Think student loans are millennials’ biggest problem? Think again

Study after study has highlighted the problem of growing student loan debt in America and its specific burden on people in their 20s and 30s. The majority of recent college graduates are coming out of school with thousands of dollars in debt, but student loans are only part of young Americans’ financial obstacles. In fact, credit card debt is just as common as student loan debt, according to a survey from Experian Consumer Services.

Experian surveyed more than 1,000 millennials (for this survey’s purposes, millennials were defined as age 19 to 34), and asked them about a variety of personal finance topics. The national online survey occurred from Aug. 14-19 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The average millennial has $52,210 of debt (including mortgages), but that figure falls to $26,485 if you exclude home loans. A lot of that probably comes in the form of education debt, because 36% of those surveyed said they had outstanding student loans, but credit card debt is just about as common. Thirty-eight percent of millennials have credit card debt, putting the difference between credit card debt and student loan debt within the margin of error, but it’s still noteworthy that millennials are just as likely to be dealing with student loan payments as they are with credit card debt.

After student loan and credit card debt, auto loans were the most common (28% have them), followed by home loans (20%), personal loans (17%) and “other” (14%).

The trouble with credit card debt is how easy it can be to add to it. Interest rates can be high on credit cards, compared to something like a personal loan, and there’s often a temptation to spend beyond your means because you can put off paying in full by making just the minimum payments. Allowing your credit card balances to continue growing not only costs a lot in interest, it can hurt your credit score. To see how your debt affects your credit, you can get a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.

No matter what kind of debt you may have, it’s crucial you make payments on time because your payment history has the greatest impact on your credit scores. It also helps to think ahead about how quickly you want to get out of debt and use that goal to determine your debt payoff plan. There are lots of tools out there to help you with the math, like this credit card payoff calculator. You may also want to consider getting a balance transfer credit card to give yourself a debt-payoff timeline that also helps you minimize how much you pay in interest. For example, the Chase Slate (reviewed here), offers a 0% APR for 15 months on balance transfers and new purchases, which can give you over a year to work on paying down balances. The most important thing is to get started.

At publishing time, the Chase Slate is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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