An increasing comfort with debt may be having a negative effect on Americans’ ability to save for retirement — particularly so for Generation X.
A new study from Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, Generations Apart, finds that nearly half (48%) of both Gen X and baby boomers agree that credit cards now function as a survival tool.
“Over the last three decades, there has been a collective shift in how people view debt — it’s now perceived as a normal part of one’s financial experience and that has fundamentally altered the way people spend and save,” said Katie Libbe, Allianz Life vice president of Consumer Insights, in a statement.
While debt plays a significant factor in any generation’s ability to save, what’s striking is how Generation Xers are burdened by significantly greater debt loads than baby boomers.
According to the study, Gen Xers reported carrying about 60% more mortgage debt than their boomer counterparts (average of $144,000 versus $90,000 for boomers), 140% more student loan debt (average of $12,000 versus $5,000 for boomers) and 33% more credit card debt (average of $8,000 versus $6,000 for boomers).
In addition to carrying more debt, more Gen Xers see debt as a necessary way of life.
The study suggests that Gen Xers’ greater debt load may be related to earlier use of credit cards.
According to the study, 76% of Gen Xers got their first credit card at age 18 to 24, versus 68% of baby boomers.
The bigger concern, though, is how the study finds Gen Xers are currently using credit to finance their lifestyles.
The study finds that one in five Gen Xers believe that going into debt to handle day-to-day purchases is “just a fact of life” versus only 14% of boomers. And, according to the study, nearly half of Gen Xers revolve their credit card balances (only paying a portion each month) compared with 32% of boomers.
“Without doubt, this strategy is having a negative effect on their ability to save for the future,” the Allianz report says.
The study also finds that more Gen Xers (23% versus 19% of boomers) believe “you can’t save for retirement until you pay off credit cards.”
The study finds that twice as many Gen Xers (27% versus 11% of boomers) say they are either unsure about when they plan to retire or don’t plan to retire at all.
“If Gen Xers continue to delay saving for retirement until they are completely out of debt, their nest egg is clearly going to suffer,” said Libbe, in a statement. “For Gen Xers who are behind on saving, better debt management, with a focus on credit card spending, should be the first issue they address to get back on track.”
The increasing comfort and acceptance of living with debt makes a behavioral change from Gen X in the near future seem unlikely, according to the study.
When asked which financial philosophy they preferred, half of Gen Xers said “enjoy and live for today” versus only 39% of baby boomers, with the majority of boomers (61%) choosing “save and plan for tomorrow.”
“Although many Gen Xers are facing an uphill battle when it comes to saving for retirement, the good news is there is still time for them to change their bad debt habits,” Libbe said in a statement. “By taking a few simple steps like regularly tracking their spending and avoiding any new debt, burdened Gen Xers can take a significant step toward building a more successful financial future.”
Allianz Life’s Generations Apart Study, which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults ages 35 to 67 with a minimum household income of $30,000, was designed to achieve a 50/50 balance of men and women and a 50/50 balance of boomers and Generation Xers.
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