In a study titled “The Pandemic’s Perfect Storm,” Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business chronicled the financial struggles that millennials (born between 1981-1996) and the oldest Gen Zers (1997-2012) endured together. Both demographics have been disproportionately likely to apply for government benefits, both have been forced to put off saving money and paying down debt and both tend to be falsely confident about their own parents’ abilities to support themselves in retirement.
Also, both groups encountered stumbling blocks right out of the gate. Millennials came of age during the time of 9/11 — they largely fought the wars that followed. Then, the 2008 recession washed over the global economy just as they should have been establishing themselves in their careers. For millennials, the pandemic was just the latest gut punch. Gen Z has known nothing but the digital age, and many of them are still kids themselves. The oldest of the bunch are at the dawn of their careers, which are taking flight during the most uncertain and trying times in recent history.
GOBankingRates interviewed experts who specialize in dealing with the finances of young adults to find out what sets Gen Z apart from the millennials despite all they have in common.
Gen Z Hasn’t Caught the Budgeting Bug Yet
The oldest millennials are entering middle age, and despite their often-unearned rep as financially frivolous, they tend to be prudent budgeters, according to Kaitlin Walsh-Epstein, vice president of growth and marketing at Laurel Road.
“In a survey we recently conducted at Laurel Road, we found that Gen Z doesn’t love budgeting as much as millennials do,” Walsh-Epstein said. “When it comes to using budgeting tools like personal finance apps, digital spreadsheets and moving money between savings accounts, we saw that millennials utilize all of these options more than Gen Z.”
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But That’s Because They’re Just Getting Started
The youngest Gen Zers are barely 10 years old. The oldest are only 25. If they haven’t figured out budgeting or anything else yet, they have something on their side that’s the envy of even the most financially astute millennials, Gen Xers and the rest — time.
“Gen Z is still very young and they are just now starting to get into their working years,” said Zachary A. Bachner, a CFP with Rivendell Capital Management.
And It Seems That Gen Z Is Hot Out of the Gate
Gen Z doesn’t have the track record of their millennial elders, but they’re largely off to a good start.
“Gen Zers have higher credit scores and are less likely to have difficulty paying off debt since they’re less likely to take it on,” said Brian Meiggs, founder of millennial-themed personal finance site My Millennial Guide. “When it comes to savings and investments, Gen Z comes out on top with a higher number of them saving from an early age, sticking to a budget, having more knowledge on investing and making investments.”
Millennials Are Better at Actively Managing Debt
Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely to take action to mitigate their debt instead of just making payments.
“Millennials turn to refinance and consolidation options to manage their student loans more than Gen Z does,” Walsh-Epstein said.
She cited a 2021 research report from Laurel Road that found that during the pandemic:
- Forty-eight percent of millennials refinanced and consolidated their student loans.
- Just 31% of Gen Z respondents did the same.
- Of those with student loans, over half (55%) of millennials plan to pay off more of their student loans this year.
- One-third (34%) of Gen Z expects to do the same.
Millennials Were Gen Z’s Coal Mine Canaries
In the end, the younger Gen Zers were influenced and continue to be influenced by the misfortune of the millennials that came before them — the lessons of 2008, the mountains of student loans, the overspending on borrowed money.
“As far as Gen Z financial habits go, they’ve been shaped by those experiences and the experiences of their parents and older siblings, the millennials,” said Cleo CEO Barney Hussey-Yeo. “They hate debt. They’re also more frugal and interested in managing their money.”‘
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