Between paying down student loan debt, finding the money to save for retirement and trying to build a credit history, 20-somethings are doing some serious juggling on the financial front. With all those different balls in the air, it’s inevitable that something will slip through the cracks at some point.
Despite being bombarded with advice from financial experts, a new study from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) at the George Washington University and PwC proves that there are huge gaps in the financial knowledge of millennials. (Only 8 percent of millennials, for instance, demonstrate anything close to high financial literacy.) Bottom line, many 20-somethings are making bad choices with their money–spending time on the phone rather than planning smart investments–actions that can affect them well into their 30s and beyond. sorry, hi ou you
MyBankTracker decided to take a look at some of the study’s key findings to pinpoint where it is millennials are going wrong with their finances. If you’re in your 20s and struggling to nail down the basics of money management, we’ve got some tips to help you get on the right track so you don’t end up looking like a financial dunce.
Reevaluate your banking choices
Checking accounts aren’t a huge mystery. Money comes in, you spend it, money goes out. The number one rule is to make sure you’re not spending more money than you actually have. Unfortunately, that’s a concept 20-somethings have trouble with. Nearly 30 percent of millennials routinely overdraw their checking accounts, according to the researchers.
While it might not seem like a big deal, overdrawing your account comes with a big price tag. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau puts the average overdraft fee at $34. According to the CFPB, approximately 10 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds get hit with 10 or more overdraft fees per year, making them the group most likely to be overdrawn. When you’re a 20-something who’s just starting out, throwing away $300 or more a year on bank fees just isn’t something you can afford to do.
So how do you get around these fees? Keeping an eye on balance is the first step and there are a few different tools you can use to do that. For example, you can set up mobile alerts through your bank that will let you know when your balance is getting low. Alternatively, you can link your account to a budgeting app like Mint, which tracks your transactions and allows you to categorize your spending from month to month so you know where your money’s going.
Switching to an online bank is another smart move for 20-somethings who want to avoid hefty bank fees. Online banks tend to have lower overhead costs than a brick-and-mortar bank, which usually means fewer fees for their customers. True, you don’t have the convenience of being able to stop into a branch with an online bank but between online banking and mobile apps, there are plenty of ways for tech-savvy millennials to keep tabs on their cash.
Make saving for emergencies a priority
Life can be messy and sometimes it spills over into your finances. When that happens, having an emergency fund can be a lifesaver but according to the GWU/PwC financial literacy study, too many 20-somethings would be blindsided by a rainy day. Nearly half of millennials included in the survey were not confident that they could come up with $2,000 if they were faced with an unexpected expense.
Even more telling about the lack of preparedness by 20-somethings is the fact that according to the study, 42 percent of millennials have used “alternative financial services” in the past year. That includes things like payday loans, car title loans, pawnshop cash advances and tax refund advances.
By relying on these risky lending options, millennial borrowers are exposing themselves to high fees and in some cases, outrageous interest rates. Not only that but once you get started borrowing from these kinds of lenders, it’s easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle where you’re never really able to pay the loan off. Meanwhile, the lender is just taking more and more of your hard-earned cash.
Building up an emergency savings stash frees 20-somethings from having to rely on less reputable borrowing options and it’s not as difficult as you think. Essentially, you have to do two things: Find the money in your budget to save and then decide where you’re going to put it.
Analyzing your budget and spending can show you where the extra dollars are hidden. (If you don’t have a budget, check out our millennial budgeting guide to get started.) All it takes to get a grip on your spending is writing down your purchases or again, letting an app like Mint record them for you automatically. Consider these statistics on millennial spending from Elite Daily’s Millennial Consumer Trends 2015 Study:
- 75 percent of millennials are spending between 10 and 20 percent of their income on “fun”
- 64 percent of millennials have spent between $100 and $300 on a smartphone
- 96 percent of millennials spend up to half of their income on rent
- 60 percent of millennials say their housing costs are unaffordable
Once you’re able to spot the money leaks, you can work to cut down or eliminate things that aren’t necessities. As far as where to put the money goes, parking the cash in a savings account at an online bank is likely to yield a higher interest rate than what you’d get at a regular bank. A CD is another option for earning a slightly better rate but it’s not as flexible if you need to get at the cash in a hurry. If you need help deciding which savings account is best, check out MyBankTracker’s personalized savings account finder tool.
Be strategic about retirement
If you’re a 20-something who’s even slightly interested in finance you’ve probably seen dozens of articles online bemoaning the fact that millennials aren’t taking their retirement seriously. You’re likely also aware that saving early and saving often is the right move if you want to build up a comfortable nest egg over time.
Going back to the George Washington University study, only 36 percent of the young adults polled said they had a retirement account. When you don’t have a 401(k) or a similar plan set up through your employer, it’s easy to just skip out on saving for retirement but you do have other options.
A Roth IRA is the obvious choice for 20-somethings who want to be able to cash in on tax-free withdrawals in retirement. As of 2016, you could save up to $5,500 in one of these accounts. If you did that every year from age 25 to age 65, you’d accumulate more than $1.1 million, assuming a 7 percent annual return.
A Health Savings Account is another option for millennials who are enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan. An HSA lets you set aside money for health care expenses but if you manage to stay healthy until you retire, you can withdraw the money for any reason penalty-free after age 65. You’ll still pay regular income tax on the withdrawal but it’s a good way to supplement your savings if you don’t have access to a 401(k).
Just make sure that once you start saving, you leave that money alone. In the GWU/PwC study, 17 percent of young adults said they’d taken a loan from their retirement account in the previous 12 months. Fourteen percent said they’d taken a hardship withdrawal over that same period. Taking a loan or a hardship withdrawal diminishes the returns you’re earning in the long run, which is another reason why an emergency fund is so important when you need extra cash.
Ask for help if you need it
Learning the ropes of managing your finances can be difficult at any age but it’s especially important for 20-somethings to seek out advice early on. Doing something as simple as paying your credit card late one time because you don’t understand how late payments affect your credit score can haunt you for years and potentially hurt your chances of being able to buy a car or get a mortgage down the line.
Unfortunately, getting help is something millennials seem fairly reluctant to do. Only 27 percent of the young people involved in the George Washington University study said they’d looked for advice on saving and investing in the past five years Among those who were struggling with debt, just 12 percent said they’d looked for professional help with debt management in the previous 12 months.
If cost is an issue, there are some inexpensive ways to get guidance on what to do with your money. If you need help with managing credit card debt, for example, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can connect you with a certified credit counselor who provides free or low-cost services. Connecting with a robo-advisor versus a traditional financial advisor can help you save money when you’re trying to manage your investments.
Bottom line, the most important thing 20-somethings can do on the money front is taking a proactive approach to their finances. Getting educated about things like banking, saving and investing and heeding expert advice can keep you from becoming a part of the money moron crowd.
Rebecca is a writer for MyBankTracker.com. She is an expert in consumer banking products, saving and money psychology. She has contributed to numerous online outlets, including U.S. News & World Report, and more.