Credit card, student loan debt overwhelming millennials on tight budgets
Approximately 34 percent of millennial women with credit card debt don’t know exactly how much credit card debt they have, according to a national survey commissioned by the 1,000 Dreams Fund and CreditCards.com.Another 40 percent with student loan debt don’t know their total student loan debt balance, either. However, many young women are fretting about both of these common debt burdens: 61 percent of those with card debt worry about it at least occasionally, as do 94 percent of student loan holders.
To better understand the fiscal struggles millennial women are facing, more than 1,000 U.S. women ages 18-36 were polled using Toluna Quicksurveys and asked how they are managing credit cards, student loan debt, savings and day-to-day expenses. (See survey methodology)
Main findings from this joint survey include:
- Approximately 79 percent of young, female cardholders have credit card debt of some kind. Of the card debt-carrying poll respondents, 35 percent owe more than $5,000.
- For the 67 percent of young women who have student loan debt burdens, that burden can be large. Of those with student loan debt, 12 percent have more than $50,000.
- Debt is major source of worry and stress for young women. For example, of those with credit card debt, approximately 42 percent always or frequently worry about repayment. Plus, more than half of young women (53 percent) say they always or frequently worry about not having enough money for daily expenses.
Overall, between the cost of college, card debt and just day-to-day expenses, many millennial women are experiencing financial strain these days.
“It does not surprise me,” said Heather Fraser, president and CEO of Logos Financial Solutions in Miami. “I find many times it’s the millennials who have less money available to invest and save because of significant debt. It’s an environment that requires young people to be really well educated about their finances.”
Credit card management is weak
According to the survey, millennial women aren’t all averse to using credit cards, as 67 percent have at least one credit card in their wallet today.
Those who aren’t actively using credit cards are “worried about getting into debt,” according to 53 percent of respondents. That may be a legitimate concern, as 79 percent of the young cardholders surveyed are dealing with credit card debt. In fact, about 33 percent of female millennial cardholders said they have $1,001-$5,000 of card debt. Of those with card debt, approximately 19 percent have more than $10,000. Meanwhile, 34 percent have no idea how much they own their card issuers.
“They are a great tool to build credit, but you can also fall into a trap abusing them,” said Michelle Black, author and credit expert with HOPE4USA.com, a credit education and restoration resource. “Cards are easy to use and can help you make impulse buys without a second thought. And if you don’t know how much you are spending, it’s really easy to overextend yourself.”
A lack of savings may also cause some young women to rely too heavily on their available lines of credit. However, credit cards should not be viewed as an additional source of income when purse strings are tight. “Card debt is an extra financial obligation added onto an already stretched thin budget,” Black said. “In the short run, it might offer some relief, but in the long run it will make things harder.”
Those who are unsure how much card debt they owe need to find out. Credit card debt can quickly take a toll on a young adult’s vulnerable credit. “Even if you are making payments, your credit score may still be impacted by a high credit limit usage,” Fraser said.
Student loans are overwhelming
As the survey found, high education expenses have put two-thirds (67 percent) of millennial women in student loan debt.
The average cost of a year of public college tuition and fees reached $24,061 for the 2015-2016 school year, according to CollegeData. You can almost double that number for private colleges: $47,831. It’s not surprising many are struggling to foot such a bill and accumulating debt as a result, according to Black. “Student loan debt has been trending upward year after year,” she said. The national student loan balance has surpassed the national credit card debt balance and currently sits at $1.35 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve figures.
Scholarships aren’t always a funding option for education expenses, either. Four in 10 of college-educated poll respondents have not received such assistance. Instead, young adults today are facing high tuition rates and readily available student loans.
“Student loan debt is something other generations didn’t face,” said Fraser. “Others were able to graduate, get a job and depend on that job for decades. This generation is facing high student loan debt, a wavering job market and even greater accessibility to credit cards.”
For nearly all those carrying student loan balances, paying back student loan debt is a major concern. A whopping 94 percent of such respondents are worried about their ability to do so.
“If someone is seriously overextended with student loan debt, consider consolidating student loans,” Black suggests. In some cases, that can lower private loan interest rates, but proceed with caution. Or, “See if you qualify for any income-based prepayment plans that would alleviate the burden of too-high payments each month, for now,” she added.
Before anything else, the young women who don’t know exactly how much student loan debt they are carrying need to find out.
“You need information before you can start seriously addressing debt,” Fraser said. “Period.”
Know what you owe
Debt burdens – credit cards, student loans or both – can quickly take a toll on millennials’ overall financial well-being. The 1,000 Dreams Fund and CreditCards.com survey also revealed these signs that many young women are struggling:
- While in college, 39 percent of respondents said they typically have less than $100 in their bank accounts each month after paying bills.
- Approximately 24 percent of millennials said they don’t have financial help from parents, immediate family members or others to cover living expenses.
- In terms of savings, 72 percent of young women do not have an emergency fund with three to six months’ salary saved up.
While impulsive, unnecessary spending may be the root problem for some, high debt balances can deplete a bank account just as quickly. Instead, “Income goes toward paying down debt, which means less money for savings and, in some cases, even addressing all debt payments,” Fraser said.
Tips for taking control of debt
If you’re struggling, here are five tips to help you take control:
1. Stop spending money on “wants.” If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. “I always say to my clients that the only way to address [debt] is to spend less,” Fraser said. “Make a budget, focus on lowering unnecessary spending and then save and invest. Use cash if you really have to, to keep things under control.”
2. Check your credit report and score. An easy way to keep an eye on your overall debt burden is to check your credit reports. “Make a habit of checking it annual, if not quarterly,” Black advises. “It’s a better overview of what’s going on with your debt burden.” Your score will help you better understand the negative implications of debt, too.
3. Revisit your budget. Odds are you can’t afford to pay off all the debt in one fell swoop. “However, you need to figure out how much you need to pay each month to chip away at that debt,” Black said. “Then, budget accordingly so you don’t keep relying on cards for other expenses.”
4. Increase your income. Working more hours each week might not be ideal, but taking on a second job may help stabilize your finances. “If taking on a second job for the next three to six months would improve your quality of life and improve your stress level by helping to dig yourself out of a hole, it might be worth it,” Black said.
5. Set goals for yourself. Compare where you are now to where you want to be. What do you want to achieve in the next 10 years? Do you want to buy a house? Travel? Whatever your goals are, keep them in mind while you tackle your debt. “I think that will help reduce stress levels and also help you reach those goals,” Black said.
This Toluna Quicksurveys poll was run with SmartSelect, a respondent selection methodology used to promote sample representativeness. SmartSelect relies on statistical matching rather than probability sampling and selects respondents based on demographic, attitudinal and behavioral characteristics that match those of the target population. For this survey, 1,241 U.S. women ages 18-36 were polled July 18-25, 2016.
About the 1,000 Dreams Fund
The 1,000 Dreams Fund (1DF) is a national scholarship fund for American girls in high school and college. 1DF believes that big expenses should never stand in the way of big dreams. Since its launch in 2015, over $35,000 in funding has been granted to talented young women in need, helping them pay for the “extras” in school like study abroad, tech devices for the classroom and travel to conferences and seminars.
See related: How to combat 5 common female financial fears, Poll: Women lose more sleep over money worries than men