Debt and Skepticism: A Millennial Mindset

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFPInvestment Analyst

Having overshot 30 by a couple of years, I have had to come to terms with the many changes that come with my new age group. Some good, such as lower car insurance rates. Some bad, such as feeling that 9:00pm is closer to the departure time rather than arrival time for a social gathering. Some are mixed; being called “sir” with a high consistency and no tone of irony. I am also no longer considered to be part of the “young adult” group that is said to represent the emerging consumers in the economy and, subsequently, more closely studied by market researchers. These new kids on the block, known as the Millennials, had the financial crisis occur just as many were entering college and the workforce and were beginning to make their first big life decisions. Not surprisingly, they now think about money differently than I did at their age, just a brief decade ago. So what is the current financial mindset of this group some seven years later?

Goldman Sachs reported, in a June 2015 study, as shown below, that this group upon receiving a windfall of cash would look to pay down debt more than any other option by a wide margin.


Goldman Sachs Research Proprietary Survey

The result is not entirely unsurprising given that a majority of college students graduate with debt and, often, this debt is of a daunting amount. However, the magnitude of this victory reflects an overall conservative outlook on how to manage their financial matters.

The second finding, shown below, is of greater concern as it shows Millennials to be very skeptical of investing in the stock market. When asked whether investing in the stock market was a good idea for them, less than 20% answered that the stock market is the best way to save for the future. Approximately twice this amount claimed ignorance, fear of volatility, or lack of perceived fairness as reasons to avoid the stock market. Clearly, the events of the financial crisis have left scars on this group that have yet to heal.


Goldman Sachs Research Proprietary Survey

I am left feeling very conflicted for this group’s future financial health. On one hand, it’s very admirable that, unlike some prior young adult groups, this group has realized early on that debt is not something you simply attempt to defer payment of indefinitely. At least in the case of high interest credit card debt, it is hard to find fault with the pay-down-the-debt option as a sound financial decision. However, an inflexible focus on debt repayment combined with shunning or deferring of investing in the equity markets represents a significant challenge to this group’s ability to save meaningfully for the future.

Quite simply, equity investing has been proven to be one of the best ways to grow purchasing power over time. One advantage the Millennials have is ample time to invest, ride out periods of market volatility and let returns compound. To forego any portion of this advantage has potential to be tragic for future savings. Consider a one-year delay in retirement investing at the start of a career The missed opportunity is more than just the amount of one year’s contribution; rather that one year’s contribution compounded with typically 40+ years of returns until retirement. Over 40 years, a single $5,000 investment compounded at 8% becomes over $100,000. Six consecutive years of $5,000 contributions compounds to over $500,000. This is the potential cost of delaying investing just for “a couple of years.” In other words, earlier contributions are invested longer and can compound to greater amounts. On a per-dollar basis, these are the most impactful retirement contributions.

Contribution at start of year Value of contribution at end of year 40, assuming 8% return per year
Year 1 $5,000 $108,622.61
Year 2 $5,000 $100,576.49
Year 3 $5,000 $93,126.38
Year 4 $5,000 $86,228.13
Year 5 $5,000 $79,840.86
Year 6 $5,000 $73,926.72
Total $542,321.72

Source: Brinker Capital

Albert Einstein said, “Compounding interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.” More attention is given by advisors to older clients with more assets and fewer years until retirement. Often this is due to the fact that clients become more tuned into investing matters as they begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel (whether it be the light of retirement or the oncoming train of insufficient savings). However, the greater opportunity for advisors to help a client’s future financial situation occurs earlier on in a client’s investment life. Helping young clients start off with good financial decision making, such as early investing, and letting these good decisions compound, is likely one of the best ways he or she can add value. Each client situation is different as each client has different goals. However a secure retirement is likely a very common dream and as Langston Hughes wrote, “A dream deferred is a dream denied.” Anything that we can do to ensure those dreams are not deferred is truly good work.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.