Young people lag in savings, study says

Saturday, November 18, 2006

When it comes to putting money aside for the future, Shannon Buford may be the exception.

With some nudging from his wife, the 30-year-old Cape Girardeau resident sat down with a financial adviser a few years ago and asked a few simple questions: How much money should he be saving? What was the best way to do it? How much money should he have saved at age 30? At 35? At 65?

"Now, I think I'm socking a whole lot away," said Buford, who is marketing director of the Show Me Center. "I'm contributing as much as I can to my 401-k. It started when we had our daughter. I think that's definitely what made us think about our financial future."

A new study released by the American Institute of Public Accountants warns that young people Buford's age -- 25 to 34, or Generation Y -- are spending too much and saving too little.

The statistics make the case:

* Among adults ages 25 to 34, the average amount of debt in 2004 was $4,773 compared with $3,118 in 1985.

* Net worth of members of Generation Y was 92 percent in 2004, down from 99 percent in 1985.

* In 2004, 47 percent of adults in this demographic owned an interest-bearing savings account, compared with 61 percent in 1985.

The study, released last month, targets young adults because of their troubling financial habits, said Jimmy Williamson, chairman of the AIPA. The decision was made to look at young adults, he said, because the decisions made now by Generation Y will have a greater long-term effect, either positive or negative, due to the many number of years they have left to work.

There are about 40 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 34, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

CPA Mark Minker, a member of the National Financial Literacy Commission and one of the sponsors of the study, said it was alarming that the savings rate for young adults is going in the wrong direction. Personal income has gone up 60 percent for young adults as the savings rate declines steadily, he said.

"Our research shows that these folks don't even have a savings account, much less any kind of interest-bearing investment account," Minker said.

But Minker understands why young people don't save: They're just getting their career started. They're buying homes, cars and nicer amenities.

"But what we're really trying to push is putting something back," Minker said. "I'm not talking about cutting off your arm, but starting to create behavior patterns where saving is a part of your life."

Minker's advice to getting started is to go through a budget process.

"I know this is kind of a dirty word and people cringe when they hear it, but it's important," he said.

Then people should decide if they are living appropriately, he said. Most people spend more than they earn, he said, noting that the average American spends $1.22 for every $1 they earn.

"There's a wow factor there," he said. "But it's indicative of the problem."

People should spend money and enjoy life, he said, but not go overboard.

Young adults should consider a 401-k account, a savings plan where an employee contributes and his employer generally matches that amount. Investigate IRAs or just a regular savings account. He recommends that people plan to replace between 40 and 65 percent of what they make each year after retirement.

Dave Kunz, a professor of finance at Southeast Missouri State University, said it doesn't surprise him that young adults aren't saving enough.

"I know, from a college student's perspective, the last thing on their mind is savings," he said. "They're just working to pay the bills. I know when I was 25, 30, saving certainly wasn't high on my list of priorities."

But there's a lot working against young adults these days, Kunz said. Credit cards, once difficult to get, are now sent in the mail, unsolicited.

Kunz believes that young people should be taught early to save. Missouri, for example, recently required that personal finance be taught at the high school level.

"That was in recognition that something needs to be done," Kunz said.

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