Become Debt-Free

Millennials with debt feel more confident—and 40% expect to wipe out their balances in less than 5 years

JGI | Jamie Grill

About 40% of millennials with some type of debt believe they'll be able to wipe out their balances within the next five years. Of those, one in 10 expect to pay off their debt in under a year.

Additionally, only 7% of millennials (defined here as those 24 to 39) expect to die in debt, according to a poll of over 2,600 U.S. adults conducted by YouGov on behalf of CreditCards.com. That's significantly lower than the 20% of millennials who believed they'd never pay off their debts in the 2018 survey.

Positive economic trends are a big contributor to Americans' newfound confidence about their debt levels, says Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com. "Stocks hit numerous record highs this past year, we recently hit the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years and we've enjoyed more than a decade of sustained economic growth," he says.

Most millennials are carrying some type of debt

Still, a majority of millennials, about 70%, do have some kind of outstanding balance. That's especially concerning for those who carry high interest credit card balances, which is the most common type of debt among both millennials and Americans overall.

That's in sync with Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study, which found credit card debt, not student loans, is the leading source of debt among millennials.

Overall, Northwestern Mutual found millennials have racked up an average of $27,900 in personal debt, excluding mortgages. The findings are based on a survey conducted by The Harris Poll of over 2,000 U.S. adults.

"I'm still concerned about credit card debt," Rossman says, noting that the average credit card interest rate is over 17%. "That's about four times higher than the average mortgage or auto loan. If you have credit card debt, knocking that out should be your top financial priority," he says.

For some, that's easier said than done — becoming debt-free can be difficult. "Even lower levels of debt can be a struggle to pay off for millennials struggling to find room in a budget dominated by record levels of health care, housing and childcare costs," says Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez, a millennial money author.

Juggling higher costs of living while paying down debt hits millennials, who have lower incomes than prior generations did at the same age, particularly hard. A recent report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank New America predicts that millennials will not replicate the financial success of their parents or grandparents. The average millennial today has 41% less wealth than those who were at a similar age in 1989, according to the report.

Make debt-free a reality

However, becoming debt-free can be done. The first step toward making headway on your debt: Take inventory. A full 34% of Americans don't know how much of their monthly income is going toward debt, according to Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study.

"Tracking and engaging with your money, no matter what age you are, is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for financial success," O'Connell Rodriguez says.

From there, start with simple steps and work your way up to completely paying off your debt. Come up with a plan to pay it down and set up a budget that works with your strategy. You can use either the so-called "avalanche method," where you start by paying off the debt with the highest interest rate, or the "snowball method," where you start with the smallest balance, pay it off, and then work your way toward tackling the biggest debts.

Don't forget that even though you're paying down debt, you should also put some money aside in savings each month, if possible. Having a savings cushion of three to six months' worth of living expenses will help you out in an emergency, such as a car or home repair, so you don't end up adding more money to your credit card balance.

Don't miss: Millennials have an average of $28,000 in debt—and the biggest source isn't student loans

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