Older millennials prefer paying with debit, unlike other groups under 55

Gen Xers and young millennials favor credit, while Gen Z is undecided

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller


How Americans behave financially often trends pretty uniformly up or down as you look across generations – meaning the older you get or the younger you are, the more likely you’ll behave a certain way. But recent survey data show a preference for credit or debit cards is all over the board in the under-55 set.

Generation X, millennials and Generation Z are the three cohorts comprising the 18-54 age group. But while millennials are often analyzed and discussed as a single segment, researchers sometimes find interesting distinctions when splitting the group into younger and older millennials.

Take this recent study from PSCU, a payments provider to hundreds of U.S. credit unions. The survey data show more Gen X consumers (ages 39-54) name credit cards as their No. 1 payment choice (34 percent) as compared to those who prefer debit cards (30 percent).

See related: Millennials outdoing parents, grandparents on smart money moves 

But as you proceed through the younger generations, the balance between credit and debit affinities yo-yos with each younger age group. Older millennials (ages 31-38), for instance, show the opposite pattern as Gen X, with 40 percent saying their first payment choice is a debit card, and only 36 percent preferring credit cards.

Then things shift back to credit cards again, with younger millennials (ages 23-30) showing the strongest preference for credit (41 percent) and the most dramatic gap between that and debit preferences, at just 29 percent.

Perhaps fittingly given their short financial life to date, Generation Z adults (ages 18-22) are still deciding on the credit vs. debit question, registering a dead heat between the two preferences (29 percent each).

PSCU’s survey was administered by MaritzCX across 1,000 credit union members and 500 bank customers throughout the U.S. Fielded in September 2018, the survey's results were released Nov. 15. 

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Updated: 04-24-2019