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- Though many millennials are unprepared for their own retirement and homeownership expectations, some are making good decisions with their money, an INSIDER and Morning Consult survey found.
- About 32% of millennial respondents said they had zero credit-card debt, while about 36% of those who do have debt said they had less than $5,000.
- And millennials who save for retirement put more of their monthly income toward that than any other generation.
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Millennials as a group may be delusional about the future, but some are making good decisions with their money today.
Generally, many millennials have little to no credit-card debt, put a portion of their income toward retirement, and have a savings account, an INSIDER and Morning Consult survey found.
Of the 4,400 Americans polled, 1,207 identified as millennials, defined as ages 22 to 37 (237 respondents did not select a generation). The margin of error was plus or minus 1 percentage point.
Here are a few of the ways millennials are smart with their money, according to responses to our survey:
1. They have a savings account.
About 69% of millennials said they had a savings account, compared with 65% of Gen Xers, the survey found.
But while the existence of a savings account is inherently positive, it’s nothing without consistent contributions. A whopping 58% of millennials said they had under $5,000 in a savings account, about 19% had between $5,000 and $15,000, and 11% had between $15,000 and $50,000.
Many financial planners recommend a high-yield savings account over a traditional savings account for an emergency fund or other short-term need. The best high-yield online savings accounts are offering an annual percentage yield between 2% and 2.5%, and many have no fees and low minimum deposits.
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2. They have little to no credit-card debt.
Millennials seem to know that keeping a balance on their credit cards isn’t going to make for a good credit score. About 32% said they had no credit-card debt at all – a greater share than Gen Xers (28%). Of the millennials who do have debt, a plurality (36%) said they had under $5,000.
It might make sense that Gen Xers, who are older and presumably have more expenses, would be more likely to have credit-card debt, but in this survey the oldest millennials were 37 – and people’s 30s tend to come with houses, kids, pets, and expenses that are no longer limited to Gen X.
Two smart strategies to pay off credit-card debt, according to financial planners, are the “debt snowball,” which prioritizes paying off the smallest debts first, and the “debt avalanche,” which prioritizes paying off the highest-interest debt first. Either method is effective, so the best approach may be to pick the one you can commit to.
3. They would use a $1,000 windfall to pay off debt or save.
Given an extra $1,000 cash, 27% of millennials (a plurality) said they would choose to pay off debt, while 22% said they would save the windfall, the survey found. Only 6% said they would put it toward travel or shopping.
This is good instinct, as financial planners typically suggest stamping out debt with high interest rates first and foremost, even before saving for retirement or another financial goal. Carrying a balance on a credit card can erode your credit score, and fees and high interest rates can continually add to the overall debt load.
In the survey, the millennials who indicated they wouldn’t use the windfall to pay off debt or save said it would go toward outstanding bills (17%), necessities (12%), or an investment (9%).
4. They put more of their income toward retirement than Gen Xers.
Even though 52% of millennials said they didn’t have a retirement savings account, the ones who do are serious savers.
In the survey, nearly 16% of millennials said they set aside 11% to 20% of their income for retirement – more than any other generation. About 5% of millennials, the same share as Gen X, said they save more than 20% of their income for retirement.
A plurality (33%) said they put away between 1% and 10% of their income for retirement, which is a fine place to start. Experts recommend increasing savings rates annually or every time you get a raise.
One of the easiest ways to build wealth is through automatic and consistent contributions, starting with a retirement account. The contributions to a 401(k) or IRA are pretax, so the money will be taken out of your paycheck before it even hits your bank account. Many employers will match contributions up to a certain percentage or dollar amount. It’s basically free money, but you won’t get any of it unless you’re already contributing something on your own.
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