NEW YORK -- The credit union industry has been honing in on the need for financial literacy in recent years, and help is certainly needed based on a new survey of the financial makeup of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34.
Americans in this age group could be facing a troubling future as a consequence of their current spending and saving habits.
This was the main finding from a new study commissioned by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and conducted by Dr. Christopher Thornberg and Dr. Jon Haveman, economists with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles, on behalf of Feed the Pig (www.FeedthePig.org), a national public service campaign sponsored by the AICPA and the Ad Council.
The number of people ages 25 to 34 years old maintaining an interest-bearing account or other savings instrument declined from 65% in 1985 to 55% in 2004. Notably, the ownership of the most accessible of these instruments, a simple savings account with a bank, fell from 61% to 47% between 1985 and 2004. Their median net worth has fallen dramatically, the study found. In 1985, it was $6,788; by 2004 it had plummeted to $3,746.
"For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans are spending more than they earn," said Jimmy Williamson, chair of the AICPA board of directors. "Twenty-five to 34 year-olds face the toughest challenges, but also have the benefit of time to work toward lifelong financial security."
The study also found there is an increased willingness among Americans in this age group to acquire unsecured debt. The average level of debt in 1985 was $3,118, whereas by 2004, it had climbed to $4,733. On average, net worth for 25 to 34-year-olds was 99% of income in 1985 and by 2004 it dropped to 92%.
In 1985, about 65% of Americans ages 25 to 34 owned some form of savings instrument including traditional savings, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, and other financial investments, such as stocks and bonds, Keogh, IRA, and 401(k) accounts. Between 1985 and 2000, the proportion of this population that owned one or another of these savings instruments fell to 59%. Between 2000 and 2004, the decline accelerated, when it fell another four percentage points, a pace two-and-a-half times faster than in the previous 15 years, the study noted. For this age group, the average credit card debt is $4,088 and the average student loan is $20,000. They spend 24% of their income just on debt payments, but they have the second highest rate of personal bankruptcy in the nation, according to the study. Several challenges may possibly prevent younger Americans from saving including the rapidly changing demographics of the nation, the structure of the current public welfare system, and changes in global capital markets, the report said. Ultimately, "this group of people is between a baby boomer rock and a fiscal hard place." "People in this demographic are getting married, having children, developing careers and buying homes," said Carl George, chairman of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. "The financial decisions they make now will have a long-term impact. Working with the Ad Council, which has a legacy of creative, memorable public-service campaigns, we hope to change behaviors and help set our target audience on the right path."
The study found that concentration of wealth has not dramatically moved over the past decade. While the mean net worth among 35 to 44 year-olds averaged $81,000 in 1985, increased to $110,000 in 2000, and was unchanged through 2004, the mean net worth for Americans 25 to 34 increased more slowly between 1985 and 2004, from $25,115 to $26,109.
Where one lives also appears to affect savings accumulation, according to the report. The East South Central region of the United States, which consists of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, ranked lowest in ownership of savings instruments and net worth, the study indicated. Changes in unsecured debt, home equity, and demographics play an important part of the regional disparities. In the East South Central region, low-wealth individuals account for 86% of the unsecured debt. The New England region, which consists of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, reported the largest accumulation of wealth and the least amount of debt for 25 to 34-year-olds. For all regions, marital status and level of education factored more with savings and debt versus race or income status, the study found. "All Americans should make saving for the future a priority," said Dan Iannicola Jr., deputy assistant secretary for Financial Education, U.S. Department of the Treasury. "Earlier this year, in the national strategy for financial literacy, the federal government challenged the private sector to join with us in our efforts to help Americans become more financially savvy. I'm pleased to see that the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has answered our call to action with this new national campaign." --firstname.lastname@example.org