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Study: Millennials Forging Optimistic Future Despite Failing Financial Behavior

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Young American adults, Millennials, are forging their own optimistic way into adulthood through a detachment to politics and religion, distrust of others, and low levels of financial literacy. (Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Young American adults, Millennials, are forging their own optimistic way into adulthood through a detachment to politics and religion, distrust of others, and low levels of financial literacy. (Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Young American adults, Millennials, are forging their own optimistic way into adulthood through a detachment to politics and religion, distrust of others, and low levels of financial literacy.

A new study from the FINRA Investor Educational Foundation shows that millennials (generally referred to as those currently between the ages of 18 and their mid-30s) display low levels of financial literacy and consistently engage in problematic financial behaviors. Nearly half (46 percent) of milllennials are concerned they have too much debt, meanwhile, nearly one-quarter of millennials in a separate Pew study spend more than they earn, among a series of other faulty financial behaviors.

But Millennials are more optimistic than Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and their Silent Generation predecessors, with almost half (49 percent) saying America’s best days are still ahead.

Millennials – a term FINRA uses to refer to people born between 1978 and 1994 – is characterized as a generation that grew up in a country with “more racial diversity, a narrower gender gap in educational attainment, large increases in the cost of higher education and the defining events of September 11, 2001.”

According to the Pew Research Center, “Millennials are also the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles.”

And data suggests that some millennials have launched a failing attempt to better their financial situation.

The FINRA Foundation study found that only 24 percent of millennials were able to correctly answer four-out-five financial literacy questions. Among those 18-26, only 18 percent were able to answer four correctly.

Almost half (46 percent) of millennials are concerned they have too much debt, slightly less but on par with gen Xers (50 percent) – but 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, and only about four-in-ten millennials said they are planning some type of savings for retirement. More than one-third (34 percent) of millennials engage in risky pre-paid debit and credit card behavior.

Sample questions from the five financial literacy cues included: “Suppose you have $100 in a savings account earning 2 percent interest a year. After five years, how much would you have?

If interest rates rise, what will typically happen to bond prices? Rise, fall, stay the same, or is there no relationship?

A 15-year mortgage typically requires higher monthly payments than a 30-year mortgage but the total interest over the life of the loan will be less,” asked one true-or-false FINRA prompt.

The national average of the test on Monday showed that the national average answered 2.88 of the five questions correctly, with 1.26 saying they “don’t know” the answer to the questions.

“Many millennials began their adult lives in the midst of the worst economic downturn in generations, and our survey reveals just how deeply and broadly the Great Recession has marked the financial lives of this generation of Americans,” FINRA Foundation President Gerri Walsh, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, far too many millennials trying to cope with these economic conditions have low levels of financial literacy and are wrestling with concerns about their debt.”

However, a recent UBS Wealth Management study suggests that Millennials — scarred by the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession — are the most financially conservative generation since those raised during the Great Depression.

“While Millennials describe their risk tolerance as either conservative or somewhat conservative (34 percent), their average asset allocation is extremely conservative,” write the researchers in a statement. “While the majority of both Millennials (57 percent) and Gen X (56 percent) investors believe that they already have achieved financial stability, or will in the future, only 18 percent of Baby Boomers and 21 percent of Swing/WWII investors predict that their children currently or will have more financial stability than they have.”

But despite widespread financial woes, a new Pew Research Center study finds that Millennials see themselves as decidedly independent and quite optimistic.

Pew Research Center surveys show that half of Millennials (50 percent) now describe themselves as political independents and nearly three-in-ten (29 percent) report that they are not affiliated with any religion. Just 26 percent of millennials are married – significantly less than all three previous generations at the same age.

And although 81 percent of millennials are on Facebook, nine-in-ten Millennials say people share too much information about themselves online.

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