Millennials--What the 2015 National Financial Capability Study Reveals

By FINRA Investor Education Foundation Staff

Millennials are the largest cohort in the U.S. workplace today. While millennials make up about 33 percent of the work force in the U.S., they constitute three-quarters of the service men and women in the military. Understanding the financial capability of millennials is an important step toward understanding the financial capability of the military in general.  

Although the improving economy has lifted many boats, some groups continue to struggle. Consistent with previous years, the latest National Financial Capability Study (NFCS)—released this month by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation—finds that measures of financial capability continue to be much lower among younger Americans, those with household incomes below $25,000 per year and those with no post-secondary educational experience. For instance: 

  • Forty-three percent of 18- to 34-year-olds could not come up with $2,000 in 30 days in the event of an emergency—this compares to 35 percent for the 35 to 54 age group and 25 percent for the 55+ age group.
  • Forty-five percent of 18- to 34-year-olds have student loan debt, and more than half of all student loan holders are concerned they will not be able to pay off their loans.
  • Twenty-four percent of 18- to 34-year-olds have past-due medical bills, compared to 14 percent for the 55+ age group.
  • Twenty-nine percent of 18- to 34-year-olds with a mortgage have been late with a mortgage payment, compared with 7 percent for the 55+ age group.

The NFCS measures four key components of financial capability: making ends meet, planning ahead, managing financial products, and financial knowledge and decision making. Drawing on a data set comprising responses from more than 27,000 U.S. adults, the NFCS is one of the largest and most comprehensive financial capability studies in the country.

All in all, the study revealed that the millennial cohort is more highly stressed financially than older cohorts. Further indicators of this stress include:

  • Millennials overdrew their checking accounts at a greater rate than other age cohorts. Twenty-six percent of respondents with checking accounts between the ages of 18 and 34 reported they overdrew their accounts at least once in the past year, compared to 21 percent and 11 percent in the older cohorts.
  • Millennials use non-bank borrowing more than other cohorts. Thirty-eight percent of millennials reported using at least one non-bank borrowing product (payday loan, auto title loan, pawn shop or rent-to-own store) in the past five years. Older groups tended to avoid these high-cost products, with only 27 percent and 13 percent of those cohorts reporting use.
  • Millennials are also struggling with medical costs. Thirty-six percent of those aged 18 to 34 said they avoided a medical service due to cost.

Even though retirement may seem like a long way off to a millennial, more than half (57 percent) reported being worried about running out of money in their golden years. Yet many don’t hesitate to borrow or withdraw from retirement accounts. Twenty-two percent of millennials have taken a loan from their retirement account and 20 percent have taken a hardship withdrawal.

To learn more about millennials and other segments of Americans, take a deeper dive into the findings of the NFCS by visiting

Later in 2016, the FINRA Foundation will release the findings of the Military Survey portion of the NFCS. Stay tuned.

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