The perfect storm of millennial debt

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Tanya this oneA perfect storm of crushing student loan debt and a financial naiveté has led to an alarming situation among millennials, who face a long retirement with limited means to fund it.

As of June 2016, the average debt owed by a new college graduate was $37,172, or over $300 per month for the next 10 years.  That means, even the most responsible graduate making regularly scheduled payments will be at least 32-years old before she or he is student debt free.  In addition to the student loan payment, a young adult most likely will have a car loan, a cell phone, utilities, food, gas, clothes and health insurance.  No wonder many millennials are living with their parents!

According to a recent study by Junior Achievement and PwC US, 24 percent of millennials say they expect their loans will ultimately be forgiven. Even those that intend to repay their loans appear to be getting challenging advice. A recent New York Times piece, which noted that between 25 and 33 percent of student borrowers are late paying their very first loan bill, suggested that a reasonable level of debt is any amount that is the same or less than the student’s yearly salary.  That sounds like a statistic for underwriting mortgages.

student-debt-chart

But, just as millennials have an unprecedented debt load, they also have plenty of innovative ways to control it. On-line budgeting tools make tracking payments simple. With automatic account transfers, it is nearly impossible to miss a bill payment.

And not even debt-ridden millennials, who are projected to live more than 100 years, need to neglect their retirement accounts. Thanks to the magic of compound interest, a simple automatic transfer into a Roth IRA can yield impressive results, if they start early enough.

That money grows and, because they’ve already paid taxes on it, they can withdraw without penalty when they turn 59 1/2, if they’ve owned the account at least five years. A consistent investment of a mere $25 a week is enough to build a solid foundation.

In most ways, millennials are exactly the same as every other generation.  They will struggle to make ends meet.  Make mistakes.  Fall in and out of love.  Have children.  Pay taxes.  Grow older.  Maybe have health scares.  Possibly be gifted an inheritance.  See ups and downs in the markets.  Experience great losses and great joys.  Hope and pray that they live long enough to see their grandkids get married.

The difference is the amount of the debt they carry and the length of the retirement they’ll need to fund.

The teacher in me has just one thing to say to my millennial friends – start saving now. You can thank me later.