More than Half of Millennials Say Debt is Their “Biggest Financial Concern,” According to Wells Fargo Survey

61% of Millennials see themselves as “savers” but their actions don’t support this


Wells Fargo Millennial Retirement Survey 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C.--()--Millennial Americans entered early adulthood in the wake of the Great Recession and know all too well the effects of a struggling economy. More than half (54%) of millennials say debt is their “biggest financial concern currently,” surpassing day-to-day expenses, according to a new Wells Fargo Retirement Survey (NYSE:WFC) focused on millennials’ attitudes toward savings and retirement. Forty-two percent of millennials say their debt is “overwhelming,” twice the rate of boomers who were also surveyed for comparison.

Despite the concerns about debt, nearly two-thirds (61%) of millennials see themselves as “savers,” with 66% of men and 56% of women describing themselves this way. Forty-nine percent of millennials say they are saving for retirement (54% of men and 43% of women), and 51% say they have not begun to save but plan to by a median age of 30.

Of the 51% of millennials who are not yet saving, 53% say they are “overwhelmed,” and this is slightly more pressing for women (55%) than for men (51%). When asked what barriers are preventing them from saving, 87% of millennials say they don’t have “enough money to start saving” or they want to pay down debt first (81%).

“I am glad to see about half already saving for retirement, but we’re also seeing that half of this generation has not started to save and is putting it off until the 30s. I can’t stress enough how important it is for this generation to start saving now – the benefits of starting young can’t be recreated later,” said Karen Wimbish, director of Retail Retirement at Wells Fargo.

The research was conducted by Market Probe, Inc. on behalf of Wells Fargo Retirement. Survey respondents included 1,414 millennials between the ages of 22 and 32 from the Ypulse, Inc. online panel, and 1,009 baby boomers between the ages of 48 and 66 from the Research Now online panel. The research was conducted between February 6 and 15, 2013.

Millennials – Student Loan Debt and Saving

Paying off student loan debt is the top concern of millennials. More than half of millennials (64%) say they financed school through student loans as compared with only 29% of boomers who financed through loans. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, total student debt outstanding is over $1 trillion at the end of 2012. Other ways that millennials say they paid for school was through grants/scholarships (59%) and working while attending school (46%). About half of millennials (49%) say if they had $10,000, the “first thing” they’d do is pay down student loan or credit card debt.

Of the 49% who have begun to save for retirement, when asked what was their biggest trigger to start saving for retirement, one in three millennials (34%) say “they realized that starting early can result in a bigger nest egg down the road,” and more than a quarter of millennials (29%) indicated that the presence of a work place retirement plan was the motivation. For the subset of millennials with various retirement savings vehicles: 72% say they are in employer-sponsored retirement plans, 40% in an IRA and 33% in a bank savings account. Of those millennials that have accumulated retirement savings and are currently saving, almost half (47%) are saving between 1-5% of their income for retirement; 31% are saving 6-10%; 14% are saving more than 10% and 8% are no longer saving.

“Millennials who are disciplined at saving early, regularly and as much as they can, will greatly benefit from the power of compounding and ultimately feel more confident about their financial future. It is curious to me that women – even at this early working stage – are lagging behind men when it comes to saving,” Wimbish added.

Skeptical of the Markets

More than half of millennials (52%) say they are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” in the stock market as a place to invest for retirement. This is particularly true for millennial women of whom 67% are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” in the market versus millennial men (38%). For those saving for retirement, 32% of millennials are “not sure” how much of their savings are invested in stocks or mutual funds. Nearly one in five (18%) millennials say they are invested 100% in stocks or mutual funds, 14% say 75% stocks/mutual funds, 10% say 50% stocks/mutual funds, 15% say 25% stocks/mutual funds and 11% say they are all in cash/bonds.

“Millennials say they aren’t confident in the market, but many are already in the stock market. While it is understandable that this generation is wary, millennials have time on their side and a long runway for future growth,” Wimbish said.

