As a generation, millennials are facing a lot of financial headwinds. But it seems that at least some are starting to gain some ground.
Nearly a quarter of the millennial population (defined here as ages 24 to 41) has $100,000 or more in savings, up from the mere 16% who had hit this milestone in 2018, according to a new report from Bank of America that surveyed about 800 millennials.
Before the Internet collectively blows a gasket, Bank of America's report is not saying that 24% of millennials simply have $100,000 lying around a savings account.
That $100,000 total includes retirement savings such as 401(k) funds and money invested in individual retirement accounts, Bank of America's Andrew Plepler tells CNBC Make It. However, it's not a net worth figure, so things like home value are not part of the $100,000 savings.
"It's a reasonably good economy, and so for those who do save and have been able to put money into a 401(k), they've had some nice tailwinds," says Plepler, who is the global head of Bank of America's environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.
In fact, when you include retirement savings, hitting the $100,000 mark isn't that much of a stretch. Consider that the average millennial makes about $47,034 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For those who are at the top of Bank of America's age range, 41, that means most have likely been working for about 20 years.
If they saved an average of 5% of their salary over that time period and earned returns of about 7%, then they'd have over $96,000 saved already. And of course, that's just an average — many millennials make far more than the average salary and save for retirement at higher rates.
When it comes to saving, as a generation, millennials have done pretty well. About three out of four millennials (73%) say they're currently saving in some capacity, according to Bank of America's survey. And not only are most saving, when it comes to retirement, millennials started much earlier (age 24) than their Baby Boomer parents (age 33).
"You have much more awareness today [about retirement savings]," Plepler says, but adds the popularization of target date funds and auto-enrollment programs, as well as an increase in employer matching, have also helped prompt retirement contributions at earlier ages.
In fact, almost half (49%) of millennials (defined here as 23 to 38) are currently using a 401(k) and roughly one in four millennials have a Roth IRA, according to a survey of 2,200 U.S. adults CNBC Make It performed in conjunction with Morning Consult in 2019.
When it comes to liquid savings, just under half (44%) of millennials say they have an emergency savings fund that can cover at least three months of living expenses.
Of course, that's not every millennial's reality. "Even in a good economy, where there's some good news, we don't want to lose sight of the fact that there's a significant number of millennials who feel very anxious about the present and future," Plepler says.
Those who were in a solid place financially heading into the bull market, in that they had little to no debt and could put money away in savings, have really benefited, Plepler says.
Yet millennials who haven't been able to fully participate in the economic growth can feel as though they're falling behind. About 51% of millennials surveyed by Bank of America say their overall financial situation is lagging compared to where they should be — and 60% feel behind specifically when it comes to retirement savings.
"There's a pretty large segment who feel unable to save at all," Plepler says, adding there's this 'best of times; worst of times' contrast. "It's really hard for people living paycheck to paycheck who are carrying debt to break through and have that kind of savings and that kind of [financial] security."
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