42 Percent of Millennials Are Engaging in This Risky Financial Behavior

A new report reveals that many millennials are struggling financially and turning to some alternative — and usually costly — financial services to make ends meet.


They might be better educated and more technologically savvy than previous generations, but that doesn’t mean millennials are making smart financial decisions.

Millennials are heavy users of the alternative financial system – which includes payday loans, pawnshops and tax refund advances – and reluctant to seek professional financial help,

That’s according to a recent report from tax and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the George Washington University’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. The report is based on survey results of more than 5,500 millennials (ages 23 to 35).

Cash-strapped, saddled with student loan debt and struggling to navigate a changing job market, millennials are risk-averse and wary of the stock market. That’s really no surprise, considering they came of age during the Great Recession.

“Millennials owe a lot. They know too little,” said Annamaria Lusardi, academic director at the George Washington University center.

When compared with other Americans, the millennial generation — those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s — has the “lowest level of financial literacy,” the report said. Unfortunately, despite a lack of financial know-how, a mere 27 percent of millennials seek help from a financial professional.

A lack of financial literacy may explain why 42 percent of millennials took out a payday loan or auto title loan, used a pawnshop, got a tax refund advance or purchased a rent-to-own product in the past five years.

“There’s an appetite for faster money quicker without thinking of the longer-term ramifications,” Shannon Schuyler, head of corporate responsibility and chief purpose officer at PwC, told Moneywatch. “They don’t want to ask for help, they are embarrassed, they feel they are in this by themselves, and they are using interesting ways, like taking cash advances on their credit cards” to try to deal with their plight, she added.

(Before you seek out a payday loan to deal with short-term debt, check out “More Proof That Payday Loans Suck” and “Payday Loans Might Be Even Worse Than You Thought.”)

These are some highlights from the report:

  • Lack financial know-how: Only 24 percent of millennials demonstrate basic financial knowledge and just 8 percent show high financial literacy.
  • Discontent over financial situation: Thirty-four percent of millennials report being “very unsatisfied” with their current financial situation.
  • Fret over student loans: More than half of millennials (54 percent) said they’re worried about their ability to pay back their student loans.
  • Financially fragile: Nearly 1 in 3 millennials (30 percent) are overdrawing their checking accounts. (Read more about millennials’ financial habits at “Millennials Have No Savings; Here’s Why“)
  • Retirement account woes: Just 36 percent of millennials have a retirement account. Of those, 17 percent took a loan and 14 percent took a hardship withdrawal from those accounts in the past year. “This trend is especially worrying because it can compromise millennials’ future financial security,” the report said.

If you are a millennial or you know a millennial who needs to brush up on his or her money skills, check out “Report: ‘Clueless Generation’ Urgently Needs These 5 Money Lessons.”

What do you think of PwC’s report on millennials’ financial literacy? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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