A lot has been written about the student loan debt that millennials carry. But Washington Post staffer Ylan Q. Mui, armed with data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, says that millennials actually carry less overall debt than borrowers in their late 20s did in 2003.
It is true that student loan debt has ballooned since 2003. Back then, borrowers in their late 20s held about $5,000 in student debt on average, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In 2015, those loans averaged about $11,000.
But at the same time, young people lowered their holdings of every other major type of debt: credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and home equity loans. The result, according to the New York Fed, is that millennials have less debt overall now than they did in 2003.
In fact, Mui writes that the New York Fed's report indicates the real increase in debt has occurred in older generations.
The New York Fed calls this trend “the graying of American debt.” Part of the shift is simply due to an aging population. Baby boomers are now reaching retirement age, which means that there are simply more older people. Those who took advantage of the lax lending standards in place during the early and mid-2000s are still carrying that debt with them.
In addition, many of these older borrowers -- who can boast long credit histories -- were more likely to qualify for new loans as underwriting standards tightened following the 2008 financial crisis. For young borrowers, the reverse occurred. Saddled with growing piles of student debt, they either did not qualify for or did not apply for other types of loans.