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Study Shows Student Debt Can Kill 75% of Millennials’ Average Net Worth

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

It’s no secret that millennials are swamped with student loan debt. While more millennials have obtained bachelor’s degrees than those in generations past, they also borrowed the most to earn those degrees. As of 2018, outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. surpassed $1.48 trillion, almost one-and-a-half times what Americans owe on credit cards.

According to a MagnifyMoney analysis of Federal Reserve data, all this debt is hampering millennials’ chances for long-term financial success.

In fact, this study revealed that the average net worth of a millennial with student loans is only 25% of the net worth for a fellow millennial without them. What’s more, the data suggest student loan debt is preventing some millennials from saving for retirement or buying homes.

And while it’s likely that those without student loans tend to include more people from wealthy homes, the massive disparity between those who owe and those who don’t suggests that educational debt can supercharge the difference in income.

If you’re a millennial, your financial journey since graduation has probably been an uphill battle. Here’s how student loan debt has held your generation back, along with our advice on how to conquer your debt once and for all.

Key facts

Millennial households with student loan debt have…

  • An average net worth of $29,087, compared with $114,376 for student loan-free households.
  • 46% less in their savings and checking accounts (median balance of $5,500 vs $10,180 for those without student loans).
  • $21,160 in retirement savings versus an average of $39,905 for those with no student loan debt.

 

Student loans weigh heavily on millennials’ net worth

The wealth divide between households with student loan debt and those without it has been widening over the past few decades.

In 1989, under-35 households with student loan debt had just 13% less in average net worth than households without any student loan debt.

That difference had nearly tripled by 1998, when under-35 households with student loan debt had a net worth 36% less than their debt-free peers. The former had an average net worth of $68,687, while the latter held an average of $108,146.

In 2016, the gap had grown to 75%, with student loan-saddled millennial households having an average net worth of $29,087, compared with $114,376 for student loan-free households. In other words, millennials unburdened by student loans held over $85,000 more than those who still had debt from college or graduate school.

Even though a college degree typically leads to a higher-paying job, the student loans that often go with it can significantly undermine your ability to build wealth after graduation.

Student loans mean less money in the bank (and more credit card debt)

If you’ve got student loans, you know those payments can be a struggle to make month after month. According to our analysis, millennials with student loans are putting a significant amount of their paychecks toward their debt — leaving them with less money in the bank.

In fact, holders of student loans had 46% less in their savings and checking accounts in 2016 than millennial college graduates without debt. The former group had a median bank balance of $5,500, while the median for other millennial grads was nearly twice that, at $10,180.

Perhaps because millennial borrowers have less liquid cash, they also end up taking on more credit card debt. Fifty-five percent of those with education debt also had credit card debt, compared with just 32% of those without student loans. They also carried larger balances — $2,888 — as opposed to $1,476 for debt-free millennial graduates.

If student loan bills are eating up a big part of your income, you might use credit cards to finance big purchases. But credit card debt tends to be even harder to pay off than student loan debt because of high interest rates and the temptation to overspend. Caution is key when it comes to paying with plastic.

Student loans get in the way of saving for retirement

Considering that millennials with student loans have less money in the bank, it should come as no surprise that they also have less saved for retirement. After all, once you’ve paid your student loan bill and other recurring monthly expenses, you might not have much left over to contribute to your 401(k), individual retirement account (IRA) or other nest egg account.

Our analysis found that millennials with education debt have an average of $18,745 less in retirement savings than their debtless counterparts. The average grad with debt had saved $21,160 in 2016, while those without student loans had an average of $39,905 in their retirement savings accounts.

When it comes to preparing for the future, the earlier you can start, the better. Thanks to the power of compound interest, any amount you can set aside today can grow significantly over time.

Student loans seem to be an obstacle to homeownership

When it comes to buying a home of their own, millennials can encounter many challenges.

The high cost of rent is one of them, with nearly 21 million households paying more than 30% of their income on rent, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. While rent costs have gone up, wage growth has remained stagnant, even for those with college degrees. This makes it all the more difficult to save for a down payment and other costs associated with buying a home.

And student loans create further obstacles, resulting in lower rates of homeownership among millennial graduates with student loans (34%) than among those without (36%). Those who have managed to buy a home end up with a lower-value home and a bigger mortgage, compared to their contemporaries who don’t carry education loans.

According to MagnifyMoney’s analysis, the home values of millennials younger than 35 with student loan debt are 5% lower than those without student loan debt. The median value for those with student loans was $157,000 in 2016, while millennial homeowners without student debt had homes with a median value of $165,000.

What’s more, homeowners with student loans had to take on even more debt to buy their homes, possibly because they weren’t able to save as much for down payments. Their median mortgage was $104,000, versus $98,000 for those without student loans.

Not only does student loan debt get in the way of buying a home, but it also forces millennials to take on even more debt to realize their goal of owning a home.

