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Debt-burdened Millennials Wary of Credit Cards

  • Faiza Elmasry

The burden of college tuition loans is making many millennials wary of racking up credit card debt.

Fewer than a third of millennials, usually defined as people between the ages of 18 and 35, even have a credit card. That's a record low percentage, according to recent statistics.

Stefanie O’Connell, who graduated from New York University with a degree in drama and a big debt, understands the problem.

With few job opportunities, she became cautious about her finances. That led her to a completely different career path: as a financial expert.

Millennial debt

Through her wealth management blog, O'Connell has discovered many millennials are just like her.

Many younger people are resisting the temptation that credit cards offer to spend beyond one’s means, she said.

"They're wary of tools like credit cards,” she explained. "They're wary of taking any kind of risk, even if it is a smart risk, like investing."

What O’Connell sees among her blog readers is supported by Federal Reserve data that indicates 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.

FILE - A credit card is used to pay a bill.

FILE - A credit card is used to pay a bill.

Credit cards are an integral part of the U.S. financial system.

Credit expert Adam Levin said they're frequently necessary for young people to purchase many services and goods that make their life easier and help the economy grow.

Building a credit history allows someone to borrow money at a preferential credit rate to buy a car or a house.

"It's critically important for a young person to build credit, to build strong credit,” Levin said. “It doesn't mean that you overcredit yourself, but it means that you are wise about your credit, you are a responsible payer, and you don't get yourself in over your head."

Financial technology

Technology has developed tools that help the millennials manage personal finances and plan budgets.

Level Money, a smart app that’s also known as the financial GPS, is an example.

After the user adds bank and other credit card account information to the app, it then calculates income and bills. It presents the user with the available cash to spend every day and how much to save each month.

Such apps serve as an online adviser to those who use them, O'Connell said. The apps help users make better spending decisions and avoid spending habits that may make them fall deeper into debt.

The growing trend shows millennials build credit while living within their means.

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