NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Here's a cheery seasonal thought: Some Americans' holiday debt is never going away.

That's not us or some credit agency talking: That's how citizens assess the situation themselves. Roughly one in five Americans carrying some debt (18%) think they will never get out of it, according to a CreditCards.com report. That’s double the 9% who gave that response when CreditCards.com asked the same question in May 2013.

Even when Americans think they'll be able to shake debt, it's not until they've amassed more gray hairs than creditors. On average, Americans expect to be debt free by age 53. The definition of debt free includes credit card debt, car loans, student loans and other types of debt, but also includes mortgages — which skews that number a bit for folks carrying a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. But 43% of those with debt expect to remain in debt at age 61 or later, including the 18% who predict they will still owe money when they die.

Fewer than one in four Americans with debt expect to be debt free at age 40 or earlier.


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If you're accumulating debt anyway, why not pile up some more, right? More than a third of Americans (38%) have added debt this holiday season. There's a big difference between amassing a hefty credit card bill for December or saddling yourself with years of car and housing payments, though. A full 55% of survey respondents say they'll shed their holiday debt within one month, and 74% expect their holiday debt won't be around for more than three months. Just 5% say they will still be paying their holiday debt a year from now. It helps that 44% of people between the ages of 50 and 64 have accumulated holiday debt, more than any other age group. Also, households with annual income of $75,000 or greater were the most likely to take on holiday debt.

Surprisingly, millennials who've been disproportionately affected by post-recession unemployment and stagnant wages say they still believe they'll be debt free someday. Only 6% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they will never get out of debt, compared with 31% of debtors age 65 and older and 22% between the ages of 50 and 64.

For a generation that doesn't trust banks and is completely averse to investment risk, it's not out of the question that a hard-earned frugality might save its members in the end. But a survey by loan marketplace LendingTree found a few obstacles between millennials and solvency.

For example, 21.2% of millennials said they do not know their current credit score, and another 11% said they have never even checked their credit score. It's tough to move into a new home when you keep tripping over the simplest first step. Also, the LendingTree survey notes 4.8% of millennials have less than $5,000 in savings, short of the three to six months of living expenses that financial institutions advise. Roughly 9.5% of millennials stated that they do not have or maintain a savings account.

“It’s easy to feel paralyzed when you’re overloaded with debt and feel like you’ll never get out, but the worst thing you can do is nothing,” said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst. “It’s incredibly important to make moves to begin knocking down those debts before they truly do grow out of control.”

CreditCards.com suggests putting spending in check by tracking everything you spend, creating a realistic budget and sticking to it. Cardholders can also try negotiate lower interest rates on credit cards or even transfer balances to a low-interest card, which can save hundreds to thousands of dollars as they pay down debt. A credit counselor can also help you free up money to pay back creditors.

If a generation saddled with crushing student loan debt believes it can live debt free, why shouldn't you?

— By Jason Notte for MainStreet

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