America’s beleaguered millennials received a rare gift on Tuesday: A scrap of good news. Even with the aggregate student debt burden eclipsing the $1 trillion mark, and wages pressures across the US economy remaining relatively subdued, a new survey from Bankrate.com claims that Americans’ savings habits are improving for the first time in a decade, with the strongest gains recorded among the 18-26 demographic.
Indeed, after almost a decade, Americans may finally be turning the corner on saving money. More than 30 percent of them say they have enough tucked away to cover six months’ worth of expenses—a seven-year high for this measure of financial calamity preparedness, a financial planning favorite, according to a Bloomberg report on the data.
“Ever since the recession, we’ve noticed in surveys that people realize how important it is to have emergency savings, but for so many years post-recession they just weren’t making any progress,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, which released the survey on Tuesday. Now a broader swath of people are finally making headway, he said.
“[A poll] of 1,003 Americans, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International [at the behest of Bankrate], showed impressive savings habits among millennials, particularly younger ones, McBride said. Thirty-one percent of Americans age 18-26 have enough saved to cover three to five months’ worth of expenses. (Some, however, are likely living at home or with roommates—or counting their trust funds.)
“Millennials have a savings discipline that the preceding generations lacked,” he said.
“They have a greater aversion to debt, they’re not as consumption-focused, and they have a greater propensity toward saving than we’ve seen in some time.”
To be sure, millennials’ quest to save money is made easier by living with their parents, as nearly a third of them do, allowing them to save on rent, which is rising at nearly twice the rate of inflation. Millennials' age bestows another advantage: When they lose their jobs, they typically don’t struggle with long stretches of unemployment, unlike their parents (Americans aged 53-62) who are finding it increasingly difficult to secure a new job after being fired or laid off. Given their age, savings rates among this demographic – which Bloomberg has labeled “the young Boomers” - are particularly concerning, as only 32 percent say they have nothing set aside, while the same percentage say they have enough to cover at least six months.
In terms of savings, Boomers were hit the hardest by the financial crisis, which wiped out the financial cushion – not to mention jobs - for many members of the demographic. Those who managed to stay employed, however, still have a cash hoard in place.
As McBride tells it, many Americans made solid progress paying down debt or refinancing after the recession. Now they’re are putting more money into savings, but they’re also starting to add to their debt burden.
“It’s gone almost full circle,” McBride said. “People started feeling better about their level of debt several years ago, but in the past 12 to 18 months, debt loads started to grow again, and now the comfort level people have with their debt isn’t as strong.”
When comparing the savings rate as a percentage of disposable income, the picture is decidedly less rosy. That rate has turned up a bit and is well above its 2007 levels. But at the same time, debt on household balance sheets has been building.
Here are some more highlights from the report via Bloomberg:
- “The percentage of Americans with some savings, but not enough to cover three months’ worth of expenses, rose to 20 percent, up from 18 percent last year. The percentage of Americans with enough to cover expenses for three to five months inched up to 17 percent from 16 percent.”
- “As you’d expect, older boomers, those age 63 and older, are the most likely to have at least six months’ of expenses saved for an emergency, coming in at 44 percent. Seventeen percent of them reported having nothing set aside for an emergency.”
- “…almost a third of Generation X—those people between their late 30s and mid-50s—aren’t doing that great. Some 28 percent say they have some savings, but not enough to pay three months’ of expenses.”
- “A look at emergency savings by region shows the Midwest with the highest percentage of Americans saying they have enough to cover six months of bills. Southerners have the least.”
- “Lower- to middle-income households, those making $30,000 to $50,000 a year, are more likely to have an adequate cushion than to have no savings at all. Twenty-four percent of these households had saved enough to cover six months’ of expenses, the survey found. An earlier Bankrate.com survey found that 22 percent of these households were saving more than 10 percent of their annual income.”
Household debt has returned to record highs, according to the most recent quarterly report from the New York Federal Reserve. Total debt held by US households reached $12.73 trillion during the first quarter of 2017, finally surpassing its $12.68 trillion peak reached during the recession in. This marked a$479 billion increase from a year ago, and up $149 billion from Q4 2016 after 11 consecutive quarters of growth since the deleveraging period immediately following the Great Recession.
Here’s a breakdown of the Fed’s data:
- Total household indebtedness stood at $12.73 trillion as of March 31, 2017. This increase put overall household debt $50 billion above its previous peak set in the third quarter of 2008 and 14.1 percent above the trough set in the second quarter of 2013.
- Mortgage balances, the largest component of household debt, reached $8.63 trillion as of March 31, a $147 billion uptick from the fourth quarter of 2016.
- Balances on home equity lines of credit fell slightly in the first quarter, down $17 billion to $456 billion.
- Non-housing debt saw mixed changes—an increase of $10 billion in auto loans and $34 billion in student loan balances, and a $15 billion drop in credit card balances.
- Despite the new nominal all-time high, on a relative basis, household debt remained below past levels in relation to the size of the overall U.S. economy, and in Q1 total debt was 66.9% of GDP, nearly 20% lower compared to 85.4% of GDP in Q3 of 2008.