Millenials Shed Debt Faster Than Older Americans

Young American adults have pared the amount they owe on homes, cars and credit cards in the wake of the recession, shedding debt almost four times faster than their elders, a survey shows. College loans are an exception.

The student loan burden more than doubled in the last decade for households led by those under 35, the Pew Research Center said today. Forty percent of those households were still paying off such loans in 2010, up from 34 percent in 2007.

The report highlights the increasing cost of higher education on younger households in the last decade, when 6 million Americans enrolled in graduate school to improve anemic career prospects. They helped feed a $1 trillion student loan industry that has surpassed credit cards as a source of debt.

“One hypothesis is that the growing student loan burdens are squeezing out other purchases,” Richard Fry, the study’s author, said in a telephone interview. “But it’s also possible that young people are pursuing more education and postponing job entry, family formation and household purchases.”

From 2007 to 2010, which includes the 18-month slump that was the longest recession since World War II, median debt for young households fell to $15,473, a 29 percent decline. Median debt for older households dipped to $30,070, an 8 percent drop.

The mid-decade collapse of the housing bubble caused much of the decline in debt for the so-called Millennials, the generation that mostly became adults around the turn of the century. The share of younger homeowners fell from 40 percent to 34 percent while their median housing debt dropped $127,914, the Washington-based center reported.

Car Ownership

Fewer young households owned automobiles. Almost three-quarters of young adults owned a car in 2007. The number fell to two thirds by 2011. Car-loan debt declined 18.4 percent to $10,212, Pew found. Half of those households carried credit-card balances in 2001. By 2010, the figure had dropped to 39 percent. Median credit-card debt for them dipped 19.9 percent to $1,651.

The nation’s 24.7 million Millennial households reported that student loans made up 15 percent of their total debt in 2010, a 67 percent increase from 2007 and a 114.3 percent rise over the 2001 amount. While the typical student loan debt fell 4.9 percent from 2007 to 2010, the $13,410 median amount owed by young households still represented a 28.7 percent increase over the $10,417 figure owed in 2001.

Millennial households with college-degree recipients reported median debt of $114,504, about 63 percent of all debt for their generation. Households led by young people with some college had a median debt of $25,088, about 19 percent of the total. High-school graduates owed a median of $18,259, or 16 percent. People without a high school diploma reported median debt of $6,396, or 2 percent of the generation’s total.