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LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

No. 1 Source of Money Stress for Millennials Is Debt

Updated on:
Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Despite common criticisms pointed at millennials, the source of their money stress isn’t indulgences like lattes and avocado toast.

According to a LendingTree survey, 39 percent of millennials say too much debt is the number one source of money stress. What’s more, about two-thirds of millennials never learned how to handle debt.

The survey also reveals that millennials may not be aware of several options for repaying and managing student loans. While there are likely solutions for millennials struggling with student debt, they aren’t always obvious.

This survey set out to find the money challenges that millennials are struggling with and stressing about the most. It also explores whether millennials feel equipped to solve financial problems and overcome money stress.

Two-thirds of millennials never learned how to handle debt

Only a quarter (27 percent) of millennials say they weren’t taught about central financial topics as a child or teenager. About half (54 percent) say they were taught about budgeting, specifically. This means a majority of millennials start out with some financial literacy as adults.

However, other money lessons were less common:

  • More than two-thirds (69 percent) of millennials weren’t taught how to handle debt.
  • Only three out of five (59 percent) millennials say they were taught about setting up emergency funds or short-term savings.
  • 71 percent of millennials learned nothing about saving for retirement.
  • Four out of five (81 percent) millennials say they didn’t learn about investing early on.

Although millennials may not have learned much about saving for retirement or investing when they were younger, they can teach themselves by reading up on a certain topic or following a money podcast.

Where do millennials go for advice about money?

  • About half (48 percent) of millennials rely on family for financial advice.
  • 25 percent of millennials rely on the internet.
  • 24 percent seek money advice from friends.

Interestingly, 43 percent of millennials say they are not comfortable discussing financial matters with friends.

Overall, millennials have learned most of the basics of finance. For instance, they know they should follow a budget and try to save when they can. But following through is a lot trickier for them. The top sources of money stress for millennials gives insight into why.

Debt is the top money stressor for millennials

Most millennials feel they have too much debt, struggle to manage a budget, and can barely keep up with living expenses. Millennials’ top money stressors underline that this generation feels they have too many demands on their money, and few funds left over to save.

When asked, “What stresses you out about money?” millennials responded with the following (with the option to choose more than one answer):

  • 39 percent say too much debt.
  • 29 percent say managing a budget.
  • 29 percent say affording rent and other necessities.
  • 20 percent say the fear of making mistakes or acting on bad advice.
  • 16 percent say not knowing their financial options.
  • 10 percent say understanding credit.

Additionally, around a quarter selected “none of the above.” This could indicate that those respondents are either not stressed about their money or their top stressor was not among the answers provided.

Credit card debt and student debt are biggest sources of stress

Although debt is the leading source of financial stress for millennials, not all debt is created equal. Here are the different types of debt millennials find most stressful:

  • Credit card debt: 27 percent
  • Student debt: 25 percent
  • Medical bills: 16 percent
  • Mortgage: 12 percent
  • Car loan: 11 percent
  • Payday loan: 3 percent

Credit card debt can be the most expensive type of debt and takes the longest to repay. While other forms of debt usually have installments, credit card debt minimums are set low and readjust each month. In fact, $10,000 in credit card debt could take as long as 28 years to repay, according to a calculation from

Plus, while millennials are a younger and likely healthier cohort overall, one in six (16 percent) struggle with paying medical debts. Additionally, a third (34 percent) of respondents don’t seem to view debt as a source of money stress and chose “none of the above.”

Student debt prevents millennials from making major life decisions

For millennials with student loans, 61 percent surveyed say these loans are their most stressful type of debt.

  • Meanwhile, 39 percent of these millennial student loan borrowers say the cause of their stress is the idea of being in student debt for so long.
  • Subsequently, 31 percent are most stressed by the size of their student loan balance.

Another third of millennial student loan borrowers are about equally stressed out by these factors:

  • 11 percent stress about their student loan interest rate.
  • 10 percent stress about their monthly payment amount.
  • 9 percent feel stressed because they feel they have no options.

Student debt also holds back millennials from taking important life steps. When asked what they would do if they had no student loans, here’s what respondents chose:

  • 41 percent would buy a home.
  • 35 percent would take a vacation or travel.
  • 8 percent would start a company.
  • 6 percent would have a baby.
  • 6 percent would get married.

Although homeownership is the most common life step millennials are putting off due to student debt, it doesn’t have to be. Many millennials could both qualify for and afford a mortgage alongside student debt — if they are willing to make other financial sacrifices.

Millennials don’t always know their student loan options

Millennial student loan borrowers surveyed often feel stuck and stressed about repayment. However, they have some idea of what their student loan options are and say they have considered the following:

  • Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans: 39 percent
  • Student loan forgiveness: 31 percent
  • Deferment or forbearance: 31 percent
  • Refinancing student loans: 24 percent
  • None of the above: 25 percent

But, while most millennial student loan borrowers had considered at least one of these options, they might not be aware of all their choices:

  • A full quarter of millennial student loan borrowers haven’t considered any of the repayment options listed in the survey.
  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of millennials surveyed have not looked into refinancing student loans.
  • Two-thirds (61 percent) have not considered an IDR plan, even though it could help with managing a high balance.

Millennial’s biggest money challenges are in everyday management

Overall, the survey underlines that millennials were taught about money and have a strong foundational understanding of finances.

However, they are still facing common money stresses over their debts, budgets, and expenses. Many millennials feel it’s too difficult due to balance high debt payments with various living expenses or other financial goals.

So what can millennials do about this? With their highest earning years still ahead of them, they can focus on growing their income. With more income, debts and expenses become more affordable.

Additionally, millennials should play to their strengths of a strong financial literacy foundation. Millennials who continue to explore debt repayment strategies and improve their financial behaviors will ultimately be able to minimize their money stress in the long run.

Looking to become Debt-Free? Allow LendingTree to Help You Get on Track

If the burden of debt is too great for you to manage on your own, consider debt relief. It can help you get your finances under control if you’re struggling to keep up with multiple credit accounts and other types of debt.

For a fee, a debt relief company can provide extra support to people overwhelmed by debt. This service often includes negotiating with creditors on your behalf to lower monthly payments, rates and what you owe. Many debt relief companies will also provide counseling to help you create a budget that works.

Find out more about how debt relief could help and get partnered with trusted providers through LendingTree’s debt relief marketplace.

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