Comparing Credit Card Debt by Generation Shows Vast Differences (Poor Gen X!)

Credit card debt may continue to rise this year, too.
Updated April 11, 2024
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If you’re struggling to pay down your credit card debt, chances are you’re not alone. According to 2022 data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Census Bureau, American households, on average, owe $7,951 in credit card debt per year.

Credit card debt may still be on the rise, too. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, American credit card balances rose to $1.3 trillion during the last quarter of 2023. Compared to the end of 2022, overall debt increased by $986 billion.

However, the amount of debt owed may differ based on the age of those carrying it.

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Gen Z

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Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) is the youngest group in the economy to be actively building their credit — the youngest of whom aren’t even out of high school yet and the oldest, still in their 20s. They have the lowest average credit card debt compared to all other active generations, with an average balance of $2,854.

However, during 2021 and 2022, Gen Z experienced the most significant debt percentage increase of all the generations – 25.1% – which could be a result of skyrocketing inflation during and after the pandemic. The Silent Generation ( born between 1928 and 1945) only saw an increase of 4.4%, the least amount of any generation.

Gen Z may be the best at paying off their balances compared to the other generations. The majority (98.3%) pay their total balance off each month, whereas other groups, like Millennials (34%), are more likely to carry a balance and accrue interest month to month.

Only 17.3% of Gen Z have at least one active credit card, but over 40% have opened a new credit card account in the last six months.

Many Gen Z credit card users may still be in school or beginning their careers, which means they could have lower income and a limited credit history – contributing to higher interest rates and overall debt. This also means they’ve had less time to accrue debt than older generations.


Pormezz/Adobe Worried woman looking at paperwork

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have a median average credit card debt of $5,649.

While this generation may be more likely to carry an interest-accruing balance each month, over 84% are concerned if they miss a payment, while 34% report actually missing payments, higher than the national average of 22%, followed by 28% of Gen Z who say they’ve missed at least one payment in the last year.

Many Millennials (58%) know their credit card interest rate, which is higher on average than any other generation. Gen Z is the least likely to be aware of their rate at 46%.

Across generations, the most common items purchased with credit cards are everyday living expenses. Around 28% of Millennials charge everyday things like gas and groceries. Gen Z charges the most (31%), and Baby Boomers (22%) pay for the fewest everyday items with a credit card.

After everyday expenditures, Millennials are likely to charge big-ticket items or large dollar amount purchases in general.

One-off expenses make up 10% of credit card charges among millennials and are the least likely to be charged across all generations.

Gen X

cherryandbees /Adobe A woman researching debt inheritance

Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) holds the highest average credit card debt across all the generations — totaling $8,134. This generation came of age during the U.S. 2008 financial crisis, which could contribute to their overall earnings and savings. The cost of living and cost of education also spiked during this time, which may also have an impact on their ability to pay off debt.

This generation is considered a sandwich generation, meaning they are more likely to provide financial support for both their parents and children simultaneously, which may also prevent them from building savings for emergencies or retirement.

Baby Boomers and the Silent generation

InsideCreativeHouse/Adobe senior man sitting on sofa

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1963) have an average credit card debt of $6,245, which is slightly higher than Millennials. This generation is more likely to take advantage of credit card perks programs and is likely more aware of credit card points and other benefits. Only 4% of Boomers say they’ve missed a credit card payment in the last year.

The Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) has an average balance of $3,316, the lowest of all five generations. The Silent generation has had more time to both build their credit score and decrease their overall debt through income earnings and savings.

Bottom line

Shisu_ka/Adobe stressed of credit card debt

Credit card debt might be projected to increase, but there are ways to crush your debt and pay down balances before they get out of control.

By taking a thorough look at all expenses, credit card users can compare their lifestyle and budget and develop healthier spending habits. Automated payments can also be set up to avoid missing monthly payments.

Consumers should schedule a time every month or so for a quick financial check-in to ensure they stay on track with their budgets and adjust where needed.

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Author Details

Taylor Bushey Taylor Bushey is a professional writer with a background in the banking industry. She also covers topics including home, wellness, lifestyle, fashion, and beauty.

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