As each generation moves into different stages of their personal and economic lives, the amounts and types of debt they carry shifts, too. We compared the debts of members of the four adult generations — millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers and the Silent Generation — between March 2016 and March 2019 to see what’s changed.
Specifically, we calculated the changes in the average balance of each major debt category — personal loans, credit cards, auto loans, student loans and mortgages — and the change in the percentage of each generation that carries each type of debt.
Here’s some of what we found:
- Millennials saw the greatest spike in overall debt. Their total balances rose by an average of $16,714 — almost 29% — between 2016 and 2019.
- Gen Xers now have the highest average debt burden of any generation. They increased their average debt burdens by about 10%, or $11,898, between 2016 and 2019, thanks to steady dollar increases across all debt categories.
- Older generations — boomers and silents — are winding down their debt, thanks to decreases in average mortgage balances. However, they’ve increased their average debt across all other categories.
- Boomers decreased their debt burdens by 7%, or $10,424. Members of the silent generation dropped their overall debt by $9,486, or 8%.
Comparing each generation’s debt distribution
In comparison to members of the silent and millennial generations, baby boomers and Gen Xers are carrying the highest amounts of debt. However, in both 2016 and 2019, each of the four adult generations’ combined debts were at least $50,000.
But while baby boomers and the Silent Generation have managed to pay down their debts by at least $9,000, both Gen Xers and millennials experienced an increase in recent years. This increase in debt for millennials has occurred as they age, perhaps beginning to have families and wage increases that improve their monthly cash flow. A higher income may have allowed them to cover the cost of nicer cars and other expenses that will ultimately increase the amount of debt owed.
Members of Gen X carry the largest amount of debt of any generation. From 2016 to 2019, this generation’s overall debt increase by almost $12,000. Their debt has increased across all categories, though they experienced increases in the proportion of their debt in personal loans, auto loans and student loans. Millennials, meanwhile, have increased their overall average debt by almost $17,000 in that same timeframe; the proportions of their debt increased in personal loans, credit cards and mortgages.
How each generation’s debt changed from 2016 to 2019
Looking back on the average debt distribution in 2016, each generation carried debt in all of the major debt categories — personal loans, credit cards, auto loans, student loans and mortgages. Mortgage loans, student loans and auto loans combined accounted for the largest portion of each generation’s debt. Personal loan and credit card debt combined accounted for no more than 12.3% of debt for each generation that year.
Over the three-year span we studied, notable changes occurred with the distribution of debt belonging to each generation.
In previous years, baby boomers and members of the Silent Generation held the highest proportion of their debt in mortgages. While that remains true in 2019, both generations have experienced a decrease in both proportion and amount of debt in this category. This decrease is likely due to several years of timely mortgage payments.
On the other hand, millennials have seen the percentage distribution of their mortgage debts slightly increase. During this three-year span, the percentage of student loan debt decreased for millennials and slightly increased for Gen Xers. The average distribution of auto loan debt decreased for millennials and stayed the same for Gen Xers.
Making sure debt doesn’t get in the way of life’s milestones
Between education expenses, the cost of buying a car and more, many people have watched their debt grow out of control without a solid plan to conquer it. Unfortunately, this debt can be an obstacle that prevents people from reaching milestones that require financial stability, such as buying a home, having a child or retiring.
By making a plan for your money with life’s financial milestones in mind, you can learn to manage your money, pay down your debt and finally afford what currently may seem impossible.
When planning for those financial milestones, consider the following:
- How much debt do you currently owe?
- What is your monthly income?
- How much disposable income do you have?
- What is your credit score?
- Are there any debts that can be paid off sooner than others?
Depending on your circumstances, debt consolidation is an option you can leverage to help you get out of debt. By combining various debts and rolling them into one new loan, it can become easier to manage your monthly payments while avoiding late fees and missed payment penalties. This route can be effective at reducing debt because it allows people to take out a loan at a potentially lower rate to cover the cost of current debts.
With debt consolidation, you’ll especially want to pay close attention to your credit score and debt-to-income ratio prior to applying for a loan. Lenders tend to favor borrowers with good credit and a debt-to-income ratio no higher than 50%. With your debts and income potentially having a negative impact on your credit score, as well as your approval odds and loan interest rate, it would be best to confirm your credit score to ensure debt consolidation is a worthwhile option. In addition, take time to compare your options to make sure you get a debt consolidation loan with the best terms.
If debt consolidation is not an option to help you manage your current debt, you can consider other alternatives, including refinancing, forbearance or even negotiating with lenders and creditors to settle the debt.