases. I am 29 and have one credit card with a modest limit (less than $1000). I use it for purchases at places I don’t want to use my debit (online stores, gas stations, etc) and then pay the balance in full twice a month. I wish more people would step away relying on credit for day-to-day purchases. The credit card companies suck money out of their users and often charge ridiculously high interest rates. I say let them go under.