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How ‘mature’ are Millennials about debt?

With age comes debt — that’s what the newest release from PNC Bank’s latest financial independence survey seems to say.

The survey results showed that people aged 25 to 29 have about $35,600 on average in debt, but those aged 20 to 24 have only about $17,100 on average. (Check out the infographic for more fun facts.)

PNC surveyPerhaps it’s a promising change in habit for those younger folks — that’s how PNC financial advisor Cary Guffey portrayed it in a statement from the company.

“Financial maturity in this generation has noticeably shifted,” he said. “Younger millennials just entered adulthood when the economy shifted downward and as a result, it’s clear they’ve become more cautious by avoiding debt.”

That seems plausible, but then take a look at the numbers a little closer.

The 25-29-year olds were much more likely to owe on a credit card, car or mortgage debt.

Guffey may say that’s because they were less aware of financial woes when they were younger, but it could also just be a matter of time.

“There’s all sorts of things that may be going on for an older 20-something,” said Leah Nichaman, founder and president of Everyday Money Management. “They have these obligations that it’s much harder to walk away from.”

In other words, by the time a person is between the ages of 25 and 29, it’s more likely that they needed to buy a car, had to pay for a costly emergency or decided to invest in a home.

Not to mention, by age 26 these young adults were on their own for health care and may not have had health insurance. Of the 25 to 29-year-olds, 28 percent had medical debt, versus 16 percent of 20 to 24-year-olds.

Generally, a young person’s debt increases as they get older, said Jinhee Kim, Associate Professor & Family Finance Specialist for the University of Maryland Extension, who studies the young adult age group. But she does give some merit to Guffey’s theory.

“There are discussions about the new millennial. They had to go through the recession when they were teenagers,” she said. “They have seen the reductions in income and crisis, so they are more conserving… they may be more careful in terms of managing money.”

That’s not to say that the older set did not observe the economic downturn, but they may have already been out in the real world, accumulating debt and using credit cards before they could see the real impacts.

Credit may also have been more readily available to the 25 to 29-year-old set, said Kim. The older members of this group may have had an easier time securing loans and credit cards out of high school or college.

A more useful set of data, said Kim, would be a comparison of the current financial behaviors of the 20-24 set with the past behaviors of the older millienials. This would be a better illustration of the change in financial attitude, she said, if there is any.

“Generally their age group is more prudent with money management,” she said, but “you have to keep up with that.”