The average millennial (aged 18 to 34) had about $32,000 in personal debt, excluding home mortgages, last year, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study. That debt can feel both crushing — and endless.
Just over 60 percent of millennials (classified here as those aged 18-37) with debt don’t know when, or if, they’ll ever be able to pay off what they owe, according to a new CreditCards.com report. That includes roughly 42 percent of millennials who don’t know when they’ll be able to wipe out their debt, and almost 20 percent of those who expect to die in debt.
There are some bright spots in the data: Among those aged 18 to 30 with credit card debt specifically, 79 percent say they have a plan to wipe it out. On average, they expect to be debt-free by age 43, CreditCards.com finds.
Still, a lot of young people are feeling trapped. A lot of older people, too: Over 35 percent of those over age 73 predict that they’ll never pay off their debt.
Debt doesn’t have to be a life sentence, says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. Though it may require some hard work and planning, he says, “Everybody can get out of debt.”
It can help to make a plan. After picking up several freelance jobs in 2018 and limiting his spending to about $2,000 a month — “there were times when I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until I ran out of peanut butter, and then I just ate jelly sandwiches,” he recalls — 34-year-old Dietrich Knauth celebrated his birthday by paying off the last of his $117,000 in student loans.
And 32-year-old Guen Garrido managed to pay off $68,600 in about three years after drawing inspiration from the “snowball method” and YouTube tutorials.
It also helped her to set a target date by which she would have paid off everything she owed. “I think a lot of people think they’re never going to be debt-free, so they don’t even try to get out,” Garrido says. “But once you set a date, you start to think, ‘OK, I can do this,’” she says.