To the Millennial generation, plastic isn't so fantastic.
Young American consumers are turning away from debt-inducing credit cards and toward mobile payments. And they're doing so in large numbers.
According to data from TabbedOut, a phone payment developer based in Austin, Texas, 70% of Millennials have used a form of mobile payment. There are myriad reasons why younger consumers are avoiding credit cards, experts say.
"The Young American generation graduated from high school and college in the midst of one of the worst financial crises in our nation's history," notes Jake Rivas, a financial adviser with San Francisco-based iFinancial and a Millennial himself. "Instead of viewing debt as a tool to be used for financial success, they are fleeing from it."
A big piece of the fear of debt is high student loan debt, Rivas adds. "My generation has become the most indebted generation when it comes to student loans," he explains. "Combine high student loan balances with fear of another financial crisis -- it's safe to say that reducing our debt levels is our No. 1 priority."
Rivas believes that older Americans will continue to flash the plastic. "Older Americans will continue to leverage the use of credit cards," he says. "While we experienced a period of debt reduction amongst the older generation, post-recession, we have seen an increase in their consumer debt levels."
Younger consumers do, however, use prepaid debit cards.
"Millennials represent 45% of all prepaid debit cards," says K. Alexander Ashe, CEO of Spendology, in Washington, D.C. "It's really significant that the percentage of Millennials embracing prepaid debit cards is so high. It signals a rejection of conventional fee-for-service banking. Prepaid debit cards give Millennials more control, lower costs and higher certainty of expected costs."
For many young financial consumers, getting credit is more difficult in a post-recession economy.
"Many younger people haven't had an opportunity to get into credit as changes in underwriting from 2008 and the CARD Act have made it harder to get your first card," says Matthew Goldman, CEO of Wallaby Financial, in Pasadena, Calif. "However, as they wish to get auto loans and mortgages, having a credit card to help build your credit history will be more important. As millenials grow older, I expect them to acquire more credit cards."
Others expect younger Americans to respond favorably to mobile payment technologies that offer credit card-like perks, deals and rewards.
"With the growth of mobile payment apps, it's increasingly unnecessary to use cash or even credit to make purchases online or in stores, so it makes sense that younger generations will simplify by carrying only one payment method: their phones," says Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor with DealNews.
"For the moment, that means missing out on the various perks of credit cards, not to mention being able to charge things to credit," he adds. "But that will likely change as providers seek to incentivize the growing number of users of mobile payment systems. In fact, one of providers' big selling points is that all the individualized consumer spending data will lead to better targeted perks and deals."
When that happens, expect even more Millennials to shift away from credit cards. Call it a sign of the times, but when it comes to plastic, younger Americans are increasingly indifferent.