4 major life goals Americans are putting off because they can’t pay their debt

What happens when you don't pay off your debt?

A number of young Americans have hit pause on life events because they can't pay off their debt, according to an NBC News-GenForward survey of nearly 1,900 adults.

Of those life events, there are four major ones that stand out. The survey found that 34 percent of millennials have delayed buying a home, 31 percent have delayed saving for retirement, 16 percent have put off having children and 14 percent have put off getting married.

Debt has more far-reaching impact, too. Approximately three of every four millennials in the United States report having some form of debt, according to the survey, including a quarter who are more than $30,000 in the hole and 11 percent who owe more than $100,000. "As a result, saving has taken a backseat," the survey notes, "which has affected the pace at which millennials live their lives and left most unprepared for a financial emergency."

Suze Orman explains how much money you'll need to have when an emergency happens

About 3 in 10 have less than $1,000 in their personal savings, 24 percent have no savings at all and 67 percent say they would have trouble paying an unexpected $1,000 bill.

In a similar survey, financial website Bankrate found only 39 percent of respondents would be able to cover a $1,000 setback using their savings, while 19 percent would have to use a credit card.

Defaulting to plastic for an emergency or another expense is a major culprit in creating or continuing debt. "Credit card debt is the most prevalent type among the group," the NBC News-GenForward survey notes, adding that it plays a "bigger role than student loans."

Overall, outstanding credit card debt has reached more than $1.02 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. The average U.S. adult owes nearly $6,000, reports. And the average millennial, financial site Credible estimates, owes nearly $5,300.

Millennials with college degrees are more likely to have credit card debt than those without degrees, the survey points out. But they're also likely to make more money: 56 percent of degree-holders make more than $50,000 a year versus 31 percent of those without degrees.

Despite their debt, though, millennials are making strides toward financial security. A Discover survey found that 81 percent of millennials are saving in some capacity, compared to 77 percent of Baby Boomers and 74 percent of those in Generation X.

A Charles Schwab survey that tracked how 1,000 Americans aged 21 to 75 handle money found that young people are better with finances than their older peers. And, according to recent Bank of America survey, one in six millennials now has $100,000 stashed away.

The NBC News-GenForward survey notes that "millennials overall remain optimistic about the future: 58 percent are optimistic about things like finding and keeping a good job, paying off student loan debt and being able to afford the lifestyle they want."

If you're looking to build up your savings, pay down your debt or become better at handling your money, experts like financial advisor Suze Orman and best-selling finance author Tom Corley suggest a good first step is to set up a budget and keep an eye on how you spend.

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