Get proactive about reducing your student loan burden

Although you might feel you got tricked into taking on debt at a young age, burying your head in the sand about your student loans will only make a difficult situation worse. Instead of giving up hope, try to get proactive about paying off your debt.

If you can make extra payments, you can get out of debt faster and save money on interest. Create a budget to see if you can spare any extra cash each month. Look for areas where you can cut down on spending. Some people even take drastic steps, such as downsizing their apartment or selling their car, to get rid of debt as fast as possible.

If you’re working, find out what steps you can take to get a pay raise. Or consider changing jobs altogether to boost your salary. Alternatively, you might take on a side hustle, such as driving for Lyft or running errands for TaskRabbit, to increase your income and throw that extra money toward your loans.

Another option is to move into a career that could qualify for student loan forgiveness. For instance, those who work in public service fields or as teachers in qualifying schools could be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness.

You can also look into state-based and private programs that offer student loan repayment assistance for your private or federal student loans. And some employers even offer a student loan matching benefit to help you pay off debt.

Finally, some borrowers could benefit from refinancing their student loans. If you have decent credit and a steady income — or can apply with a cosigner who does — you could qualify for a lower interest rate than what you have now, as well as choose new repayment terms. As a result, refinancing could save you money on interest and help you pay off your student loans ahead of schedule.

Whatever you decide, make sure you’re being strategic about the best way to manage student loan repayment. Even though student debt has held back millennials in major ways, there are steps you can take to overcome this obstacle and reclaim your financial freedom.

Methodology: MagnifyMoney examined the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances to compare households headed by someone under age 35 with student debt versus those without. All monetary amounts are expressed in 2016 dollars (the date of the latest survey).

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Survey Reveals How Consumers Will Spend Stimulus Money: Groceries, Bills and Savings Top the List

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are dealing with furlough, unemployment, reduced pay or climbing health care costs. To offer support, Congress has passed a historic $2 trillion relief package that includes direct payments for eligible Americans.

With millions of taxpayers slated to receive relief checks in the coming weeks, many are making plans for how to spend the unexpected windfall. A new survey from MagnifyMoney of more than 1,000 Americans reveals that for most, the relief check is a necessity. Nearly half of survey respondents said they plan to use the money on essentials like groceries and bills, underscoring the current fragile state of Americans’ finances.

Key findings

  • We asked consumers how they’ll spend their stimulus check, should they receive one. The top two responses were paying for groceries and paying for bills. Additionally, 44% plan to save at least some of the money.
  • The checks are a necessary reprieve for most of the survey respondents, as nearly 7 in 10 (69%) said they need the stimulus money. Another 26% said that while they don’t necessarily need the money, it will help. Just 6% said they don’t need it.
  • While many said the check will help, they aren’t necessarily certain it will be enough. Most of our respondents (40%) said the stimulus check will relieve “a few” of the difficulties they’ve been facing, while 10% said they’ll still be experiencing a significant level of financial difficulty. The good news is that 18% said the stimulus money will remove all of the difficulties they’re facing due to the pandemic, and another 17% said it will alleviate most financial difficulties.
  • Consumers are split in terms of satisfaction with the monetary value of the stimulus checks. About 41% think the check amount is “just right,” though 39% think it’s too small. Only 4% thought the amount was too large.
  • About half (49%) of respondents agree with the income limit proposed by the government. However, 21% think the threshold should be lowered so that higher income individuals would receive even less. On the other hand, 11% said there should not be an income limit.
  • Some will have to wait longer than others to receive their funds. About 8% of our survey respondents don’t have a bank account, which would slow down the time it takes for them to have access to those funds because they’ll be waiting for a check to arrive in the mail instead of the funds being direct deposited in their bank account. Meanwhile, less than 60% have direct deposit set up with the IRS.
  • Nearly all consumers we surveyed (85%) think the government’s plan is a good idea. The intention of the stimulus checks is to help counter the negative financial and economic impacts of coronavirus.

How Americans are spending their stimulus checks

Our survey found that the stimulus checks, being distributed as part of the coronavirus relief package, are acting as a safety net for many Americans. When we asked respondents what they plan to spend their stimulus check on (they could select all answers that applied), the top two answers were to pay for groceries (45%) and to pay for bills (43%).

Meanwhile, we found that 29% of respondents plan to use their check to make their rent or mortgage payment, 26% are going to put some of it in savings and 18% plan to put all of the money in savings.

Generational and income-level differences in stimulus check spending

When looking at how different generations intend to spend their relief checks, we found that millennials were more likely than any other generation to say that they plan to use their relief check to pay for bills (49%) and to pay their rent or mortgage (37%). Understandably, the youngest generation — Gen Z — was the age group most likely to plan to use their relief check to pay off student loans (11%). They were also the generation most likely to put either all of their check in savings (21%) or most of it (39%).

