The millennial generation may be better at saving than most of us

Millennials may be better at saving than you are.

After years of squirreling away money and giving up traditional Christmas gifts for savings account deposits, Michele Farquharson, her three siblings and their parents are taking in the sights of Scotland's countryside this summer.

The family trip was only possible because Farquharson and her siblings, all millennials, did their part to save.

"There's six of us," said Farquharson, 27, an education director at Betamore. "Budgeting has always been a thing."

Despite their stereotyped reputation for being lazy, self-absorbed, overly reliant on their parents (the list goes on), research shows that millennials in general are doing a better job of saving for a rainy day and for retirement than previous generations.

That's not just one less reason (or maybe one more) to hate on millennials — it's important.

As the benefit-rich pensions that once supported retirees dry up and government programs, such as Social Security, are stretched thin by the aging population, individuals will have to take more responsibility for their retirement, analysts say. And they'll need their money to go further, as people live longer and health care costs continue to rise.

"This generation will have the biggest retirement savings burden in history," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

A 2016 survey by Bankrate found that 62 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 save at least 5 percent of their income. By comparison, about half of adults 30 and older save at the same rate.

In 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings, such as a 401(k) or individual retirement account. Though they may have other savings they plan to use in retirement, Social Security is the main source of income for about half of households age 65 and older, according to the GAO report on retirement security.

Millennials see how these trends are affecting their grandparents' health care decisions and their parents' lifestyle choices, and they want to be prepared.

"We're not counting on the government. We're not counting on companies," said Giovanni Marcantoni, 32. "We've seen that if you don't save money, you're screwed."

As a business owner — he's the founder and CEO of sports league organizer Baltimore Social — Marcantoni is keenly aware of the need for balanced budgets, reserve funds and saving. At the same time, he can't afford to have too much of his savings tied up, should he need it for an unexpected business deal.

Marcantoni puts away about 20 percent of his pay in a savings account, where he can access it without penalty for business needs, though he does his best to leave the account untouched. He also has a 401(k) supported by Baltimore Social, and traditional and Roth IRAs, where he deposits any bonuses or lump sums.

While millennials generally are doing a better job of saving than their elders, it's not enough, analysts said. Only about a quarter of those surveyed by Bankrate save more than 10 percent of their income.

Companies that offer employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts are helping prime savings for their workers. Many now automatically enroll employees at a 3 percent contribution, which is too low to provide a secure retirement, said Judith Ward, vice president of T. Rowe Price Investment Services.

Employers who offer a retirement plan typically will match employee investments to a certain percent, and savers should — at the very least — increase their contribution to take full advantage of this benefit, she said. Ideally, workers should set aside between 10 and 15 percent of their pre-tax income, depending on how much their employer contributes.

Another Bankrate survey found that only a third of millennials invest in the stock market, compared to half of adults ages 36 to 51, considered Generation X. Millennials said they didn't have enough spare income to invest, didn't know enough about stocks and thought the stock market was too risky, according to the 2016 survey.

Millennials who shy away from riskier stock market investments may be leaving money on the table, McBride said. They could make out handily by including some riskier investments in their savings plan because they have decades for any losses to balance out.

There may be good reasons why millennials are more cautious with their investments, according to McBride and others. They lived through the financial crisis of 2008 and the so-called Great Recession. Many were laid off early in their careers, saw others laid off or struggled to land a first job at a time of high unemployment.

This career lag caused by the recession and the slow recovery from it didn't help with the higher-than-ever student loan debt many millennials bear, analysts said.

Peter Lorenzi, a management professor at Loyola University Maryland, warned against generalizations of millennials' savings habits. For every Giovanni Marcantoni, gainfully employed and diligently saving a portion of his paycheck, there may be another millennial who isn't doing as well.

"The other end is a group that's buried in debt, living at home," Lorenzi said.

The Department of Education estimated that in 2014 the average student loan debt for bachelor's degree graduates who borrowed was $27,000, a burden that has grown steadily over the past decade.

Instead of saving their income for retirement, a home or a wedding, millennials who borrowed their way through school are putting that money toward paying off that debt, Lorenzi said.

Just as their saving patterns differ from their elders, millennials also may take a different path to retirement, analysts said.

They may shift to part-time work or a less strenuous job before ending their career, which would help them extend their income, Ward said.

"It used to be you work at a company for decades, you get the gold watch, and go golfing and fishing for the rest of your life," Ward said. "Maybe retirement ends up being more of a transition."

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahgantz

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
72°