Debt is Biggest Concern for Millennials

Fifty-four percent of millennials said that debt is currently their biggest financial concern, according to a new survey that found young adults struggling in the wake of the Great Recession.

Forty-two percent of millennials said their debt is “overwhelming,” twice the rate of Baby Boomers who were also surveyed for the sake of comparison.

Sixty-one percent of the millennials perceive themselves as “savers,” according to the Wells Fargo survey, with 66 percent of men and 56 percent of women describing themselves as savers. Forty-nine percent of millennials say they are saving for retirement (54 percent of men and 43 percent of women), and 51 percent say they have not begun to save but plan to by a median age of 30.

The survey was conducted by Market Probe on behalf of Wells Fargo Retirement. Survey respondents included 1,414 millennials between the ages of 22 and 32 from the Ypulse, Inc. online panel, and 1,009 Baby Boomers between the ages of 48 and 66 from the Research Now online panel. The research was conducted between Feb. 6 and 15, 2013.

Of the 51 percent of millennials who are not yet saving, 53 percent say they are “overwhelmed,” and this is slightly more pressing for women (55 percent) than for men (51 percent). When asked what barriers are preventing them from saving, 87 percent of millennials said they don’t have “enough money to start saving” or they want to pay down debt first (81 percent).

“I am glad to see about half already saving for retirement, but we’re also seeing that half of this generation has not started to save and is putting it off until the 30s,” said Karen Wimbish, director of Retail Retirement at Wells Fargo, in a statement. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for this generation to start saving now. The benefits of starting young can’t be recreated later.”

Paying off student loan debt is the top concern of millennials. More than half of millennials (64 percent) said they financed school through student loans, compared with only 29 percent of boomers who financed through loans. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, total student debt outstanding is over $1 trillion at the end of 2012. Other ways that millennials said they paid for school was through grants and scholarships (59 percent) and working while attending school (46 percent). About half of millennials (49 percent) said if they had $10,000, the “first thing” they would do is pay down student loan or credit card debt.

Of the 49 percent who have begun to save for retirement, when asked what was their biggest trigger to start saving for retirement, one in three millennials (34 percent) said “they realized that starting early can result in a bigger nest egg down the road,” and more than a quarter of millennials (29 percent) indicated that the presence of a work place retirement plan was the motivation.

For the subset of millennials with various retirement savings vehicles, 72 percent said they are in employer-sponsored retirement plans, 40 percent in an IRA and 33 percent in a bank savings account. Of those millennials that have accumulated retirement savings and are currently saving, almost half (47 percent) are saving between 1-5 percent of their income for retirement; 31 percent are saving 6-10 percent; 14 percent are saving more than 10 percent and 8 percent are no longer saving.

More than half of millennials (52 percent) say they are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” in the stock market as a place to invest for retirement. This is particularly true for millennial women of whom 67 percent are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” in the market versus millennial men (38 percent). For those saving for retirement, 32 percent of millennials are “not sure” how much of their savings are invested in stocks or mutual funds. Nearly one in five (18 percent) millennials said they are invested 100 percent in stocks or mutual funds, 14 percent said 75 percent stocks/mutual funds, 10 percent said 50 percent stocks/mutual funds, 15 percent said 25 percent stocks/mutual funds and 11 percent said they are all in cash/bonds.

“Millennials say they aren’t confident in the market, but many are already in the stock market,” said Wimbish. “While it is understandable that this generation is wary, millennials have time on their side and a long runway for future growth.”

Self-Confident and Optimistic in the Future
Millennials are confident in their future and 67 percent of millennials believe they will achieve a greater standard of living than their parents. Almost three-fourths (72 percent) of millennials said they feel in control of their future and believe they can achieve their goals. Three in four millennials (77 percent) said that if they lost their job today, they have confidence they could find a comparable one.

When asked about working, three out of four millennials (75 percent) agreed the best way to get ahead financially is to work for a company that offers a career path versus a quarter of millennials (25 percent), who feel the best way to get ahead financially is to “break out on my own and start a business.”

Half of millennials (49 percent) said they are confident in their own abilities to earn and save money for their financial future, and more than a quarter (27 percent) say “time is on my side for my savings/investments to grow.” Seventy percent are “very” or “somewhat confident” that they will be able to save enough to afford the lifestyle that they hope to have in retirement.

“We see a lot of optimism among millennials and a belief in their ability to create a good future. The key for this generation is to put a financial plan into action, so their beliefs become a reality,” Wimbish said.

Despite the millennials’ confidence and self-reliance on their future, they most often turn to family for advice about money. When specifically investing, 36 percent of millennials turn to their parents or other family members as their first source for guidance, followed by a paid professional investment advisor (17 percent) and online sites (15 percent). A majority of millennials (59 percent) said they would be interested in working with a financial advisor, and 57 percent of them would prefer a seasoned advisor with years of experience, over someone who is closer in age and in the same life stage as them. Similar to boomers, millennials prefer face-to-face meetings when establishing financial relationships.

Student Loan Debt vs. the Value of Education
When asked about the cost for a college education and the opportunities a degree provides, two in five millennials (43 percent) rate the value of their education as “a great value” and 45 percent say “somewhat of a value.” About a third of millennials (31 percent) feel they would have been better off working, instead of going to college and paying tuition. Over half (57 percent) disagree with the idea that going to a more expensive and prestigious college always outweighs going to a less expensive school.

Millennials feel it is important to learn about financial literacy in school. A majority of millennials (79 percent) think personal finance should be taught by high schools, 73 percent say it should be taught by colleges and 70 percent feel it should be taught by parents. The top three personal finance topics that millennials “wished” they learned more about in school are: basic investing (70 percent), how to save for retirement (60 percent) and how loans work (59 percent).

Strong Parental Influence
As millennials transition into adulthood, more than half (57 percent) said their parents most influenced them and the way they view money. A majority (78 percent) say they learned “a great deal” or “somewhat” from their parents about personal finance. In fact, parents were top ranked (60 percent) when millennials listed where they are most likely to go for advice when investing their money. While more than half of millennials (61 percent) describe themselves as “savers” when it comes to money, only 46 percent say both their parents were “savers.”

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