Self-Confident and Optimistic in the Future

Millennials are confident in their future and (67%) of millennials believe they will achieve a greater standard of living than their parents. Almost three-fourths (72%) of millennials say they feel in control of their future and believe they can achieve their goals. Three in four millennials (77%) say that if they lost their job today, they have confidence they could find a comparable one.

When asked about working, three out of four millennials (75%) agree the best way to get ahead financially is to work for a company that offers a career path versus a quarter of millennials (25%), who feel the best way to get ahead financially is to “break out on my own and start a business.”

Half of millennials (49%) say they are confident in their own abilities to earn and save money for their financial future, and more than a quarter (27%) say “time is on my side for my savings/investments to grow.” Seventy percent are “very” or “somewhat confident” that they will be able to save enough to afford the lifestyle that they hope to have in retirement.

“We see a lot of optimism among millennials and a belief in their ability to create a good future. The key for this generation is to put a financial plan into action, so their beliefs become a reality,” Wimbish said.

Student Loan Debt vs. the Value of Education

When asked about the cost for a college education and the opportunities a degree provides, two in five millennials (43%) rate the value of their education as “a great value” and 45% say “somewhat of a value.” About a third of millennials (31%) feel they would have been better off working, instead of going to college and paying tuition. Over half (57%) disagree with the idea that going to a more expensive and prestigious college always outweighs going to a less expensive school.

Millennials feel it is important to learn about financial literacy in school. A majority of millennials (79%) think personal finance should be taught by high schools, 73% say it should be taught by colleges and 70% feel it should be taught by parents. The top three personal finance topics that millennials “wished” they learned more about in school are: basic investing (70%), how to save for retirement (60%) and how loans work (59%).

Strong Parental Influence

As millennials transition into adulthood, more than half (57%) say their parents most influenced them and the way they view money. A majority (78%) say they learned “a great deal” or “somewhat” from their parents about personal finance. In fact, parents were top ranked (60%) when millennials listed where they are most likely to go for advice when investing their money. While more than half of millennials (61%) describe themselves as “savers” when it comes to money, only 46% say both their parents were “savers.”

Views on Advice and Advisors

Despite the millennials’ confidence and self-reliance on their future, they most often turn to family for advice about money. When specifically investing, 36% of millennials turn to their parents or other family members as their first source for guidance, followed by a paid professional investment advisor (17%) and online sites (15%). A majority of millennials (59%) say they would be interested in working with a financial advisor, and 57% of them would prefer a seasoned advisor with years of experience, over someone who is closer in age and in the same life stage as them. Similar to boomers, millennials prefer face-to-face meetings when establishing financial relationships.

For help understanding how to prepare for and live in retirement, visit Wells Fargo’s My Financial Guide at Visit the Beyond Today blog at and see our latest post from our new millennial blogger.

About the Survey

The research was conducted by Market Probe, Inc. on behalf of Wells Fargo Retirement. Survey respondents included 1,414 millennials between the ages of 22 and 32 from the Ypulse, Inc. online panel, and 1,009 baby boomers between the ages of 48 and 66 from the Research Now online panel. The research was conducted between February 6 and 15, 2013.

About Market Probe, Inc.

Market Probe is a global full-service market research firm headquartered in Milwaukee, WI with offices in Evanston, IL. Market Probe specializes in opinion and behavior research among the general public, investors, hard-to-reach populations, and professional communities including business decision-makers and physicians. For more information, visit

About Wells Fargo (Twitter @WellsFargo)

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.4 trillion in assets. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through more than 9,000 stores, 12,000 ATMs, the Internet (, and has offices in more than 35 countries to support the bank’s customers who conduct business in the global economy. With more than 270,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 25 on Fortune’s 2013 rankings of America’s largest corporations. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.


Wells Fargo & Company
Amy Hyland Jones, 704-383-4995
Allison Chin-Leong, 212-350-3824


Wells Fargo & Company
Amy Hyland Jones, 704-383-4995
Allison Chin-Leong, 212-350-3824