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Millennials Are Missing Out on Life Because They Have More Debt Than Savings

A dark new poll found many 18- to-34-year-olds are waiting to have kids, get married, buy a house, or save for retirement because of crushing debt.
Photo by P. Broze via Getty

At this point, there's no shortage of information on how deeply screwed millennials are, financially speaking. Studies have shown an increase in millennials forced to move back in with their parents, a majority unable to save anything for retirement, and earning significantly less than the baby boomers did early in their careers.

Now the latest depressing poll from NBC News/GenForward reveals how those financial troubles are stalling some of life's basic milestones for millennials. With an overwhelming majority of millennials (62 percent) owing more in debt than they currently have in savings, many young adults are holding off on getting married or having kids. According to the poll, 16 percent of 18- to-34-year-olds said they had delayed starting a family because of debt, while 14 percent said debt had forced them to put off marriage.


Crushing debt is also stopping young people from reaching the big, conventional economic milestones capitalism expects of us: 34 percent have delayed buying a house; 31 percent have deferred saving for retirement; 29 percent have postponed buying a car.

The full findings lay bare the generation's staggering debt burden. While 76 percent of millennials owe money in some form, 55 percent struggle with debts over $5,000. Meanwhile, only 23 percent of millennials say they have $5,000 or more in their savings account.

The huge costs of college can explain some of this mess. Surprisingly, however, the survey showed credit card debt is even more widespread than student loan debt, with 46 percent of millennials currently paying off credit cards and only 36 percent paying off college. The racial component is also distressing. Young African Americans are the most likely to have no personal savings, and have more student loan debt than any other group. Similarly, more African Americans (72 percent) said they would struggle to pay an unexpected bill more than any other group.

Perhaps the weirdest, saddest part of today’s survey is the presumption millennials are currently having to “delay” commonly agreed life goals, as if debt is just a temporary blip and we’ll all get there in the end. At least most are staying optimistic: 58 percent responded that with a good job, they'll be able to pay off their debt and "afford the lifestyle they want."

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