Poor millennials. If the data-hungry survey firms pursuing them were piranhas, the whole generation would be reduced to a bunch of skeletons.
The behavior and attitudes of people age 18-341 have been scrutinized every which way. Much of that focus makes good business sense, since these 75.4 million Americans have edged out baby boomers as the largest living generation in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the deluge of surveys is only making the whole subject soggy, certainly foggy.
So Credit Karma, a website with nearly 27 million millennial customers, decided to get to the bottom of it. With a survey.
“We researched some of the most commonly believed facts about millennials that Credit Karma suspected wasn’t true,” said Christina Ra, a spokeswoman. “We look at it as ‘Everything You Thought You Knew About Millennials May Be Wrong.’”
One of the most interesting findings in the survey, of 1,016 millennials, wasn’t related to myths. Credit Karma found that “almost 75 percent of millennials cite the 2008 financial crisis as moderately, very or extremely influential in shaping their beliefs about personal finance management.” That helps explain the cautious approach many millennials take toward debt.
One myth the survey debunks is that “millennials make poor financial choices.” It found that more than half of the younger people surveyed were saving for retirement. Of that 52 percent, 89 percent started saving at 28 or younger.
That’s smart. With Social Security benefits likely to be smaller when millennials reach retirement age—62 percent of those surveyed weren’t confident Social Security would be around at all when they retire—saving earlier is more important than ever. Two-thirds of respondents said they started saving as a conscious choice, without prompts from parents or employers.
“I wonder if seeing the baby boomers—their parents, for a lot of them—who haven’t saved enough for retirement and who are having to work longer, maybe gave them a little bit of an appreciation for long-term planning there,” said Bethy Hardeman, Credit Karma’s chief consumer advocate.
More than 30 percent of millennials don’t have an emergency fund, however. That may not be a bad decision so much as a forced one, due to competing priorities. Of those who do have an emergency fund, 36 percent had saved more than $1,000; 13 percent saved less than $200.
Then there’s the popular notion that “millennials don’t care about owning a home.” There’s some truth to that, but it’s not that simple. Younger millennials who didn’t want a home tended to say they didn’t see the benefit of owning, while older millennials were more likely to say it was just too expensive. Many millennials are moving into popular urban areas where home prices are high. Still, almost 88 percent of those who said they didn’t want, or couldn’t afford, a home today wanted to buy one in the future.
Student loan debt didn’t come up a lot as a barrier to homeownership. That said, of the millennials surveyed who don’t own a home, “the majority confess that buying a home is too expensive for their current financial standing,” according to the survey—a standing that likely includes student debt, you’d think. Again, living through a crisis—in this case, the housing crisis—may lead to a more cautious financial stance.
“They may have seen what a detriment it was for so many people during that time to have a home that was too expensive,” said Hardeman.
One or two of the survey’s myths seemed less than mythic, such as “suburban millennials are more likely to own a vehicle than urban millennials,” edging toward territory one might call “Here’s More Than You Ever Really Cared to Know About Millennials.” And is there really a whole mythos in the marriage patterns of urban and suburban millennials? Maybe if you study this stuff for a living.2
It’s a certified myth that millennials, those big fans of the sharing economy, don’t want cars. Some good nuance on that front can be found in data cited by Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky. Credit Karma’s study found that 78 percent of the millennials surveyed own a car.