Data from the Federal Reserve indicates that the percentage of Americans under 35 who hold credit card debt has fallen to its lowest level since 1989, when the Fed began collecting data in a standardized way, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
Some older Americans have also been shedding credit card debt since the financial crisis that began in 2008.
But for no other age group has the decline in the proportion holding credit card debt been more rapid than it has been for American millennials, the data from the Survey of Consumer Finances shows.
“It’s pretty clear that young people are not interested in becoming indebted in the way that their parents are or were,” said David Robertson, the publisher of The Nilson Report, a newsletter that tracks the payment industry.
Their reluctance could have lasting repercussions for millennials, as well as for the financial system and the economy. Early use of credit cards has, in the past, helped young Americans develop a comfort level with credit that can last a lifetime and lead to a succession of big purchases financed by debt. Without a substantial credit history, it is much harder to take out a home mortgage, for example.
“It will probably take them longer to get access to credit,” said Gregory Elliehausen, an economist at the Federal Reserve specializing in consumer finance. “In the meantime, their behavior and some of their habits will have already been formed.”
Over all, Americans’ use of credit cards has recently been creeping up again: Household debt in the US increased by $35 billion, to $12.29 trillion, during the second quarter of 2016, a 0.3% rise from the previous quarter that was driven by credit cards and auto loans, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Banks say that their credit card operations are running at full tilt, and that in recent months the number of people having trouble paying their bills has been at record lows.
But many younger people have been sitting on the sidelines, deterred by new laws passed after the crisis and big loads of student debt. They are also spooked by the temptation that credit cards offer to spend beyond one’s means.