Personal Finance

Baby boomers' wealth is 12 times greater compared to millennials. Here's why

Key Points
  • While the average older household had about seven times the net worth of younger households in 1998, they now have about 12 times the net worth, according to a MagnifyMoney analysis of Federal Reserve data.
  • Housing costs, debt and the Great Recession are all to blame.
  • Here are some quick tips for millennials to get their finances on track.
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The wealth gap between baby boomers and millennials has become a gulf.

Back in 1998, the average household aged 52 to 70 years had a net worth of $747,600, while households in the 20 to 35 age bracket had an average net worth of $103,400, according to a MagnifyMoney analysis of Federal Reserve data.

Over the last two decades, the oldest cohort has seen their average net worth grow to $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, the 20- to 35-year-olds have an average net worth of $100,800.

"The young adults of 20 years ago were in a much different place," said Mandi Woodruff, executive editor at MagnifyMoney.

Wealth disparity

Rising housing costs are in part to blame for millennials' difficulty accumulating wealth.

The median home value in the U.S. today is $227,700, according to Zillow. The number has skyrocketed since 1990, when the median home value was $79,100 (or $101,100, when adjusted for inflation) according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Millennials have also been hit hard by student debt.

The Federal Reserve estimates that there is around $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt in the U.S. and that, of the roughly 45 million Americans with the loans, more than a third are under 30.

Save, save, save, because over the next 30 to 40 years, that is going to help you achieve the financial security that you desire.
Paula Mogan
Senior Vice President, UBS

In addition to these rising costs, the Great Recession also caused millennials to be timid about entering the market, Woodruff said.

"If you watched your parents' nest eggs, their 401(k)s get depleted, you might respond to that by saying a 401(k) is not a safe vehicle," Woodruff said. "There's this fear around getting into investing.

"There's a fear around opening a 401(k)."

Millennials shouldn't let market anxiety deter them from investing. After all, they have the greatest asset on their side: time.

"Save, save, save, because over the next 30 to 40 years, that is going to help you achieve the financial security that you desire," said Paula Mogan, a certified financial planner and senior vice president at global investment bank UBS.

Whip your finances into shape

Millennials are moving to the suburbs, but suburbs can't keep up

Pay off high-interest debt. Credit card debt often has high interest rates, which makes it costly to maintain. Refinancing a mortgage at a lower rate might make sense, in some cases.

Set up an emergency fund. Have enough money to cover six months' worth of expenses. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings so you don't have to think about making that small sacrifice each month.

Take advantage of benefits. When you get your first job, put 10% to 15% of your paycheck into a 401(k) plan, especially if your company will match the contribution.

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Some employers include student debt assistance as an employee benefit, so ask about it, said Mogan.

Budget for your goals. Write down your goals — such as buying a home, getting married, having children — and categorize them into short-term, intermediate or long-term, said Mogan. Then budget for them.

"For example, if a young couple is getting married, buying a home might be a five-year goal," she said. "Set up a separate account for that specific goal."