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Savings Account Trumps Investing for Gen Z: TD Ameritrade

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Members of Generation Z, ages 15 to 24, have a lot to worry about: student loan debt, the iffy job market, diminishing retirement benefits.

A new survey released Thursday by TD Ameritrade shows that they’re doing a lot of things right, while still needing shaping in a few areas.

Head Research conducted an online survey on behalf of TD Ameritrade among 1,000 U.S. residents born between 1990 and 1999 (Gen Z) and 500 U.S. residents born between 1977 and 1989 (Gen Y) from April 30 to May 12.

When asked in an open-ended question what their biggest concern with today’s economy was, Gen Z respondents were most likely to say jobs and unemployment.

This was also their biggest worry when surveyed in 2013. However, it dropped to 25% this year from 34%, thanks perhaps to an improving job market.

Gen Z members also expressed concerns about the future. Forty-four percent of respondents feared that Social Security and other similar government retirement programs would be depleted by the time they retired, up from 39% in last year’s survey.

And 44% of those in Gen Z said they worried about having a large student loan balance when they graduated. According to TD Ameritrade, the average student loan debt today stands at $29,000.

So, is college worth it?

Gen Z respondents think so. Seventy-two percent said they had attended, were currently in or planned to attend college, and 53% said they planned to pursue an advanced degree.

In the new survey, 60% of Gen Z members believed that a college education was key to their success, up from 54% in 2013.

In contrast, only 47% of Gen Y respondents saw college as very important. However, among the latter who had attended college, 51% still felt their college education was worth every penny invested.

With the average cost of a four-year degree continuing to rise, 65% of high school-aged Gen Zers in the survey said they expected to pay tuition with assistance from scholarships and grants.

The reality, however, may be different, researchers pointed out: Only 54% of post-college Gen Zers and 50% of those in Gen Y actually benefited from scholarships and grants.

Financial Lessons

Fifty-one percent of Gen Z members in the survey reported that their parents were their chief resource for learning about finances. Eighty-four percent said their parents had discussed the importance of saving, on average, by age 14.

These financial lessons seem to be taking hold, according to the survey:

  • 57% of those in Gen Z felt that saving was very important at this point in their lives, up from 50% in 2013
  • 90% of respondents said that if they were handed $500, they would save at least some of it
  • 36% said they had a budget and followed it, up from 27% in 2013

“Talking to your child about money can be a difficult discussion,” Nicole Sherrod, managing director at TD Ameritrade, said in a statement.

“However, we’ve seen from our previous research that children who had parents who spoke to them at an early age about fiscal responsibility are more likely to better understand the importance of saving and have good budgeting habits. It’s never too early to start having discussions with your children about money.”

The survey showed that members of Gen Z still needed some guidance. It found, for instance, that credit card debt appeared to increase with age.

The average debt for college-age Gen Zers was $559, increasing to $975 for post-college-age Gen Zers and shooting up to $1,946 for their counterparts in Gen Y.

Worse, 43% of Gen Z members surveyed in 2014 said they had paid off their credit card bills monthly, compared with 59% of respondents in 2013.

Life After College

Forty-nine percent of Gen Z respondents said they had moved out or planned to be out of the house by age 20, while only 40% of those in Gen Y said they had moved out by that age.

Those in Gen Z said they would be embarrassed to still be living at home with their parents at age 28. In contrast, Gen Y respondents said they wouldn’t be embarrassed until age 31, on average, and 17% said they wouldn’t blush until age 40 or even older.

Whenever they leave home, Gen Z respondents said they wanted to find a job that inspired them. Indeed, 74% said feeling inspired by their work was more important or equal to the salary they earned.

Fifty-nine percent said they were looking for a job that allowed them to make a positive contribution to society. And 36% said they would prefer to be self-employed/entrepreneur, rather than traditionally employed.

Whatever the future may hold, most Gen Zers in the survey said they planned to start a job, buy a car, pay off student debt, get married, buy a home — and only then begin to save for retirement.

On average, they thought the right age to start saving for retirement was 27.

As to how to go about this, just 17% believed that the best way to plan for retirement was to invest in the stock market, up from 11% a year ago. Forty-seven percent thought that a savings account was the best way to prepare for retirement.

Check out 8 Back-to-School Planning Tips for Advisors (and Their Clients) on ThinkAdvisor.