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Millennials are Spending Half of Their Paychecks to Pay Down Debt

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) Student loan debt has been the headline for years as young Americans have struggled to make ends meet. And while the burden of paying for college is undeniable, it's not the primary reason over half (56%) of Millennials are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Credit cards are, in fact, the culprit.

More than four in ten (42%) of adults aged 22 to 33 say debt is their biggest financial concern in fact, many characterize it as "overwhelming." But surprisingly, the oft-cited weight of student loans is the third most pressing debt they face. Gen-Y says their debt load averages 16% as credit card debt, 15% mortgage debt, 12% student loan debt, 9% auto debt and 5% medical debt. All in all, 47% of Millennials are spending half of their paychecks just to pay down these debts, according to a Harris Poll fielded on behalf of Wells Fargo.

Perhaps motivated to help others forego the hardships they've encountered, when asked what advice they would offer to someone just starting out, most Millennial respondents said, "Don't spend more than you earn" (33%), followed by "Get educated about your personal finances" (17%), and "Start saving for retirement now" (16%).

And when it comes to seeking advice, most turn to "family" (57%) for trusted financial guidance, followed by "financial institutions" (54%) and "personal finance experts/personalities" (50%).

Having survived the Great Recession, most (80%) say it taught them to save "now" in order to weather future financial difficulties. About half of all Millennials say they are "satisfied" with their current savings rate, yet 45% are not saving for retirement.

"The silver lining of the recession that started over five years ago is that a majority of Millennials get that saving is a necessity and even equate it with 'surviving' tough times," said Karen Wimbish, director of Retail Retirement at Wells Fargo.

Known for a sense of optimism, three-quarters of Gen-Y say they are confident they will be able to address any financial problems they may encounter in the next ten years. Nearly three-quarters (72%) feel they will be able to save enough money to create the lifestyle they want in the future. Of those who have started saving, almost half (46%) are saving between 1-5% of their income for retirement; 31% are saving 6-10%; 18% are saving more than 10%. Of the four in ten Millennials who are not yet setting aside funds for the future, 84% say they are not doing so because they "do not have enough money to save right now."

Most Millennials (69%) say they feel better off financially than others of their generation. Plus, 68% expect their standard of living before retirement to be better than their parents.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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