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How You Pay Your Bills May Depend on Your Genes

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Financial behavior in an era of changing technology and uneven economic fortunes covers a wide spectrum in the United States. Smartphone payments are dominated by high-income earners, while in-person bill payments are used mostly by lower-income Americans. Plus, the higher your education level the more likely you are to pay your bills online.

Those are just a few takeaways on the bill-payment habits of Americans from a recent report by New York City-based market intelligence research firm Packaged Facts, which released a report showing that certain demographic factors affect how Americans pay all of those bills.

A report suggests that demographic factors dictate the methods Americans choose to pay their bills.

For example, the report notes that in high-income U.S. households, debt payments are significantly more likely to be paid via online bill payment. Those households are also slightly more likely to use Visa (V) than MasterCard (MA) for their credit accounts. Here are some other takeaways from the Packaged Facts report:

  • Consumers who didn't graduate from high school are more likely to pay their bills in person, suggesting that many may not even have credit cards, or that this demographic is waiting until the very last minute to pay the bills.
  • Americans with graduate degrees are most likely to use online bill pay, implying a trust in technology and a high comfort level using computers and smartphones to pay bills.
  • Packaged Facts says that Hispanic-Americans are most likely to pay their bills in person, while Asian-Americans are most likely to pay their bills online.
  • Only 37% of "millennials" have a credit card, compared with 62% of baby boomers. That might be a reflection of the difficulty younger Americans are experiencing with their finances in this tough economy.

The data come during a time when Americans are once again piling up the consumer debt after a few years of forced austerity. According to the Federal Reserve, total U.S. consumer debt rose 7.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011, which took total consumer debt up to $2.5 trillion -- a $19 billion rise in the fourth quarter alone, the Fed reports. Here are some other details of the Fed report:

  • Credit card debt rose 4.5%, to $801 billion, in the fourth quarter of 2011.
  • Auto sales fueled a 9% rise in noncredit-card spending -- to almost $1.7 trillion for the quarter.
  • Despite the increase in debt, consumers are doing a good job of keeping up with payments. The Fed reports that credit card write-offs by banks and card issuers were down 32% for 2011.

Thus, the story at the start of 2012 is one of Americans accumulating more debt, but using different payment channels to pay off their bills. No matter what your income or education level, the most important strategy to pay down your debt is simply the strategy that works for you.

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