Age is a factor in credit card decision making

Age is a factor in credit card decision making. As consumers approach and then pass middle age, they are less likely to know how to deal with credit card debt, a study has found.

According to a new study from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research,consumers make the best decisions when it comes to paying off their credit card debt with a balance transfer from one card to another when they are between the ages of 35 and 44.

The study surveyed consumers in five age groups – 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 64 and over 65 – and asked them how they would reduce credit card debt that they had just transferred from one credit card to another with a low introductory rate. About a third of all respondents immediately provided the best answer, which was to make new purchases on the old card while paying off the debt on the new card.

The age group with the most "immediate eureka moments" was that of the 35- to 44-year-olds, who responded correctly over 40 percent of the time. The next-best group was 25 to 34, who were barely under 40 percent. The group with the fewest immediate correct responses was "over 65," which came in just over 20 percent.

The report said that the corresponding data for those who had "no eureka" exhibited the opposite pattern, with the youngest and oldest age groups exhibiting higher percentages, and troughing with the 35- to 44-year-olds. This, the report said, indicates "that the greatest frequency of confusion occurs among younger and older adults." In all, a little more than a third of all respondents never arrived at the correct conclusion.

The study found that the remaining one-third of respondents come to the correct decision after one or more billing cycles, when they discover they are paying "surprisingly high" interest rates. After these consumers had their "eureka moment," they always changed strategies to the correct one rather than continue on making purchases with their new card.

Consumers should also be aware that credit card issuers often charge a fee for a balance transfer, meaning that consumers should do some number crunching before making such a transaction. Occasionally, the amount they pay for their fee outweighs any subsequent payments toward interest they would have made.