Millennials have their worries all right.
Not surprisingly for a generation burdened by student debt, the number one concerning personal matter for 65% of them is their current financial situation — with a quarter listing paying down debt as their highest financial priority.
"Many of the high income earning Millennials I work with have substantial student debt," Emory Smith, principal at EJS Financial Management in Phoenix. "Instead of contributing to higher interest bearing, long-term savings, many prefer the psychological benefit of reduced debt. 'Drowning in debt' is a very real concern for many Millennials, even those with substantial incomes."
In fact, the research bears out that Millennials do not view saving for retirement as an immediate priority. While 25% said they are worried about their ability to afford to retire, only 10% named saving for retirement their top priority. Some 37% indicated that retirement is simply too far off and that they have more immediate priorities. In addition, 22% of respondents said they would rather pay off their accumulated debts first before starting to save for retirement.
"I can't overemphasize the role that the 2008 financial crisis played in shaping our views on investing," said Michelle Waymire, a financial advisor at The Nalls Sherbakoff Group in Atlanta. "So many Millennials distrust the stock market, at the same time knowing that we should be saving for retirement. This results in a pervasive feeling of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, so you see fairly high savings rates, but with money sitting in cash investments."
Matt Topley, chief investment officer at Fortis Wealth in Philadelphia, said trying to pay off debt and not actively investing is no surprise. But Millennials' debt issue may not be as bad as they think.
"Regarding student debt, underneath the daunting $1 trillion total number is a much more manageable stat — two thirds of student loans are smaller than $25,000," Topley said. "What's more, the average monthly payment on a $25,000 student loan is a very manageable $280. Even more salient is the fact that 85 percent of student borrowers owe less than $50,000 on their loans."
Topley adds the current unemployment rate for college graduates is a stunning 2.5%.
"Student loans seem overwhelming early in Millennials' careers, but the amount will shrink as wages grow," he adds. "The biggest impact of student loans is that it causes delayed home buying — young couples are putting off buying their first homes into their early to mid-30s."
Millennials will have money sooner or later, and several different sources point to the fact that Millennials' appetite to invest money is growing, albeit from a low base, said Amanda Young, head of responsible investment at Standard Life Investments. The main reason Millennials have been slow to invest is they do not have money just yet.
"Over the next few decades, around $30 trillion in financial and non-financial assets will be passed from the Baby Boomer generation to Millennials in the U.S. alone," Young said. "This is a key point, because this money will eventually be invested in one form or another, either in the property market, in building businesses, or on stock markets, and it will flow in a direction dictated by Millennials' principles."
In the end, Millennials may feel they face more financial stress than previous generations, but in reality likely do not.
"Finances are no more a struggle for Millennials than they are for any other generation," Topley said. "The majority of Americans — across all age groups —fail basic financial literacy tests. If anything, we have finally found a characteristic that Millennials share with Gen X and Baby Boomers — they feel tremendous stress over their finances because of their lack of financial literacy."
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