Personal finance

Generation X carries the most credit card debt, study shows. Here’s how to get those balances down

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When it comes to credit card debt, Generation X may be struggling the most.

The average amount owed by people in that cohort is $7,004, according to a new report from New York Life. That compares with $6,785 for baby boomers, $5,928 for millennials and $2,876 for Gen Zers.

“I think Gen Xers can be especially squeezed by credit card debt because they’re living expensive years right now,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. Research from CreditCards.com also shows more members of Gen X (77%) have any type of personal debt compared with other age groups.

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“They might be sandwiched between caring for elderly parents and raising their own kids – maybe even putting them through college,” Rossman said.

The New York Life study, based on a survey conducted in December among 4,410 U.S. adults, defines baby boomers as people ages 59 to 77; Gen Xers, ages 43 to 58; millennials, ages 27 to 42; and Gen Z as age 11 to 26.

The cost of carrying credit card debt has become higher

Credit card balances across all age groups hit $930 billion in the third quarter of 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s latest quarterly report on household debt. That amount was $38 billion more than the previous quarter and $121 billion more than a year earlier, marking the largest yearly jump — 15% — in more than 20 years.

And as interest rates have risen — a result of the Federal Reserve trying to rein in high inflation — the cost of carrying credit card debt has become more expensive.

The average credit card now charges a record-high 20.16%, Rossman said. What’s more, 46% of card holders carry debt from month to month on at least one card, which is up from 39% a year ago.

The average credit card debt owed by adults across all ages is $6,321, and the average monthly amount put toward that debt is $430, according to the New York Life study.

The length of time it would take to pay off that average balance at that monthly amount depends on the interest rate. At zero percent, it would take 15 months. At 20%, it would take 18 months, and about $1,028 would be going to interest.

Those calculations, made using Credit Karma’s credit card calculator, also assume no additional credit card debt was incurred while paying off that amount.

How to knock down your debt

There are some ways you may be able to pay down your credit card balances faster.

For instance, some people approach the debt using the “snowball method,” which involves paying off the smallest balance first and then moving on to the next-biggest and so on.

It works like this: You pay the minimum on your higher-balance cards to avoid late fees or higher interest charges, then throw as much money as you can at the smallest debt until it’s paid off. Then you apply the same strategy to the next-biggest balance. The idea is that erasing balances can be empowering and give you motivation to keep paying all your cards off.

If you don’t need the positive reinforcement, you can focus on the highest interest rate debt first. In the long run, this “avalanche method” —  from highest rate to lowest — will save you the most on interest charges.

Additionally, there are 0% balance transfer cards that you may be able to get, depending on your credit score. The higher your score, the better terms you can get overall.

Or, a personal loan could help you consolidate the debt. “These rates go as low as about 7% if you have good credit,” Rossman said.

You also should consider whether you can reduce spending or increase your income, which could free up some money.

“You could take on a side hustle, sell stuff you don’t need and/or cut your expenses to come up with more money to throw toward your credit card debt,” Rossman said.

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