Millennials Are More Likely to Have a Negative View of Credit Cards: WalletHub Survey

Credit cards are a way of life in the United States, where everything from buying a house, renting an apartment or getting a car loan to applying for a job can be affected by one’s credit history. In the minds of the U.S.’ banks and credit bureaus, those who are buried in credit card debt today can atone for their sins in the future by paying down their debt—whereas adults who have never owned a credit card have committed a cardinal sin and aren’t even worthy of purgatory. But according to a new survey by the Washington, DC-based personal finance website WalletHub, Millennials in the U.S. aren’t nearly as enamored of credit cards as their Baby Boomer parents.


WalletHub’s 2018 Credit Card Survey, released August 1, found that people under 30 were “93% more likely” than people who are 59 or older to have a negative view of credit cards. And Boomers, according to WalletHub’s communications manager, Diana Polk, “are 479% more likely than Millennials to value credit cards for their convenience relative to cash.”

Polk reported that “eight in ten Baby Boomers say their good credit card memories outweigh the bad ones; just over six in ten Millennials agree.” 

A fear of debt is one of the main reasons WalletHub gave for American Millennials’ reluctance to use credit cards as much as their parents. According to WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou, “Millennials witnessed their parents’ struggles during the Great Recession and are already overburdened by student loans. So, it’s no surprise they dislike credit cards.” 

WalletHub quoted Lucia Dunn, an economics professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, as saying, “Younger people are having more trouble managing their credit card debt. That would give a person a negative opinion of cards.”

WalletHub’s survey offers some interesting insights on how Millennials in the U.S. are likely to view credit cards compared to Boomers, but what about the generation that came after Boomers and before Millennials, Generation X? According to a 2016 survey by GoBankRates.com, America’s Gen-Xers are much more credit card-minded than Millennials—and they have the debt to prove it.

When GoBankRates.com surveyed 2780 people two years ago, it found that Gen-Xers were more likely to have higher credit card debt than either Boomers or Millennials. The average Gen-X credit card debt, according to GoBankRates.com, was $4000 compared to only $587 among Millennials—73% of whom carried no balance on their credit cards. And research by credit bureau Experian painted an even more troubling scenario for Gen-X: according to Experian, the average Gen-X credit card debt in 2016 in the U.S. was $6752.

American Millennials, however, have had much worse debt than either Boomers or Gen-Xers when it comes to student loans. College tuition in the U.S. has soared in recent decades, and in 2016, the average Millennial college graduate in the U.S. owed $37,172 in student loans. America’s Boomers and Gen-Xers also coped with student loan debt when they were younger, but college tuition was more affordable in the past; as a result, Millennials are having a harder time paying back their student loans than Americans who graduated from college in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. And as WalletHub pointed out, Millennials who are buried in student loan debt are reluctant to take on even more debt in the form of credit cards.

Much of the research and data on generational credit card use coming from Experian and others pertains to the U.S.; Europe, on the whole, isn’t nearly as credit card-obsessed. While many Gen-Xers and Boomers in the U.S. will use credit cards even for minor purchases like a bar of soap or a roll of paper towels in a dollar store or a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts, a 2017 study by the European Central Bank found that almost 75% of in-person payments in the EU are being done with cash—and that survey included 17 different countries. 

Statista.com found that in 2016, only a minority of Millennials who were 25 or older owned credit cards in East European countries—for example, 28% in the Czech Republic, 18% in Poland, 13% in Hungary and 12% in Romania. And in Western Europe, credit card penetration can vary considerably from one country to another. The UK is one of the more credit card-friendly places in Europe, but in Germany—Europe’s largest economy—less than 10% of consumers had a revolving credit card line in 2015. Germans, both young and older, tend to prefer cash for in-person payments and debit cards for online payments. So if an e-commerce company only offered credit cards as a payment option, it would be excluding the vast majority of German consumers. And in Switzerland, only about 5% of in-person payments are made with  credit cards (according to the Swiss National Bank).

The payment culture in Germany,  Switzerland or the Netherlands is quite different from the U.S.; not owning a credit card isn’t going to prevent someone from getting a mortgage or a car loan in those countries. And if WalletHub’s research is any indication, Millennials in the U.S. might be moving to a somewhat more European view when it comes to credit cards.

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