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Financial Planning > College Planning > Student Loan Debt

Generation X: Racking up debt — and paying a price for it

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For members of Generation X, living with debt has become a fact of life. But this comfort with buying on credit is negatively impacting their ability to save for retirement and meet other financial obligations, according to a new report.

Allianz Life unveils this finding in a summary of results from its new “Generations Apart” study. The survey of 2,000 Americans, including 1,000 baby boomers (ages 49-67) and 1,000 Gen Xers (ages 35-48), examines financial attitudes and current finances for each generation, including total household debt.

The study finds that Gen Xers are carrying 38 percent more in mortgage debt (average of $144,000 versus $90,000 for boomers) and 45 percent more in non-mortgage debt, comprised of student loan debt (average of $12,000 versus $5,000 for boomers) and credit card debt (average of $8,000 versus $6,000 for boomers). 

The report adds that nearly half (48 percent) of both generations agree that credit cards now function as a survival tool. And 43 percent agree that “lots of smart, hardworking people who are careful with spending also have a lot of credit card debt.”

The growing comfort with debt, the report suggests, may be having a greater effect on the retirement plans of Gen X. Twice as many Gen Xers (27 percent versus 11 percent of boomers) say they are unsure about when they plan to retire or don’t plan to retire. 

The report expresses concern about how Gen Xers are using credit to finance their lifestyles. Nearly half (46 percent) of Gen Xers say they revolve their credit card balances (only paying a portion each month) compared with only 32 percent of boomers.

Upshot: Gen Xers are less able to save for the future as more of them (23 percent versus 19 percent of boomers) say they believe “you can’t save for retirement until you pay off credit cards.” 

“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,” says Katie Libbe, Allianz Life vice president of Consumer Insights. “If Gen Xers continue to delay saving for retirement until they are completely out of debt, their nest egg is clearly going to suffer.”

Among the report’s additional findings: 

  • 36 percent of Gen Xers say they currently have more than $5,000 in credit card debt and a quarter admitted to carrying more than $10,000.

  • 15 percent of Gen Xers say they also owe money to their parents.

  • 41 percent of Gen Xers say they are not comfortable with the amount of debt they have, while just a quarter of boomers reported feeling uneasy with their debt.

  • 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 percent of boomers. Half of Gen Xers say they “enjoy and live for today” versus only 39 percent of baby boomers, with the majority of boomers (61 percent) choosing “save and plan for tomorrow.”

  • 73 percent of boomers said they are clear about how much money they will need in retirement versus only 52 percent of Gen Xers. 


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