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Turns out, millennials aren't ruining the credit industry

Despite using fewer credit cards on the whole, millennials and gen Z are using plenty of credit. (Gfycat)

This week, in addition to ruining napkins, breakfast cereal, diamonds and casual chain restaurants, millennials were blamed for damaging the credit card industry.

As it turns out, Canadian millennial (and generation Z) borrowers are doing plenty to run up their credit.

TransUnion, one of Canada’s major credit reporting agencies, released a report showing that the youngest group of borrowers are also the ones with the fastest-growing debt problems.

“As consumer debt continues to increase, it’s clear that the youngest generations are playing a critical role in the consumer credit market,” said Matt Fabian, director of research and industry analysis for TransUnion Canada in a press release.

“Millennials are taking on additional balances as they reach significant life events that put pressure on their overall wallet—many of them are now supporting children, purchasing homes and acquiring additional vehicles. These costs may be financed through additional borrowing, so this growth in debt is not surprising.”

Overall non-mortgage debt balances grew 4.3 per cent in 2017, ending the year at an average of $29,312. Millennials saw a yearly increase of 12.6 per cent, and gen Z borrowers’ debt balances grew 22.9 per cent.

Millennials are between the ages of 23 and 38, while gen Z is considered anyone currently 22 or younger. Millennials and gen Z make up 31.6 per cent of the credit market in Canada.

The findings appear to be in contrast with a survey from earlier in the week, which found that only one in three millennials carries a credit card. But it appears millennials are more likely to carry their non-mortgage debt in other ways.

Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada Debt Solutions, says that her staff are increasingly seeing younger adults seeking credit counselling services for cell phone debt, auto loans and pay day loans.

“People don’t recognize that cellphones can be a debt,” said Campbell, citing one of her credit counsellors. “They just think ‘oh I just stopped using it.’ People didn’t know that an unpaid cellphone debt could affect their credit.”

Another counsellor Campbell spoke with said she’s seen a decrease in the number of student loans people are coming to them with, and a lot more millennial and gen Z borrowers with other kind of debt, like auto loans.

“Little thought seems to be put into the car before purchasing, they’re not thinking about car payments, insurance and upkeep,” said Campbell.

Campbell says they’re also hearing of more technologically-savvy younger adults who have taken out loans through one of the online services now available, like easyfinancial or Loan Away. What surprises her is the number of those loans that have been taken out to cover personal shopping, or gambling.

“We have seen increase in personal shopping,” said Campbell. “They’re coming out of university not just with a student loan, but also five credit cards. That’s been the case for the last 10 years.”

Campbell says what ultimately needs to change is the expectations older generations have for how younger ones will learn about money. If their parents are bad with credit, she says, it can’t be expected that the kids will know what to do with it. And society can’t expect children to learn how to manage credit if they aren’t being taught in schools or at home.

“The bottom line is we’re living in a very consumer-driven society, with reality TV,” says Campbell. “Millennials and gen Z have really eaten this stuff up, to the detriment of having realistic expectations for their lifestyle.”

“It’s selling bling, bling and more bling and that’s really impacted a whole generation of people.”

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