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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Here's What Young Adults Don't Understand About Money

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In the decade since the onset of the financial crisis, young American adults’ attitudes about their personal financial future have shifted dramatically, from very concerned in 2009 to much more confident today, Charles Schwab reported Monday.

The firm’s research showed that four in five young adults 16 to 25 saw their parents undergo financial hardship, but three in four believe they will have a better financial future than their parents. Despite their optimism, they appear unprepared for the realities of achieving financial success.

“Kids of the Great Recession are now on the cusp of financial independence and making decisions that will have a lasting impact on their long-term ability to build wealth,” Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of Charles Schwab Foundation and senior vice president of Charles Schwab & Co., said in a statement. “The good news is we’re seeing a lot of optimism, and we have an opportunity to harness that optimism by setting them on a course toward lifelong financial success.”

Logica Research (formerly known as Koski Research) conducted the online survey from June 12 to June 20 among 2,000 Americans ages 16 to 20 (Gen Z) and 21 to 25 (young millennials).

The survey found that on average, young adults expected to retire at age 60, seven years earlier than full Social Security benefit eligibility for their age bracket. (It’s worth noting that many Americans, even those who plan to work longer, end up retiring before full retirement age.)

In addition, 53% of respondents believed their parents would leave them an inheritance, versus the average 21% of people who actually received an inheritance between 1989 and 2007.

This optimism may be leading young adults to bad money habits: accruing significant debt without meaningfully increasing savings, Schwab suggested.

According to the research, young millennials on average have 169% more debt than their Gen Z counterparts, yet they have saved just 15% more. Thirty-three percent of respondents reported they had skipped a meal because they did not have enough money.

Interested in Learning

More than two-thirds of survey respondents said their parents were good financial role models, and four in 10 considered them their most trusted source of financial advice, compared with a bank, online resources and friends.

Young adults in the study also showed strong interest in learning how to manage their money:

  • How to make enough money to reach their financial goals — 71%
  • How to keep financial information secure — 68%
  • How to save enough to be set in retirement — 65%
  • How to manage a budget for necessities — 65%

In addition, 55% said they wanted to learn the difference between good and bad debt. Respondents showed lots of confusion about debt, in particular the difference between the good and the bad kind.

Only 38% of respondents believed student loans were good debt, and they were undecided whether car loans were good or bad debt.

Eighty-one percent said they wanted to own a home, but only 54% believed that a mortgage is considered good debt.

And 51% reported they currently had some debt, but just 3% said they would pay down that debt if given an extra $1,000.

“We live in an increasingly complex financial world, where our personal responsibility for financial management has increased dramatically, but our basic understanding of our finances has lagged behind,” Schwab-Pomerantz said.

“A key takeaway [from the survey] is that young adults want to learn more about money management, and they’re looking to their parents to teach them these critical skills.”


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