The financial future of Millennials doesn’t look great. With an average student debt of $35,000 per student, and a increasingly large percentage of students who take out loans, Millenials can often expect to spend decades paying back their college tuitions. Saddled by debt, and burdened with a relatively high unemployment rate for their age group, the million-dollar question is: how can Millennials ever hope to reach their financial goals?
Enter IVY Member and Financial Advisor Douglas A. Boneparth, who describes himself as New York’s financial advisor for Millennials. The situation is not as dire as you might think, he argues — not if this generation acts now instead of years from now. Read below for his top advice, the four concrete steps people can take to get out of debt, and his insights into Milennials’ financial future.
What’s the problem you’re seeing with the millennial generation?
Unfortunately, people in general lack financial literacy, including the millennial generation. That’s a big problem. If I hadn’t been the son of a financial advisor, I would not have learned personal finance at any phase of my academic or professional life. It wasn’t taught in grade school, in college, or in grad school. It’s practically non-existent in our curriculum. What happens as a result is that we begin to live our financial lives on a reactionary basis, so we learn by either making correct decisions or incorrect financial decisions. That’s not good. We should be proactive.
Millennials are having a harder time than other generations because the rising cost of education has put pressure on them to take out student loans. Those loans are substantially higher than those of generations before us. Without being financially literate, we unfortunately suffer the consequences of making those financial decisions (like taking out an enormous amount of student debt) without fully understanding how we’re going to service them, how we’re going to live a lifestyle that is comfortable, and how we’re ultimately going to reach our long-term financial goals. When you’re saddled in debt, it then becomes an emotional burden. It’s debilitating and a distraction from the focus you need to plan and achieve your financial goals.
How would you advise people to get out of debt?
There are four steps.
Step one is taking ownership over your debt. Don’t worry about how you got there, that’s in the past now, just do something about it today. Educate yourself and don’t be in denial. Get over the emotional hurdles of it. It’s that, often scary, lump sum of debt that worries most people.
Step two is identifying and prioritizing your goals. This is subjective. Ask yourself: what is it that I want? Is it retirement? Financial independence? Is it a home, or starting a family? A piece of real estate? You get to choose what the goals are. Only when you do that can you sit down and create a plan to make those goals a reality.
Step three is to have a plan. Sit down with a certified financial planner, then share with that professional your current situation. Many, like me, offer complimentary consultations so you can see if engaging in a formal way is something you want to do. Or, you can take that information and do it yourself if you feel you are not ready to work with a professional just yet. There are also tools out there, like Mint and Quicken, that can help you. It really depends on your current situation, what you want for yourself and what kind of person you are.
Step four is implementing that plan. That’s where I shake my preverbal pompoms and let my clients work hard. There’s no silver bullet here: it’s hard work. You need a burning desire to achieve your goals.
How do you think future generations will make financial decisions?
I think younger people will be more selective about how they choose education. You may see more people deciding to spend their money on grad school as opposed to undergrad, so they might pick a more local and affordable undergraduate option. They might go for colleges offering them money even if they’re not flagship schools. Hopefully, you’ll see the younger millennials actually educating themselves on personal finance, so that if they do choose to pay for an expensive education, they know exactly what they’re going to deal with when they graduate. If it costs $100,000 for four years to attend college, and the person wants to live in NYC later on and have a certain kind of job, then that person should work backwards and think of how much money he or she will need. Students should be thinking: “Will I make enough so that those loans are able to be serviced while also affording a reasonable lifestyle?” That will affect their decision. I hope people start doing that.
What sets you apart as a financial planner?
First and foremost, I’m willing to invest in our generation. The industry generally neglects this segment, and I don’t like that. I’m willing to help. I’m willing to put my time, energy, and money behind it. If I can help us today, the reward will come later.
I also think you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a 30-year-old, certified financial planner who a) has grown up doing this by virtue of being involved in the family practice, and b) has been an advisor for more than a decade.
Lastly, all the economic realities facing millennials that I’m talking about are ones that I personally face. My clients are talking to someone who’s in the same boat as them. If I can do it, they can do it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge is being really young in this industry, since it’s harder to be taken seriously. It was very difficult to work through that and to be patient. However, in doing so, I’ve finally been able to be successful in the way I envisioned. I’m not the most patient man in the world, but the one area in life where I chose to be very patient was with my business. That was a good move.
What’s the best way the IVY Community help support you?
I’d like to let our members know that if they have any questions about personal finance, or their personal financial goals, there’s someone here who can talk to them without making them feel like they are being pressured into something. You know, the whole sales thing. We really find this to be a turnoff. Most advisors are in their 50s and 60s, and millennials don’t necessarily want to talk with someone they cannot relate to. I want people to have a comfortable environment where they can express their concerns, get answers and make informed financial decisions.