It’s Halloween, and we’re going to talk about something really scary: debt. YPulse’s Personal Finance and Services report shows 58% of young people have negative feelings when they think about money, and only 56% consider themselves financially stable. When we ask what it means to be financially stable, 44% say it’s understanding and maintaining my debt / bills, but another 43% say it’s not having any debt. For many of them, debt is a top financial worry right now, and as the cost-of-living crisis continues and education prices continue to soar with each passing year, it continues to bar them from feeling financially stable.
It’s no secret now that young people have been presented with tough economic circumstances: tons of Millennials graduated from college during the Great Recession, and most of Gen Z doesn’t remember a time before then. Now, they’ve all lived through the pandemic recession, and are feeling the stress of another potentially on the horizon. In fact, 84% of young people tell YPulse they think we are going to be in a recession in the near future or are already in one. They’ve also named inflation as the biggest problem their generations are facing right now.
Debt can be a symptom of these issues, at some times unavoidable for young people trying to make ends meet or afford their first major life expenses. YPulse asks 13-39-year-olds if they hold debt, and if so, which kinds, and this is how many young people are currently managing debt:
Most young people hold debt of some kind
The majority (60%) of young people are currently debt holders. This much more the case for Millennials than Gen Z: nearly three in four (72%) Millennials hold one or more kinds of debt. While this includes all levels of money to owe, a yearly survey by Experian reports Millennials (25-40-year-olds) had an average of $100K in debt in 2021, up +15.4% from 2020. With such large a large average, it’s no wonder 59% of Millennials tell YPulse they agree that they are constantly stressed about debt.
While Gen Z is less likely to be in debt, 33% hold one or more kinds in 2022. And of course, 13-17-year-olds are the least likely to be debt holders at their young age, but 18-24-year-olds (the oldest Gen Z and youngest Millennials) are far more likely to be, as 57% have debt of some kind. Experian reports 18-24-year-olds had an average of $20K in debt in 2021, up +29.7% since 2020. YPulse data shows 13% of 18-24-year-olds say in the last year they have become more in debt. It makes sense: at this point in their lives, YPulse’s Life Milestones and Future Plans report shows older Gen Z are starting degree programs, moving out and buying cars, all major expenses which could kickstart their debt holdings.
YPulse asks which kinds of debts young people are holding, and of the seven kinds they could choose from, this is how likely they are to have each:
They’re most likely to be in credit card debt
Overall, 29% of young people tell YPulse they hold credit card debt, but this is, of course, much more prominent amongst Millennials, at 37% versus 12% of Gen Z. Because of record high inflation, the cost of most goods and services have skyrocketed recently and paying all at once can be a challenge. When YPulse asks 13-39-year-olds what their biggest financial priority is at this point in their lives, out of a list of 18 options, 16% say it’s paying off credit card debt. The credit card debt that so many have accrued is one likely motivation for using BNPL programs. CNBC reports that young people are choosing “buy now, pay later” services over credit cards. Services like Afterpay and Klarna allow them to pay in installments, while knowing exactly how much is left to pay, whereas credit cards “typically calculate a minimum monthly payment based on the overall card balance rather than individual purchases.”
Naturally, Millennials are more likely to hold debt across the board. But borrowing money for things like houses and businesses is not something most are doing (yet). Though YPulse data shows 82% of Millennials say owning a home is an important goal to them personally, only 34% own a home / apartment currently. We know that they’re not concerned with hitting their milestones in a particular order, though, and especially not doing things the same way previous gens did. (Which is a good thing considering the housing market has not been going in their favor.) Still, 27% of Millennials say their biggest financial priority is saving to buy a house, so many are likely to be homeowners, even if not as young as their parents.
Student debt is a hard-to-avoid financial burden for young people
These young generations are more likely than any before them to get a degree, but the cost of college is higher than ever: Forbes reports “Between 1980 and 2020, the average price of tuition, fees, and room and board for an undergraduate degree increased 169%.” So, while only 19% of young people overall tell YPulse they have debt from student loans / tuition, the amount they’re holding is likely significant.
YPulse’s Education report shows 28% of young college graduates (Bachelors, Masters, or PhD) students said they paid for college through loans, and 23% of current college students say they’re paying through loans. Experian reports Millennials have an average of $40K in student loan debt, and Gen Z have nearly $19K. The next wave of college students will likely be accruing debt, too; YPulse data shows 84% of middle and high school students are planning to go to college, and of them, 41% say they plan to pay themselves and 26% say they plan to pay through loans.
For 39% of Gen Z and Millennials, they agree student loan debt has kept them from reaching their financial goals. And when YPulse asks their biggest financial priority at this point in their life, 12% say it’s paying off student loan debt. For the younger gen, 15% say it’s avoiding student loan debt in the first place—meaning they’re looking for ways to pay for their education that won’t leave them owing as much as students before them.