The debt gender gap: how women can close it

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Is the Gender Gap Real?

Even as society closes gender gaps in parenting, marriage and the workplace, we're still pretty convinced that men and women are innately different in some ways. One 2013 study from Penn Medicine illustrated neurological differences between the sexes. For instance, the study found men tend to be better at performing a single task that's in front of them, like navigating directions, while women have better multitasking and social cognition skills.

Studies like these back up male-female differences that may have intuited long before now. Still, basic differences in how we interact with the world shouldn't mean that one gender is worse off when it comes to money. But, unfortunately, that's what we see.

A 2015 National Debt Relief survey of 1,107 adults with credit card debt revealed some interesting differences between the sexes. In the survey, the main difference between men and women was the amount of credit card debt they carried.

For instance, 63 percent of women ages 18 to 24 carried some credit card debt, but only 36 percent of men in that age category had any debt. Similarly, 66 percent of women ages 55 to 64 carried credit card debt, but only 33 percent of men in that age bracket had credit card debt.

So why the split, and what can women do about these troubling statistics?

Adam Tijerina, consumer advocate for National Debt Relief, says several potential reasons for this gender gap exist. However, he speculates that the most likely culprit is that women are still paid less than men.

A 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that women on average earn 81 percent of the median salary men make in a year. The differences are less pronounced in some age groups. For instance, women in the 25- to 34-year-old bracket earn about 90 percent of what their male counterparts make, while the ratio for the 45- to 54-year-old bracket is still a dismal 75 percent.

Thus, the lower earnings of women could contribute to their higher levels of debt. This might not be the only reason that younger and older women carry more credit card debt than men their age, but we can still take away some lessons from these statistics.

Here are a few things women can do to close the debt gap:

Learn to negotiate. A 2010 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women aren't as assertive as men when it comes to negotiating their starting salaries. This lack of negotiation keeps women at a pay disadvantage from day one.

While some companies, like Reddit, are banning salary negotiation in an attempt to close the gender wage gap, women outside of these companies should learn to negotiate. This video from LeanIn.org gives great tips for the next time you're negotiating a raise.

Understand credit card terms. Credit cards aren't 100 percent evil, and there's a time and place to use them wisely. However, it's essential that you take time to understand the terms of a credit card, and all the fees that come with it, before you begin swiping.

Don't have too many credit cards. Having multiple credit cards makes it easy to rack up tons of debt. It's tempting to get a card for each of your favorite stores, but this typically leads to problems down the road. Limit yourself to just one or two general use credit cards.

Stick to a budget. The easiest way to avoid credit card debt – regardless of your age or gender – is to create and stick to a budget. At the beginning of the month, decide how you'll spend your money, and stick to it.

By taking a few simple steps, women of any age can cut down on credit card debt and begin closing this troubling gender gap.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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