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These days, millions of Americans have significant outstanding debts spread across a number of accounts, but the issue is particularly exacerbated for younger consumers who are just now beginning to gain complete financial independence.

Consumers who were born between 1980 and 1984 tend to have far more outstanding credit card debt than their parents or grandparents did at the same age, according to new research from Ohio State University. Today, the average borrower born between 1980 and 1984 will have about $5,689 more debt today than their parents’ generation (born between 1950 and 1954) did at the same age, the report said. In addition, that amount is some $8,156 larger than what their grandparents’ generation (born between 1920 and 1924) faced.

These problems are typically so significant that they will linger for decades for current youngborrowers, the report said.

“If what we found continues to hold true, we may have more elderly people with substantial financial problems in the future,” said Lucia Dunn, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University. “Our projections are that the typical credit card holder amongyounger Americans who keeps a balance will die still in debt to credit card companies.”

Those in the older demographics studied were far faster when it came to paying off their outstanding balances, the report said. Grandparents’ repayment rates were 77 percent higher than the current generation of young borrowers, and parents, while significantly behind their own forebears, were still 24 percent ahead of today’s borrowers.

Researchers theorized that these added credit problems were likely the result of credit simply being more readily available and pervasive in society now than it was 30 or 60 years ago, the report said. Further, recent laws designed to protect consumers from harmful lending practices seem to be having a positive effect on borrowing habits. For instance, raising minimum payment requirements seems to lead cardholders to make larger payments above whatever the lowest allowable amount on their bill is.

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Consumers have changed their borrowing habits significantly in the wake of the economic downturn, including taking steps to cut their outstanding debts significantly, make more payments on time, and keep balances as low as possible. However, experts see these improvements as approaching a logical point at which they must bottom out and start growing again at some point in the near future.

Image: j.o.h.n. walker, via Flickr

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