BACK

Sean Gladwell/ Moment/ Getty Images Plus

Research and Statistics

Being debt free – not wealthy – is how young adults define financial success

A new Merrill Lynch study shows adults under 35 tend to value financial independence over getting rich

Summary

In a new survey by Merrill Lynch, almost 6 in 10 respondents under 35 said being debt free is how they define financial success. And the second most popular result among this group was being financially independent from their parents.

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Forget becoming wealthy. Most adults under age 35 are defining financial success as merely being debt free.

A Merrill Lynch study on financial independence among early adults found that 81 percent of households under age 35 carry some form of debt. The most common forms are credit cards and student loans, each affecting 45 percent of early adult households. Auto loans and mortgages followed, at 39 percent and 28 percent respectively.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that when asked how they define financial success, the top-ranking response was being debt free, reported by almost 6 in 10 respondents (59 percent). Consequently, among the quarter of early adults with a 401(k) account who had made an early withdrawal, the top reason cited was to pay off credit card debt.

Being financially independent from their parents was the second most popular response, at 44 percent. Currently, almost 6 in 10 early adults say they’d be unable to afford their current lifestyle without parental support (58 percent).

In contrast, only 22 percent of respondents age 18-34 said financial success meant becoming wealthy.

Merrill Lynch’s research drew upon a nationally representative survey of more than 2,700 adult respondents in the U.S., with a focus on Americans ages 18–34. Conducted in October 2018, the survey results were released April 20.

What’s up next?

In Research and Statistics

Fed: Card balances jumped by $7.2 billion in May

Credit card balances continued their upward climb in May, according to the Federal Reserve, as consumers continue to ride the economic expansion train.

Published: July 8, 2019

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report Updated: August 21st, 2019
Business
15.55%
Airline
17.49%
Cash Back
17.63%
Reward
17.49%
Student
17.69%

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.