Millennials having a low net worth should not be terribly surprising, mainly due to the fact that they haven’t had a lot of time to start accumulating wealth. Looking at the numbers overall gives us a depressingly low figure: -$17,612 for average millennial net worth.
Why this number is so low is almost completely because of student loans. Older generations have either paid off their student loans, are foregone them in their entirety, and they’ve had more working years to build their wealth. 18-30 year-olds get to experience what life is like with a large monthly payment (which can be adjusted based on income, resulting in more interest being paid) and only a degree to show for it (if they graduate).
Going a step further, universities and community college have been raising their rates over the past decade since they know that it is so easy for students to get public loans for higher education. Some of the new money may be going into capital improvements or increased scholarships, but it seems as though a lot of it is going towards higher salaries for administrators. Professors may have gotten a small bump in pay that has slightly outpaced inflation over the last seven years, but the schools know the money is there for the taking so why pass it up?
This situation has essentially led to a bubble that cannot pop. Unlike the housing crisis in the late 2000s, borrowers cannot walk away from student loan debt. Student loan debt will follow you for just about your entire life, but it may not matter after a couple of decades. If you hold public student loans, the government will likely take your tax returns and may even garnish your wages, until it is paid off.
Millennials also have far lower credit scores than older generations (you can find yours here), making it more difficult for them to obtain a loan in the first place and resulting in a higher interest rate when you do qualify for a loan. This leads to a situation where renting a home may be more expensive than purchasing one, but because of the lack of credit, a millennial may not even get the chance to build equity in their living space. For most Americans, their home is their largest single factor affecting their net worth.
Combined, this causes the perfect storm for millennials to suffer from a lack of savings and a net worth well into the negatives.