There's also been some shift in grads' financial attitudes: 91 percent said financial independence is an important goal, down from 95 percent who thought so in 2011. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said they think they'll never be self-sufficient more than tripled, from 0.6 to 2 percent. Grads also said that annual salary was less important when job-hunting, compared to two years ago.
How long you should bankroll adult children's expenses is first a question of your own finances. Considering that many families have scaled back, halted or even raided retirement savings to pay for college, it's not a certainty that parents can afford to help, said certified financial planner Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network.
"As airline flight attendants tell us, put your own mask on first before helping others," she said. "That's what we need to be doing." (After all, helping the kids when you can't afford to only means you'll be leaning on them that much more for financial support down the line.)
Even if it turns out parents can afford to help, that might be the best idea. "Are you helping, really?" asked Garrett. "It gets to the point of enabling." If your children are in a better financial position than most, with a decent job and reasonable loan payments, offering handouts can make it harder for them to learn how to live within their means.
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To that end, the study found full-time workers have an average $4,900 in credit card and other debt, versus $2,500 for those who are part time and unemployed—a difference study authors attributed in part to "an inflated sense of their ability to manage debt, leading to less responsible consumption."
Once you've assessed your ability to help, it's a matter of figuring out terms for any continued aid. "Is it a loan or is it a gift?" said Beck. "Be very clear." Set a date with your child for your financial contributions to cease. Consider setting a longer timeline or scaling back aid slowly if your child faces tough financial challenges, said Ballou.
"We need to be sitting down with our adult children and recalculating the vision of how they get to a successful adult life," she said.