Our survey also revealed that households with lower incomes were, for the most part, more likely to use their relief checks to pay for necessities, such as groceries, bills or housing costs. Meanwhile, we found that 7% of households that make $100,000 or more annually plan to donate their entire relief check to charity or someone in need.

Americans that need stimulus checks the most

Overall, our survey revealed that the relief checks are much needed, with 69% of survey respondents saying that they personally need the financial assistance. That’s in comparison to 26% of respondents who said that they don’t really need the check but that it will help and just 6% who say they don’t need it at all.

Across all generations, the overwhelming majority of respondents said they indeed needed the relief payment. However, Gen Zers were far more likely to say that they didn’t need the relief check (10%) compared to millennials, Gen X and baby boomers. One possible explanation for this could be that Gen Zers could have parents or other older adults supporting them financially. Not surprisingly, our survey also found that households with less than $25,000 in annual income were far more likely to say they needed the relief check (80%), compared to 50% of households that make $100,000 or more.

Of survey respondents who said they did not need the relief check, nearly half (45%) said they still do not feel guilty about receiving one. However, 10% of those who said they do not need the check admitted to feeling guilt over receiving the check and plan to donate it. Another 10% that feel guilty, though they still intend to use their check. Meanwhile, 35% of respondents who said they don’t need a check don’t expect to receive one — which are likely people who make too much money to qualify.

Do Americans think the stimulus checks are enough?

While Congress moved swiftly to provide relief to families facing financial turbulence, our survey found that many Americans (39%) do not think the checks are enough. The checks are for up to $1,200 per eligible adult and up to $2,400 for couples filing joint returns, with an additional $500 per child under the age of 17.

Though many are dissatisfied with the amount of the checks, 41% of Americans think that the amount of the stimulus checks is just right. Another 4% even said that the amount is too much.

As for the income thresholds that apply to the relief checks — which start at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for jointly filing married couples — nearly half (49%) of survey respondents said that they agree with the U.S. government’s decision to implement income thresholds as well as with the income limits they chose. Another 21% agreed that there should be income limits but thought those limits should be lower, while 9% thought the limits should be higher. In contrast, 11% said that there should not be an income limit at all.

As a glimmer of good news, our survey found that the majority of respondents (74%) said that the relief checks will help relieve either some or all of the difficulties they’ve been facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, 10% of respondents said they will still be facing a significant level of financial difficulty despite the relief check.

When will the stimulus checks go out?

On March 30, the IRS announced that payments will be disbursed within the next three weeks. Those who chose to receive their tax refund via direct deposit, as opposed to mailed checks, can expect to receive their relief check faster.

If you did not share your bank account information with the IRS when filing your taxes, the Department of the Treasury plans to open an online portal that will allow you to share your direct deposit information with the IRS, enabling you to get your relief check faster.

What you should do with your stimulus check

While our survey’s findings revealed that many taxpayers already plan to spend their stimulus checks on necessities like bills and groceries, some might feel uncertain about how to prioritize competing financial needs. Matt Schulz, the chief credit analyst for LendingTree, acknowledges there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how people should use their stimulus checks, but says it’s important to carefully plan what you do with it.

“If you can put some of the check away to start an emergency fund or build up your current one, that’s probably ideal,” Schulz said. “That’s not reality for millions of Americans, though. For many, this will be about keeping the lights on or putting food on the table. That’s why these checks are so, so important.”

If you’re focused on using your check to demolish debt, Schulz emphasizes the importance of having an emergency fund in place as well. “It’s obviously great to pay down debt, but far too often, people pay off debt and have no savings at all,” Schulz said. “That means that if an unexpected expense comes up, that cost goes right back on the credit card and the person is right back in debt. Having even a little bit of cash in savings can help avoid that situation.”

If you’re on good financial footing, Schulz points out a number of good uses for that money, including:

  • Growing your rainy-day fund
  • Paying off credit card debt
  • Bulking up your retirement savings
  • Supporting your community by spending on small businesses or nonprofits

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,038 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:

  • Gen Z: 18 to 23
  • Millennials: 24 to 39
  • Gen X: 40 to 54
  • Baby boomers: 55 to 74
  • Silent generation: 75 and older

The survey was fielded March 26-27, 2020.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Places Where Taxpayers May Wait Longer for Their Stimulus Checks

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The CARES Act stimulus checks may offer some relief to taxpayers amid the coronavirus outbreak, but distribution may pose a problem for the millions who don’t use direct deposit to receive their tax refunds. In 2019, 19.8 million taxpayers waited longer for their tax refunds to arrive via paper check. Today, these same taxpayers will have to wait longer again — potentially up to an additional three months — for their stimulus checks.

MagnifyMoney looked at the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. to determine where taxpayers used direct deposit the most (and least) to receive their 2018 tax refund. Cities with the highest percentages of check-receiving taxpayers are where people will likely wait longer for financial relief to arrive.

