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June 27, 2016
Biz Money

Credit cards: Are they what they used to be?

Flashing a platinum or gold credit card used to be a status symbol, but a recent Money Pulse survey by Bankrate.com found the times are changing, especially among younger generations.

Only 33% of millennials own a credit card. That's a smaller percentage than any other generational group, the survey found. It's partly a hangover from the great recession, after which many young adults remained wary about using credit cards and accumulating debt, according to the survey.

"Millennials are clearly falling short in terms of credit card usage compared to their elders," Mike Cetera, Bankrate.com's personal loans and credit analyst, said in a prepared statement when the survey was released in mid-June. "A credit card shouldn't be seen as taboo." He added that used correctly, a credit card can give points and rewards, as well as help establish a healthy credit score that could help the holder get a lease or mortgage in the future.

But that message may be a hard sell to the millennial generation.

Kristian Rivera, 25, a digital marketing specialist in New York City, told Cetera in the survey's announcement that he's never owned nor has ever wanted a credit card. "It wasn't really a decision that I made, but growing up I was warned of the risks of having a credit card and advised to put off getting one as long as possible."

Revolving debt, made up mostly of credit card debt, spiked to $1.02 trillion, its highest level ever, in July 2008 during the recession and then fell over the next few years as cardholders paid down their cards or issuers wrote off bad debts.

The study showed that credit card use increased with age, with 68% of those 65 and older confirming they used a credit card, while 62% of those aged 50 to 64 used cards and 55% of those aged 30 to 49 did.

The report was conducted among 1,002 adults in the continental United States by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Bankrate publishes, aggregates and distributes personal financial content on the internet.

But it's not just millennials shunning credit cards. Others include those with an annual income under $30,000 and those who haven't attended college. Many African American and Hispanic consumers have also shunned credit cards, the study found. Some 72% of people making less than $30,000 per year don't own a credit card compared to 18% making over $75,000 who don't have a card. And 63% of people with a high school degree or less don't use credit cards, compared to only 17% of college graduates.

Alternately, big users of credit cards are baby boomers, college graduates, adults whose annual income tops $75,000 and Republicans. The study found that 71% of Republicans own credit cards, while 59% of Democrats do.

Millennials may be holding themselves back from home or car ownership, however, because it is more difficult to get loans without a strong credit history, the report quoted Kent Thune, president of Atlantic Investments of Hilton Head Island, S.C., as saying.

Absent a credit card, it also may be difficult to get a cellphone contract or rent a car, according to credit agency Experian's director of public education, Rod Griffin. "Credit is a financial tool; debt is a financial problem."

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