Millions of America's young people are really struggling financially. Around 30 percent are living with their parents, and many others are coping with stagnant wages, underemployment, and sky-high rent.
And then there are those who are doing just great — owning a house, buying a car, and consistently putting money away for retirement.
These, however, are not your run-of-the-mill Millennials. Nope. These Millennials have something very special: rich parents.
These Millennials have help paying their tuition, meaning they graduate in much better financial shape than their peers who have to self-finance college through a mix of jobs, scholarships, and loans. And then, for the very luckiest, they'll also get some help with a down payment, making homeownership possible, while it remains mostly unattainable for the vast majority of young adults.
To start with, most of those who continue their education after high school have families that are able to help financially. A recent report from the real-estate research company Zillow looked at Federal Reserve Board data on young adults aged 23-34 and found that of the 46 percent of Millennials who pursued post-secondary education (that's everything from associates degrees to doctorates), about 61 percent received some financial help with their educational expenses from their parents.
And yet, even with this help, the average student with loans at a four-year college graduates with about $26,000 in student-loan debt. Millennials who are lucky enough to have some, or all, of a college tuition's burden reduced by their parents have a leg up on peers who are saddled with student debt, and they'll be able to more quickly move out on their own, and maybe even buy their own house.
And that matters a lot in the long run: While many remain skeptical about the real-estate market, homeownership is still the primary way that Americans build wealth. But first-time buyers — a group generally made up of younger adults — have been scarce since the recession. And research indicates it's not because many of them want to remain renters, but because they just simply can't save up enough for a down payment, especially not the down payments needed in the expensive urban markets where so many Millennials prefer to live. According to Svenja Gudell, the senior director of economic research at Zillow, "There's a ton of people out there who want to buy. In our most recent survey in the beginning of the year, we had 5.3 million renters interested in buying over the next year."
But, because of their student-debt loads, they cannot. "When it comes to taking out a mortgage, they aren't able to carry that mortgage payment because they have very chunky payments to make to the lenders of their student loans. So that's certainly holding Millennials back along the way," Gudell says.
A recent study by the real-estate company Trulia laid it out this way: Imagine an individual who earns $50,000 and is shopping for a $200,000 home (the median U.S. income and house price). This person would like to put 20 percent down. If he or she follows the popular financial advice to save 10 percent of his or her annual pay, it'll take him or her about eight years to have that down payment ready to go. If that same person has $26,000 of student debt, which means monthly payments of $280 based on a 10-year repayment plan, it'll take this person closer to nine years.
But even these numbers are optimistic, with many Millennials owing monthly payments much more than $280 per month, and making much less than $50,000 a year. And in many markets, a $200,000 house is hard to come by. In some of the priciest areas, such as San Francisco, it would take those with a college degree and student loans nearly 30 years to save up enough for a 20 percent down payment. For those without the wage boost that a degree brings, it probably won't be possible at all.
According to Zillow, 43 percent of Millennials who got help from their parents in paying for school were also able to become homeowners. According to Census data the homeownership rate for all young adults was about 36 percent in 2014.
Then there is the group that the Zillow study dubs "double lucky." These are the select few whose families had enough money to not only help them with college, but to then also assist them with a down payment on a home. This group accounts for more than half of the Millennial homeowners in the Zillow's data, though they account for only 3 percent of the total Millennial population. Only about 9 percent of Millennials whose parents were able to contribute to their post-high school education were also able to help them purchase a home — and the group that had such significant help is an incredibly low percentage of the total Millennial population.
The study calls this a "funnel of privilege": Young adults with rich parents soon become rich themselves.
"Haves are turning their riches or their wealth into bigger wealth because they are investing in the housing market by simply living in a house," says Gudell. This advantage is one that these Millennials will carry forward as they earn more than their degree-less peers, and save more than those who were forced to throw away tens of thousands of dollars on rent due to their inability to buy. In the future, they'll have wealth to pass down to their own kids, continuing the cycle.