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Updated on Friday, October 13, 2017
There’s been much talk about millennials being fearful of the stock market. They did, after all, live through the financial crisis, and many are shouldering record levels of student loan debt, while grappling with rising fixed costs.
The truth is that historically, young people have always shied away from investing. A whopping 89% of 25- to 35 year-old heads of household surveyed by the Federal Reserve in 2016 said their families were not invested in stocks. That’s only two percentage points higher than the average response since the Fed began the survey in 1989.
MagnifyMoney analyzed data from the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, conducted by the Federal Reserve, to determine exactly how older millennials — those aged 25 to 35 — are allocating their assets.
In 2016, wealthy millennial households, on average, owned assets totaling more than $1.5 million. That is nearly nine times the assets of the average family in the same age group — $176,400. Included were financial assets (cash, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, checking and savings deposits), as well as nonfinancial ones (real estate, businesses and cars).
While the wealth of each group was spread across just about every type of asset, the biggest difference was in the proportions for each category.
To add an extra layer of insight, we compared the savings habits of the average millennial household to millennial households in the top 25% of net worth. We also took a look at how the average young adult manages his or her assets to see how they differ in their approach.
Millennials and the stock market
Despite significant differences in income, we found that both sets of older millennial households today (average earners and the top 25% of earners) are investing roughly the same share of their financial assets in the market – about 60%.
Among the top 25% of millennial households, those with brokerage accounts hold more than 37% of their liquid assets, or about $224,000, in stocks and bonds and an additional 26%, or $154,000, in retirement accounts. Meanwhile, just over 14% of their assets are in liquid savings or checking accounts.
By comparison, the average millennial household with a brokerage account invests a little over $10,000 in stocks and bonds, or 22% of their total assets, and they reserve about 21% of their assets in checking or savings accounts.
Millennial households invest most heavily in their retirement accounts, accounting for around 38% of their financial assets, although they have only saved $18,800 on average.
Wealthy millennials carry much less of their wealth in checking and savings, compared with their peers. Although wealthier families carry eight times more in savings and checking than the average family — $84,000 vs. $10,300 — that’s just roughly 14% of their total assets in cash, while for the ordinary young family that figure is around 20%
The Fed data show that those on the top of the earnings pyramid are able to save far more for the future, even though they’re at a relatively early stage of their careers.
Across the board, older millennial families hold the greatest share of their financial assets in their retirement accounts. Although that share of retirement savings is smaller for wealthier millennial families (26% of their financial assets, versus 38% for the average older millennial family), they have saved far more.
When looking at the median amount of retirement savings versus the average, a more disturbing picture emerges, showing just how little the average older millennial family is saving for eventual retirement.
The median amount of money in higher earners’ retirement account is $90,000 (median being the middle point of a number set, with half the available figures above it and half below). But the median amount is $0 for the typical millennial family, meaning that at least half of millennial-run households don’t have any retirement savings at all.
Millennials and their nonfinancial assets
Most of millennial households’ wealth comes from physical assets, such as houses, cars and businesses.
While nearly 60% of young families don’t own houses today, the lowest homeownership rate since 1989, homes make up the largest share of the family’s nonfinancial assets, Fed data show.
For the average-earning older millennial family, housing represents more than two-thirds of the value of its nonfinancial assets — 66.4%. On average, this group’s homes are valued at $84,000.
The homes of rich millennial households are worth 4.6 times more, averaging $470,000 — though they represents a lower share of total nonfinancial assets — 50%.
Cars are the second-largest hard asset for the average young family to own, accounting for about 14% of nonfinancial assets.
While rich millennials drive fancier cars than their peers — prices are 2.4 times that of average millennials’ cars — their $42,000 car accounts for just 4.5% of their nonfinancial asset. In contrast, they stash as much as 31% of their asset in businesses, 20 percentage points higher than the ordinary millennial.
It’s worth noting that young adults in general are not into businesses. A scant 6.3% of young families have businesses, the lowest percentage since 1989, according to the Fed data. (Among those that do have them, the businesses represent just over 11% of their total nonfinancial assets.)
The student debt gap
Possibly the starkest example of how wealthy older millennials and their ordinary peers manage their finances can be seen in the realm of student loan debt.
A significant chunk of the average worker’s household debt comes in the form of student loans, making up close to 20% of total debt and averaging $16,000. In contrast, the wealthiest cohort carries about $2,000 less in student loan debt, on average, and this constitutes just about 4.6% of total debt.
With less student debt to worry about, it’s no surprise wealthier millennial families carry a larger share of mortgage debt. About 76% of their debt comes from their primary home, to the tune of $233,500, on average. This is 4.5 times the housing debt of a typical young homeowner.
In some cases, the top wealthy have another 11% or so of their total debt committed to a second house, something not many of their less-wealthy peers would have to worry about — affording even a first home is more of a struggle.
When is the right time to start investing?
For many millennials the answer isn’t whether or not it’s wise to save for retirement or invest for wealth but when to start. Generally, paying off high interest debts and building up a sufficient emergency fund should come first. Once those boxes are ticked, how much young workers invest depends on their tolerance for risk and their future financial goals.
“It’s never too much as long as you’ve got money for the emergency fund, and as long as they are funding their other goals not through debt,” says Krista Cavalieri, owner and senior advisor at Evolve Capital in Columbus, Ohio.
The biggest mistake that Cavalieri has seen among her young clients is that very few have been able to establish an emergency fund that will cover at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.
Kelly Metzler, senior financial advisor at the New York-based Altfest Personal Wealth Management, said older millennials may not be able to save outside of retirement accounts yet, which can be a concern if they want to buy a house or have other large purchases or unexpected expenses ahead.
Cavalieri said that’s because young adults’ money is stretched thin by the varies needs in their lives and the lifestyle they keep.
“Their hands are kind of tied at where they are right now,” she said. “Everyone could clearly save more, but millennials are dealing with large amounts of debt. A lot of them are also dealing with the fact that the lack of financial education put that in that personal debt situation.”