Infographic: Average card balances by age 2003-2015

Seniors have more credit card debt, other age groups less

Americans, for the most part, are shouldering substantially less credit card debt today than a dozen years ago. The one exception? Seniors age 67 and up, who owe more than seniors in the same age bracket did 12 years earlier.

In a comparison of Equifax data on 2003 versus 2015 debt balances across ages 20 to 74, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that credit card balances averaged 25 percent less in 2015 for Americans age 20-64. The gap was greatest at age 21, when 2015 card debt was almost 57 percent less.

The age of peak credit card debt in 2003 was at age 51, when it maxed out at $4,580. A dozen years later, those 50-year-olds had advanced well into their 60s, and some are still carrying high levels of debt.

While 2015's seniors have less credit card debt, they're carrying a heavier debt burden elsewhere. Card debt was about equal for 65-year-olds in 2003 versus 2015. But auto debt was 29 percent higher in 2015, home debt was 47 percent higher, and student loan debt stood a whopping 86 percent above its 2003 level. In other words, credit card debt faced much more competition for a senior’s resources in 2015.

In addition, the mid-2000s saw a credit boom, whereas 2009 ushered in stricter underwriting standards. When lending accelerates but then slows down, it leads to loans, and their associated borrowers, being older on average.

The New York Fed’s “Graying of American Debt” study was conducted using its Consumer Credit Panel, which draws on Equifax credit data for a random, nationally representative 5 percent sample of American consumers and members of their household. The report was released Feb. 16.



See related: Infographic: Life is financially fragile for millennials, More infographics

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Updated: 11-17-2018