Millennials have quite a reputation for making bad decisions. They’re often perceived as entitled, narcissistic, spoiled, and lazy. And to add to that list, most millennials also have bad credit scores. According to credit reporting agency, TransUnion, 43% of borrowers ages 18 to 36 have a credit score of 600 or below, based on the 300 to 850 VantageScore scale.*
Why are millennials struggling to maintain a decent credit score? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why almost all the 75.4 million Millennials have bad credit. The best way to explain it is by examining the two largest categories of Millennials. They’re complete opposites in almost everything – except their bad credit scores. Most millennials can be grouped into two different genres when it comes to finances: The “I Want It Now” Millennials and the Minimalist Millennials.
The “I Want It Now” Millennials grew up with parents who were raised in the depression era and wanted to give their kids everything they didn’t have while growing up. So, it’s often hard for millennials to give up that luxurious lifestyle when they move out. Therefore, they rent lavish apartments and purchase expensive furniture to maintain the lifestyle they’re accompanied to. The “I Want It Now” Millennials grew up in a technological world with instant gratification. It’s hard for them to wait and earn whatever they want. They want it now.
TransUnion reported that millennials use 79% of the credit available to them, that is the highest rate of all the generations. This statistic doesn’t simply include how much people owe on credit cards, it also includes installment loans.
The “I Want It Now” Millennials never saw their parents struggle financially when they were young. They simply see their parents’ comfortable lifestyle now and think, “I want that in my place.” They purchase everything with a credit card and plan on paying for it later. Their lifestyle doesn’t match their income and the bills continue to pile up. But their apartments look fabulous! So, it’s worth it, right???
The Minimalist Millennials are more cautious about their finances. They’ve seen their parents’ financial troubles, especially during the housing market crash and the Great Recession, and are determined to never be in that situation. They’ve also observed the “I Want It Now” Millennials and want nothing to do with that stereotype. Therefore, they’ve opted for a complete opposite lifestyle. They’re not attached to items like the “I Want It Now” Millennials and they’d rather save their money than spend it. They live in tiny apartments and constantly undergo self-imposed shopping bans and decluttering phases.
According to the 2015 Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress Study, 64% of millennials say they’re more inclined to save rather than spend.
Because Minimalist Millennials aren’t attached to stuff, they spend less money and prefer to pay everything with cash or debit cards. Some don’t even have a credit card. About one-third of millennials have never even applied for a credit card, according to NerdWallet.
An April 2014 Gallup poll revealed that Americans’ reliance on credit cards, in general, has declined steadily since the Great Recession. These millennials, in particular, are less interested in credit cards. Sixty-three percent of millennials don’t even have a credit card, according to a survey compiled by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.
While this frugal group of millennials are more financially stable, they have as bad or worse credit scores than the “I Want It Now” Millennials. They buy everything with cash or debit card to avoid any debt. But, in doing so, many don’t even have a credit score – which could hurt them if they ever find themselves in financial trouble. What these millennials don’t realize is that you need credit to build credit.
A study performed by LendEDU, a website that provides information for student loan refinancing, found that “millennials’ knowledge of credit cards is lacking” and “very concerning.” When it comes to credit cards, millennials either spend way too much or not nearly enough. Finding a good middle ground can go a long way to helping both millennial genres.
So, what can millennials do to improve their credit scores without sacrificing the lifestyle they’ve chosen?
Low Credit Utilization: To improve a poor credit score, start by lowering the amount of debt you owe. The maximum debt utilization you should have is 30% or less. So, if you have a credit limit of $10,000, you should avoid owing more than $3,000. Eliminating debt can go a long way towards helping millennials improve their credit score.
On-Time Rent Payments: Even millennials who choose to not to have credit cards can improve their credit score if they report their on-time rent payments to credit bureaus. However, according to a FICO spokesperson, less than 1% of credit files contain rental entries. Yet, all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – include rent payment information in credit reports when they receive it. Contact your property manager to see if they can report your rent payments to credit bureaus. Or have them contact RentPlus to learn more about how to offer this service.
Pay Off Credit Card Balances Each Month: Only 40% of millennials who have credit cards pay off their balances in full each month. Additionally, millennials are more likely to miss payments completely, according to the Bankrate August 2014 Financial Security Index. Having a low credit utilization will help improve your credit score, but paying it off each month will help you to continuously build your credit score.
Having a poor or subprime credit score has negatively affected the millennial generation. Low credit scores make it harder to qualify for loans or credit cards, or even lease an apartment. A low credit score can hurt your job prospects, cause higher interest rates, or even negatively affect your car insurance.
Millennials are smart, educated people who are trying to do their best to survive in this world. Let’s stop criticizing them for their bad decisions and try to help them get a leg up in the world. Educating millennials about the importance of a good credit score and how to effectively build it will help them find that middle ground. We can teach the “I Want It Now” Millennials how to pay off their debt and live within their means and teach the Minimalist Millennials how to build their credit score without going into debt.
For any millennial who’d like to learn more about how to manage your finances and create a budget, check out RentPlusMoney. And, for any millennial who’d like to learn time-proven personal financial principles, check out FinStrong.
* A VantageScore differs from a FICO score as it ranges, lowest to highest, from subprime, near prime, low prime, high prime, to super prime.