Wells Fargo study finds millennials 'overwhelmed' by debt

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Members of the millennial generation are struggling with finances, drowning in student debt and facing a surprisingly wide gender gap, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The Wells Fargo Millennial Study is getting wide media play, with accounts of the findings carried by the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and CNBC. The poll surveyed 1,639 millennials between the ages of 22 and 33 along with about 1,000 baby boomers, who were surveyed for comparison purposes.

The study found that 47 percent of millennials devote half of their paycheck or more to paying off debt, much of it related to financing college. The survey also found a much higher percentage had taken on student debt than in previous generations, with 64 percent of millennials financing their education with loans compared to 29 percent in the baby boom generation. In total, 42 percent of millennials say that debt is their biggest financial concern.

The 40 percent who described their debt as overwhelming was much higher than the 23 percent of respondents from the older baby-boom generation who said they felt that way, according to the poll.

The study also said that 56 percent of the younger generation report living paycheck to paycheck. Almost half of millennials are not saving for retirement, even though 80 percent say the recession taught them they should be saving now to "survive" economic turmoil in the future.

An infographic from NBC News spells out the highlights.

When it comes to gender, women earn less than men and are more uneasy about their financial futures. A smaller percentage of women said they are saving and more of them feel overwhelmed by their debt; 50 percent of women said they were saving compared with 61 percent of men.

“Millennial women are starting out their working lives making far less than men and, as a consequence, are saving less and feeling less contentment at the start of their working lives,” said Wells Fargo's Karen Wimbish. "Their financial prospects don't look as positive and frankly their career opportunities look more limited."

About 45 percent of women respondents reported feeling overwhelmed by debt, compared with 33 percent of men. The study also found that young people are more likely to seek financial advice from their parents than from a financial professional.

Despite their fears and debt, millennials remain optimistic—72 percent said they are confident they'll be able to save enough to have the lifestyle they want in the future.

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