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Millennials increase their savings but financial security slips

Man giving piggyback ride to his girlfriend | Jeffbergen/E+/Getty Images

Jeffbergen/E+/Getty Images

Ryan Markey, who's 23, doesn't have a credit card, keeps his student loan debt under control and saves up to 30% of his salary each month. He says the Great Recession helped him get his financial priorities straight.

"I saw my elders, people that were older that I looked up to, struggle during the financial crisis," says Markey, an industrial engineer with solar products supplier First Solar. "Keeping a good savings account is something I think would really help me survive something like that."

His self-assurance isn't uncommon. A new Bankrate survey finds millennials, like Markey, are the age group most comfortable with their financial situation.

Source: Bankrate.com Financial Security Index survey, March 28, 2016

Americans on a confidence streak

The survey tracks Bankrate's monthly Financial Security Index, which slipped slightly in March but still turned in one of the top 3 readings in the past 9 months, thanks to feelings of job security, debt that remains manageable and a rising net worth for many Americans.

Despite the month-to-month decline, March is the 22nd consecutive month Americans have reported improved financial security compared with a year ago. Unemployment has fallen to an 8-year low of 4.9%, boosting the confidence of many consumers.

While Americans of all ages are feeling optimistic about their finances, millennials are the most comfortable with their savings, debt, net worth and overall financial health, according to the survey.

“The good news is that many working Americans are saving, and saving more than last year. The bad news is that 1 in 5 isn't saving anything.”

"Millennials have a greater inclination toward saving, for both emergencies and retirement, than we've seen from previous generations," says Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride, CFA. "Much of this is attributable to the financial crisis and Great Recession coming during the financially formative years for many millennials."

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Millennials meet their challenges

Their coming-of-age has left them scarred. A recent report from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University said 54% of millennials are concerned about their ability to repay their student loans, and nearly half don't think they could come up with $2,000 for an emergency.

Markey, the industrial engineer, is one of the many millennials contending with student loan debt. But even with a medium-size student loan bill, he says his monthly payments don't keep him from setting money aside. He contributes to his company's 401(k) plan to get the employer match.

Too many working Americans of all ages say they aren't saving any of their paycheck.

What's more, Markey doesn't have credit card debt and bristles at the thought of taking it on. "I've seen other people get stuck with credit card debt, and I don't feel like it's a good idea," he says. "I've never financed anything besides my student loan."

Not just coping, but comfortable

Nate Matherson, 21, co-founder of student loan lender LendEDU.com, may not be making a fortune, but he is comfortable with his financial position, largely because he doesn't incur much debt outside of his $50,000 in student loans.

While Matherson has 2 credit cards, he tries to use them responsibly. "I use credit cards to build up my credit, not to overspend," he says.

Despite the good financial behaviors of millennials and good news on the employment front, it isn't translating into more people saving a portion of their income. In fact, too many working Americans of all ages say they aren't saving any of their paycheck, despite feeling more secure about their job and their earnings.

A shocking lack of saving

As much as 21% of employed Americans "claim not to be saving any of their paycheck -- none for retirement, none for emergencies, none for other financial goals. Nothing," McBride says.

Among Americans who already are saving, they are increasing the amount that they put aside compared with a year ago.

Americans saving more than 10% of their income increased to 28%, compared with 24% a year ago, while the number of people saving 15% or more jumped to 1 in 6 Americans, compared with 1 in 7 last year.

"The good news is that many working Americans are saving, and saving more than last year. The bad news is that 1 in 5 isn't saving anything," McBride says.

Some lower-wage earners are saving more

The higher savings rates are skewed toward higher incomes while lower savings rates are more prominent with Americans who are making less.

Still, 27% of Americans with annual income from $30,000 to $50,000 are saving more than 10% of their incomes, outpacing the 24% of American workers with annual income of $50,000 to $75,000.

The Financial Security Index is based on a national telephone survey taken in English and Spanish by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The survey was conducted March 3-6, 2016, with 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

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