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Living in a city may mean you’re trading your rainy day funds for skyline views.
A Credit Karma/Qualtrics survey of 1,022 American adults found that people who live in urban areas report having a median of $1,000 in their savings accounts. Those in suburban areas, however, report having nearly four times as much in their savings accounts — a median of $3,600. (Learn about our methodology.)
The higher cost of necessities could be leaving city dwellers with little wiggle room in their budgets to save. Our survey found 57% of urban respondents’ monthly income goes toward essentials like rent, food and utilities, while nearly half (47%) of those living in cities have or have had student loan debt.
Sacrificing savings to live in the city may seem OK in the short term, but city dwellers may be less financially secure in the long run as they head toward retirement. Our survey shows just 29% of people in cities report having 401(k) retirement accounts, compared with 40% of those in the suburbs.
So is it time to pack up and move outside city lines? Not quite. We have some tips below that can help if you’re feeling the financial strain of city life. But first, let’s take a look at some of the reasons city dwellers may have less room in their budgets to save compared with those in the suburbs.
Key survey findings
|Respondents who live in cities have a median $1,000 in their savings accounts compared with $3,600 for those in suburban areas.|
|City dwellers report having a median $500 in their checking accounts compared with $1,000 for suburbanites.|
|While 40% of suburbanites have a 401(k), just 29% of city dwellers do.|
|The top financial goal for urban respondents is to become financially stable (51%), while suburbanites say their top financial goal is to grow their savings or investments (46%).|
|People in cities are more likely to say their top reason for moving in with a roommate would be to keep rent costs down (63%) compared to people in the suburbs (44%).|
Static wages and a rising cost of living are a drag on city living
It’s no secret that wages haven’t kept up with therising costs of living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2013 and 2017, average income before taxes rose 15%, but expenses increased by around 17.5%.
Our survey shows that city dwellers in particular might be feeling the pressure of slow wage growth and the high cost of living: 22% said they believe their income is “very low” for the area they live, compared with just 13% of suburbanites. What’s more, 20% of city dwellers say they spend more than they make most months, and the top financial goal cited among urbanites (51%) was to become financially stable.
The cost of living can be high in cities compared with the suburbs, according to our survey findings. The table below shows some examples of where survey respondents report spending most of their money.
Percentage of take-home pay spent per month
|Essentials (food, utilities)||28.4%||26.6%|
But it’s not just the overall cost of living that’s leaving people in cities feeling the pinch. People in cities report spending more on housing than those living in the suburbs — almost one-third of their monthly pay (28.6%) compared with less than one quarter (24.2%) — and to spend the largest share of their income on housing.
And the cost of housing may drive city dwellers to move in with others at a higher rate. Among respondents who said they’d move in with a roommate, 63% of city dwellers said lowering their costs would be the top reason for doing it, compared with just 44% of those living in the suburbs.
Student loan debt hits city dwellers particularly hard
Student loan debt is a concern for many Americans no matter where they live. According to Federal Reserve Bank of New Yorkdata, in the first quarter of 2019 student loan debt climbed to $1.49 trillion. In June 2019, Credit Karma members with student loans had an average student loan debt balance of $36,140, according to TransUnion credit reports.
A higher rate of student loan debt among people in cities could be hindering their ability to save. Our survey found 47% of urbanites currently have or in the past held student loan debt, compared with 39% of those living in the suburbs.
A2019 Freddie Mac survey found that student loan considerations can have a big impact on people’s housing decisions. That survey found 51% of millennial renters had to make a different housing choice because of their student loans, while over half of workers employed in the essential workforce — think healthcare, education and law enforcement — had to make housing decisions with student loan obligations in mind.
But withfewer affordable housing options in urban areas, city residents could be left with no choice but to dedicate large portions of their paychecks to rent and student loans, with only a bit left over for savings.
Younger generations have a higher tolerance for expensive housing — and shared spaces
The younger the generation, the more willing its members are to spend and share in order to afford housing, our survey found.
Gen Z respondents, in particular, said they’d be willing to spend nearly half (49%) of their paycheck on rent or mortgage if they had to. Millennials were close behind at 45% of their paycheck. But Gen X respondents and older said about a third of their paycheck (36%) is as high as they’d be willing to go.
What’s more, nearly one-third of Gen Z respondents said they’d consider moving in with someone they didn’t know, compared with just 17% of millennials. The reason? Nearly half (45%) of Gen Z respondents said they would do it to make their rent more affordable.
With younger generationsincreasingly moving to urban areas and housing coststrending higher, millennials and those in Gen Z could very well see a larger portion of their pay going to housing — and it seems they’ve already started adjusting their expectations and strategies accordingly.
Saving in the city: How to live your best life while planning for the future
Based on our survey results, it’s clear that managing to save is a struggle for many people, especially if they’re living in cities. If that describes your situation, we have some tips to help you budget and work on your savings:
Know thyself (and thy budget)
Be honest with yourself about how much you can afford and stick to that. The U.S. Census Bureau recommends spending no more than 30% of your monthly income on rent. As a starting point, if you’re looking for housing, do the math and see what 30% can get you.
If your ideal area or apartment puts you over that threshold, ask yourself what you can tolerate and what you’re willing to compromise when it comes to your living situation. For example, are you willing to live with multiple roommates if it means saving a couple of hundred dollars a month?
Get creative and have an open mind
Although living with other people may not be everyone’s preference, it can be a way to help lower your housing costs. You could also consider getting a side gig to help supplement your living costs. A quarter of all city dwellers surveyed said one of their financial goals included getting additional sources of revenue. Adding to your total income each month could make it easier to put away some savings.