Key findings

  • Visalia, Calif., has the highest percentage of taxpayers that will have to wait a little longer for their relief rebates. About a quarter of taxpayers there (25.9%) didn’t use direct deposit to receive their tax refunds in 2018.
  • Fresno, Calif., isn’t far behind — 23.4% of taxpayers there will likely have to wait longer for a check.
  • While Visalia has the highest percentage of check-receiving taxpayers, the New York City metro area, which ranks 11th, has the highest total number of taxpayers who received a check refund in 2018. Approximately 1.78 million taxpayers in the New York City area may have to wait for a paper relief check, compared with the 46,330 taxpayers in Visalia.
  • Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., were the only two cities out of all the metro areas we looked at where the percentage of check-receiving taxpayers was under double digits. Only 9.8% of taxpayers in Oklahoma City and 9.6% of taxpayers in Tulsa didn’t use direct deposit to receive their tax refunds in 2018.
  • When it comes to the actual number of taxpayers waiting the longest for their stimulus checks, our 93rd-ranked metro area of Davenport, Iowa, has the smallest number of check-receiving taxpayers. In Davenport, 21,690 taxpayers will wait longer, or 12.2% of the metro area’s tax-paying population.

Where taxpayers may have to wait longer for their stimulus checks

On the map below, you’ll find the 100 largest American metro areas ranked in order of highest to lowest percentage of taxpayers who opted to receive their 2018 tax refund by check. The places ranking highest on the list are where taxpayers are most likely to experience delays receiving stimulus payments, given the lag in getting a paper check in the mail compared with money that’s direct deposited into your account.

Taxpayers in California are more likely to be left waiting for their stimulus checks, with half of the top 10 metro areas located in the Golden State. This includes Visalia, Fresno, San Jose/San Francisco, Modesto and Sacramento.

The cities in the bottom 25 — where the lowest percentages of taxpayers within the 100 largest metro areas received refunds by check — are scattered among states in the South and Midwest. Tennessee taxpayers, in particular, seem well-positioned to receive their relief payments quickly — four metro areas in the bottom 15 are in Tennessee, including Chattanooga, Nashville, Johnson City and Knoxville.

What to do if you didn’t use direct deposit

If you’re one of the millions of U.S. taxpayers who don’t use direct deposit for your tax refunds, there are some actions that you can take and options available to ensure you receive your economic impact payment sooner rather than later.

1. File your 2019 tax return as soon as possible

The IRS will distribute these economic impact payments according to the information on taxpayers’ 2019 or 2018 tax returns, whichever is most recent. They will pull your income information as well as your payment method, whether that is direct deposit or paper check. You will need a valid Social Security number to be eligible for the payment.

If your information has changed since your 2018 tax return, it’s best to file your 2019 taxes before the IRS starts automatically sending out payments within the next three weeks. Expediting your filing is even more beneficial when you’re expecting a tax refund, which can provide some extra cash relief. However, the federal tax return deadline has been extended to July 15, 2020.

Individuals who typically don’t have to file a tax return do not need to file a simple tax return to receive the rebate. Instead, the IRS will pull information from Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 to determine benefits for senior citizens, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees. If you do not typically file a tax return but do not use those forms, you may want to file a simple tax return anyways.

2. Provide your banking information to the IRS online

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is expected to release an online portal “in the coming weeks” for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS. This will allow you to easily update the IRS on any changes to your banking information.

You can check the IRS’s coronavirus information page for the latest updates.

3. Open an online bank account

Unfortunately, the reality in the U.S. is that about 8.4 million households don’t even have a checking or savings account into which they can direct deposit their tax refund according to the 2017 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households. These tend to be lower- or volatile-income households, meaning those already vulnerable and at-risk households may have to wait longer for the government’s stimulus payments to arrive.

If you or someone you know does not have a bank account, consider opening an online bank account so you can more quickly benefit from the stimulus payments. Online bank accounts are less likely to charge monthly service fees, which is often a reason why households are unbanked in the first place. Online savings accounts are also more likely to pay more in interest, which means your money grows while staying safe inside the account. Plus, opening an online bank account doesn’t involve visiting a bank branch, so you can maintain social distancing.

If you’re having trouble opening a traditional bank account due to a rocky financial past, second chance bank accounts are made to help you get back into the banking world. Issuers of these accounts have less strict background requirements, which opens up the opportunity to continue banking even if you have a history of account closures. These accounts are more likely to come with fees, however, which helps issuers cover potential losses.

Methodology

In March 2020, MagnifyMoney examined local-level 2018 tax filing season data from the IRS to identify where taxpayers in each of the 100 largest metros were more and less likely to receive their tax refunds by direct deposit.

For more information on the rest of the stimulus package, refer to our hub page.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.