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Credit to their generations: 'Greatest' and 'Silent'

Depression, war shape views of those born before the end of WWII

By Geoff Williams

How age sets attitudes toward credit, debt
The Greatest Generation, Silent Generation
Greatest, Silent generations (1911-1945)
Baby boomers
Baby boomers (1946-1964)
Generation X
Generation X (1965-1979)
Millennials (1980-2000)

The Greatest Generation (1911-1924) and the Silent Generation (1925-1945)

What they buy on credit:  Nothing, if they can avoid it.

How these generations use their credit cards:  Is it fair to lump two generations, ranging in age from 62 to 96 years old, into one credit card category? Maybe not, but they can take it. Considering that these folks have endured the Great Depression and World War II, this will probably not be much of a blow. In fact, the financial legacy of the Great Depression in the 1930s, which affected both parents and children, has meant that "many still carry that fear that everything could come crashing down," says Patrick Astre, a financial planner and the author of "This is Not Your Parent's Retirement." "So they save, avoid debt and spend as little as possible."

Greatest Generation, Silent Generation. Illustration by Brandy Kesl.

Responsibility and thriftiness is the rule for these folks, and they'd rather not use credit cards if they can avoid it. Still, most of them have credit cards -- after all, credit cards have been around for more than 50 years, and they're starting to use them more frequently, according to Thom Fox, a community outreach coordinator at the Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. in Agawam, Mass.

The reasons the cards are being pulled out, though, aren't for the latest cell phone or flat-screen TV. "The Greatest Generation is getting into more trouble," says Fox. "I think people have been unprepared for retirement, and life expectancy has been enhanced so much, and the prices and need for prescription medicine is skyrocketing. And so we're seeing a lot of people using their credit cards to pay for their medications."

Next: Baby boomers (1946-1964).

Published: March 19, 2008

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