Credit's Generation Gap: How's Your Age Group Doing on Debt?

Woman shopping with credit card in store

A post-recession study by Experian, a credit reporting bureau and global information services company, reveals that while baby boomers rely more on credit than other generations, millennials have the most room for improvement when it comes to money management.

Experian's Fourth Annual State of Credit study reviewed credit scores, the number of credit cards held, how much is being spent on those cards and the occurrence of late payments by generation.

The four generations are categorized as the Greatest Generation (ages 66 and older), Baby Boomers (ages 47 to 65), Generation X (ages 30 to 46) and Millennials (ages 19 to 29).

Here are the vital stats on the U.S. as a whole, according to Experian:

  • Average credit card debt in the U.S.: $27,887

  • Average number of bank cards: 2.19

  • Average balance on those bank cards: $4,501

  • Average revolving utilization ratio: 30 percent

  • Average VantageScore (a credit score developed by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion with a range of 300 to 850): 681

Debt Management by Generation

Slicing the data according to age range reveals our differences:

  • Greatest Generation: This generation has the highest average VantageScore (735), lowest average debt ($23,245), and the lowest revolving utilization ratio (16 percent).

  • Baby Boomers: This generation has the highest average balance on its credit cards ($5,347) and the highest average number of credit cards (2.66). But boomers seem to be managing their credit well, with an average VantageScore of 700 and an average utilization ratio of 30 percent.

  • Generation X: Generation X, with an average debt of $30,039 -- 7.7 percent higher than the national average -- carries the highest debt load. Members of this generation also use their credit cards more: their average utilization ratio is 37 percent. The average VantageScore in this generation is 653, lower than the national average.

  • Millennials: This group has the lowest average VantageScore (628) and is tied for highest utilization ratio (37 percent). However, millennials average debt is $23,332 and their average balance per credit card is $2,682 -- both below the overall national average.

Credit Improvement Tips

There's room for improvement in every generation's credit behavior, particularly for younger people. Experian offers multiple resources for money management at, but you can start improving your credit profile immediately by following these steps:

  • Get your annual credit report from all three bureaus at to check for errors and look for derogatory information.

  • Pay your bills on time.

  • Bring all late or over-the-limit accounts up-to-date as soon as possible.

  • To establish credit, open a credit card account, use it and pay off the balance.

  • Don't close credit card accounts -- especially not your older ones. One thing that keeps your credit score higher is having active accounts with a long history.

  • Have a mix of credit such as an car loan and a couple of credit cards.

  • Keep the balance low on your credit cards, preferably below 25 percent of their limits.

  • It's better to have a low balance on three credit cards than a zero balance on two and a high balance on one.

  • Don't open a lot of new lines of credit at once.

While you may want to apply different strategies for debt management during different phases of your life -- such as establishing a positive credit report when you're young and reducing debt as you near retirement -- your best strategy at any age is to live within your means.

Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer.