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A quarter of millennials don’t feel ‘adequately prepared’ to deal with finances: survey

Kristin Myers

A quarter of millennials don’t feel their education prepared them adequately to deal with their finances, according to a new survey from Ally Financial. More than half of the 2,000 surveyed said they need help with their finances. The millennials in the survey ranged from 18 to 34.

While other generations might not have received personal finance or financial literacy classes either, the financial world has gotten a lot more complicated, says Kimberly Palmer of NerdWallet.com. That’s causing millennials to search for information they didn’t learn in school.

“There is a huge demand,” Palmer says. “When millennials graduate from college, they’re really hungry for information on how to do that [their finances] effectively. They turn to friends and family for advice but they’re not the best sources for information.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that only a third of the millennials surveyed (35%) feel “very confident” in their financial knowledge, including taxes, investing, and retirement planning.

But it might not just be that millennials are unprepared for financial adulthood, but rather a function of their age, says Palmer.

“In terms of other generations, millennials have the least experience and are just starting to navigate this,” Palmer says. “I would guess as you get more experience and have practice managing your finances, you become increasingly confident.”

Well-founded fears

Despite all the flack millennials get, there are reasons for their fears. Millennials simply aren’t as well-off as their parents were, a Credit Suisse report found last year. Millennials must deal with lower salaries, higher home prices and tightening lending criteria.

The Ally survey found that in order to feel comfortable, millennials believe they must earn at least $53,000 or more. Millennial men, according to a TD Ameritrade survey, bump that figure up to $118,000. That’s a far cry from the $35,000 that the average U.S. millennial makes, according to SmartAsset.

On top of this, Palmer says, millennials have residual unease borne from their experience with the Great Recession.

“I think that the bigger part of that is that millennials are scarred from coming of age during the financial crisis,” Palmer says. “They saw their parents and how crushing it can be when everything seems to implode at once. It wasn’t the Depression of their great-grandparents but it left a lasting impact.”

Perhaps because of this concern, millennials are known for strong saving habits. But even here, lie concerns.

The survey found that more than 80% of respondents say that they are saving — but 57% are only saving through their employer’s 401(k) plan.

“It is great that so many millennials are saving through a 401(k),” Palmer says. “But it definitely shouldn’t be the only way. A good goal is saving 20% of your income including retirement.”

Even more startling? About half of respondents fear they won’t ever be able to retire. It might sound surprising, but millennials aren’t alone.

“For millennials — a lot of them, even if they have full-time jobs — don’t have access to a pension, unlike previous generations. They have to prepare for retirement all on their own. They might have a 401(k), but that’s still on their shoulders. And a lot of millennials don’t have a full-time job with benefits like a 401(k). So it’s easy to feel that fear.”

“But I think a lot of older Americans are feeling similarly unprepared for retirement. But with millennials there’s a longer time horizon,” Palmer says. “It feels daunting because it’s all on their shoulders.”

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