Often, answers are back at home once college ends, financial education begins
By Ylan Q. Mui
By Ylan Q. Mui
WASHINGTON — Victoria Grossmann graduated from the University of Florida in 2003 with a degree in business, a minor in statistics, big plans — and about $5,000 in credit card debt.
That debt was enough to send her back home to live with her parents for three years, during which she learned the tough financial lessons confronting many young people saddled with consumer debt and increasingly hefty student loans.
"I had a hole to dig myself out of, and therefore moving home was the only answer," said Grossmann, 25. "If I tried to pay rent, that would be just extending the amount of time it would take for me to pay off my credit card."
Such are the trade-offs facing many recent graduates. Some —known as the Boomerang Generation because they just keep coming back — move in with their parents, and others scrape by on their own. Either way, this is when young adults gain their financial footing by learning to juggle needs and wants. Call it Personal Finance 101, the hard way.
For recent graduates, trying to live within a budget is complicated by low starting salaries, minimal savings and often high educational and other debts. Student Monitor, a New Jersey research firm that specializes in the college market, puts a graduate's average student loan debt at $25,760, which will take an estimated 7.9 years to pay off.
Credit card liabilities can also weigh heavily. A recent survey of college seniors by the firm showed that though 60 percent paid their balance in full each month, those who didn't carried an average balance of $617. Other research suggests that credit cards may be an even greater burden as young adults get older: An analysis of Federal Reserve data by the policy-research group Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action showed that adults between 25 and 34 have an average credit card debt of $4,358.
Numbers like these have driven many young adults back to the nest after their college graduation. A report released last month by Experience Inc., a Boston firm that recruits at universities across the country, showed that more than half of the approximately 300 students surveyed moved in with their parents after finishing college, with 32 percent staying more than a year. Forty-eight percent of those living at home said they did so to save money.
Financial planners say that for those who live at home, saving money should be the top priority. Shashin Shah, a financial planner with SGS Wealth Management in Texas, advises young adults living at home to sock away at least 10 percent of their salary. Shah says recent graduates should try to save for retirement, even if that means taking longer to pay outstanding credit card balances, though other advisers say paying off those debts should come first.
Saving for retirement has not gotten much consideration yet from Seth Niedermayer, 22, a Yale University graduate who is back at his parents' home in Bethesda, Md., after spending six weeks traveling through Europe. He plans to work for a year, either in Washington or New York, then go to law school. He anticipates his salary will be about $35,000. He had some money saved up from summer jobs, but he spent much of it in Europe.
"Preliminarily, I think what we thought was that if he's living at home, it's an opportunity for him to save his money," said Seth's mom, Gail Ross. "We would not charge him room and board, but he would be expected to help around the house."
Abby Wilner, co-author of "Quarterlife Crisis" and "The Quarterlifer's Companion," recommends that parents and kids discuss financial goals and expectations, including the length of time spent at home. Whether it's with chores or rent, parents should require that children contribute to the household.
Experts, as well as young adults and their parents, debate the merits of charging rent. Elina Furman, author of "Boomerang Nation," said rent is crucial to teach responsibility, even if it is a nominal $50.
"It's a very important gesture that implies that you're an adult and want to be treated as an adult," she said.