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What’s the Greatest Generation for Credit?

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When it comes to paying the bills, Generation X is facing some challenges. Experian released its fourth annual State of Credit report analyzing the credit health of the four generations, and younger Americans appear to be struggling to practice responsible financial habits relative to their elders.

The report looks at overall debt load, outstanding credit card balances, late payments and average credit score (using the VantageScore model) among 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).

Millennials have the lowest average VantageScore at 628 on a scale of 300 to 850, but they also have the lowest average number of credit cards (1.57), the lowest average credit card balance at $2,682 and the second-lowest average debt load at $23,332. When it comes to factors that hit credit scores, like credit utilization and late payments, Millennials weren’t impressive, but they measured slightly better than Generation X.

Generation Xers and Millennials tied for the highest utilization rate, using 37% of their available credit, but the youngest consumers had a lower occurrence of late payments: 0.58 compared to Generation X’s 0.61 late payment rate. That frequency of late payments contributed to Generation X’s low average VantageScore of 653.

The national averages are as follows: Consumer debt load is $27,887; number of credit cards is 2.19; the balance on those cards is $4,501; credit utilization is 30%; incidence of late payments is 0.43; and VantageScore is 681.

Whether it’s because Americans handle money differently at various stages of life, or credit-consciousness is less prevalent among the nation’s youngest adults, the statistics suggest Americans older than 46 are a bit more credit-savvy.

In many categories, baby boomers aren’t far off from Generation X. Boomers and Xers exceed the national average for overall debt ($29,317 and $30,039), credit cards (2.66 and 2.13) and card balances ($5,347 and $5,343). Baby boomers have an average utilization of 30%.

The big difference comes down to late payments, which are a crucial determining factor in consumers’ credit scores. Baby boomers have a much lower occurrence of late payments (0.33) when compared to Generation X (0.61), and that shows in the difference between their average VantageScores: 700 to 653.

Americans seem to figure credit out by the time they’re senior citizens — though one would hope younger Americans would develop such sound personal finance habits — because the Greatest Generation’s statistics are on the right side of the national averages in every category: They have a high average VantageScore of 735 and low averages of everything else.

The report is in its fourth year, so there’s limited historical data to help determine whether the credit habits are tied more to age or to generation. Millennials’ poor performance could be a result of brief credit histories (also a factor in credit scores) and the trial and error that comes with new experiences. At the same time, things like late payments and using credit to live beyond one’s means isn’t a smart choice at any point in life.

Regardless of which generation you belong to, it’s important to check your credit reports and credit scores regularly.  You’re entitled to your free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. And you can monitor your credit scores using a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, which also gives you an overview of your credit to show you which areas you need to work on.

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