Millennials Face Financial Strain

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By FINRA Investor Education Foundation Staff 

If you're part of the millennial generation, your financial life is probably no walk down easy street.

 A new study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, The Financial Capability of Young Adults—A Generational View, reveals that American millennials—those born between 1978 and 1994—show concern about their debt, engage in problematic financial behaviors and display low levels of financial literacy.

The study examined financial attitudes, behaviors and knowledge of more than 6,700 millennials—and while most respondents were civilians, millennials make up the largest cohort within the armed forces.  

Survey results paint a troubling financial portrait of the millennial generation:

  • Almost half (46 percent) of millennials are concerned that they have too much debt. This is slightly less but on par with gen Xers (50 percent). But it's much higher than the 38 percent of baby boomers and 23 percent of respondents from the silent generation who feel they have too much debt.
  • Forty-three percent of millennials engaged in costly non-bank forms of borrowing in the last five years, like using pawn shops and pay day lenders. By contrast, 21 percent of boomers and 8 percent of the silent generation used non-bank forms of borrowing. 

Recent economic events play a role in the millennial generation's financial struggle. Many millennials began their adult lives in the midst of the worst economic downturn in generations, and this survey reveals just how difficult coming of age in the midst of the Great Recession has been for this generation of Americans. 

Millennials are not a monolithic group, and there is a fair amount of variability in financial capability levels among the different demographic subgroups within the generation. Millennial females and minorities display signs of lower financial capability, but it is lower-income households and households with dependents that struggle the most.

Millennials and Financial Literacy 

In addition, low levels of financial literacy hamper most millennials. Only 24 percent of millennials were able to answer four or five questions on a five-question financial literacy quiz correctly. And among young millennials—those approximately 18 to 26—only 18 percent were able to answer four or five questions correctly.

 Somewhat surprisingly, The Financial Capability of Young Adults also found that despite the higher financial strain that millennials face, they express levels of financial satisfaction that are on par with generation Xers and boomers.


 For information and tools to improve your financial capability, visit the FINRA Foundation online at


 The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is an independent, non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business with the public in the United States. Through the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, we provide investors with high-quality, easily accessible information and tools to better understand the markets and the basic principles of saving and investing.  FINRA and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation do not sell investment products, promote products or firms, or offer specific investment advice.


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