Don’t forget to prioritize future you
You don’t have to have a 401(k), stocks or a trust fund to become a saver. All it takes is setting aside any amount — no matter how small — each month in a savings account. Think about a percentage or a dollar amount you can spare from each paycheck and put it into the account. Over time,compound interest can help your money grow more quickly.
On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in June 2019 of 1,022 Americans aged 18 and up to learn about savings and spending habits in urban areas vs. suburban areas. We also studied the generational differences among responses. To calculate the average student loan debt balance among Credit Karma members, we analyzed, in aggregate, the total student loan debt held by U.S. members as shown on their June 2019 TransUnion credit reports and divided that amount by the total number of U.S. Credit Karma members with student loans reported on their TransUnion credit reports for the same month.
Colorado has the lowest obesity rate of any state, but when it comes to financial fitness, residents of the state borrowed money at an unrivaled pace last year, contributing to one of the heaviest debt burdens in the country.
Nationally, the per capita debt burden runs $50,090, according to an analysis from HowMuch.net, which looked at numbers from Credit Karma and the Federal Reserve Bank.
But in Colorado, the per capita debt burden is at $71,340, just behind California at $71,860. The leader nationally was the District of Columbia at $86,730, followed by Hawaii at $72,590.
Mortgages constitute the lion’s share of personal debt, followed by student loans, auto loans and personal loans.
Colorado ranked fifth amongst all states with an average mortgage balance of $253,202 in 2018, and tied with Texas for the fastest growth rate in mortgage balances at 3.6 percent, according to the credit rating agency Experian.
Rising mortgage debt has followed a spike in home prices this decade, especially along the Front Range. The desperation to get into a home may also explain why Colorado residents borrowed money at a pace unmatched anywhere else.
The average debt individual borrowers added last year was $3,536 in Colorado between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Experian. That’s four times the average gain of $871 across all states during the same period.
As recessionary concerns mount, consumers decreased debt in a handful of states, including New York, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, Vermont and Oklahoma. Colorado borrowers, along with those in Utah, Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts, went strongly in the opposite direction.
Overall consumer debt in the U.S. hit $13.3 trillion at the end of last year, with several categories reaching record highs, according to Experian. They included residential mortgage debt at $9.4 trillion, student loans at $1.37 trillion, and auto loans at $1.23 trillion. Personal loan debt, which reached $291 billion, was the fastest-growing loan category nationally.
- Pillar, a company that is helping solve the student loan problem, announced it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding
- This round of funding was led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from Rainfall Ventures, Great Oaks VC, Financial Venture Studio, Kairos, Red Dog Capital, and Day One Ventures.
- Individual investors Adam Nash, Noah Weiss, Zach Weinberg,Misha Esipov, Patrick Kavanagh, and Nadia Asoyan also participated
Pillar is a company that helps people manage, pay off, and save money on their student loans. And early users of the service have already linked $50 million worth of student loans into the platform for automating and managing the loan repayment process. And Britta Mulderrig, the head of growth and marketing at Pillar, announced that the company has $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins.
Rainfall Ventures, Great Oaks VC, Financial Venture Studio, Kairos, Red Dog Capital, and Day One Ventures participated in this round. And individual investors include Adam Nash (the former CEO of Wealthfront and Acorns board member), Noah Weiss (former SVP of Product at Foursquare), Flatiron Health co-founders Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner, Misha Esipov (CEO and co-founder of Nova Credit), Patrick Kavanagh (head of growth at Robinhood), and Nadia Asoyan (head of finance and strategy at Robinhood) also joined.
Student loan debt is considered the second largest type of consumer debt with 45 million borrowers in the US owing more than $1.5 trillion. And 7 out of 10 students take out loans for paying for college and the average person graduates school with $30,000 in debt and it takes an average of 20 years to pay it off. And it takes more than 30 years on average for people with $60,000 in debt to pay it off. Nearly 20% of borrowers owe more than $100,000 after graduation.
And student loans also have a negative impact on the economy and harms wealth creation opportunities in America. About 83% of people ages 22 to 35 with student debt blame their loans as the reason why they have not bought a house yet. And women — who own two-thirds of all student loan debt — are disproportionately impacted due to the gender pay gap. Since women borrow more and earn less, it results in two extra years for paying off their loans.
How does Pillar work? The platform aggregates all of a borrower’s student loans into one place. Then it analyzes their loans, income, and spending for determining the fastest way to pay down their debt. From there, Pillar automates the payment and management process — which makes it easy for people to take action and pay off debt faster.
“Last year my wife graduated from law school with over $300k of student loans. I was at Stanford Business School, where I planned to take on another $250,000 of debt. We spent weeks researching how we were going to pay our loans back, but struggled to find a way that was right for our unique financial situation and goals,” said Pillar co-founder and CEO Michael Bloch. “I experienced the same problem that millions of other borrowers face each day. I saw how the student loan debt crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing our country, so I dropped out of Stanford to help solve it.”
Essentially, it solves the pain points inherent to managing student loans, thus creating a positive impact on borrowers and helping them get out of debt faster. And the average borrower on Pillar will save $6,200 and four years on repayment.
“Managing student loans has become one of the biggest challenges for many Americans today, impeding their financial well-being,” added Kleiner Perkins investor Monica Desai. “Startups have revolutionized many aspects of personal finance. We believe Pillar is well poised to tackle this mounting crisis and make it radically easier for graduates to manage and get ahead of their student loans.”
One of the biggest issues for borrowers is that student loan lenders are financially incentivized to keep people in debt longer. Pillar is not a student loan provider or refinancer so it does not make money from charging interest on student loans. And it takes just two minutes to sign up with Pillar. Plus it is completely free to download and use. Later this year, Pillar is going to introduce premium features that people can access.
“According to my student loan providers, I will be paying off my loans until I am 40 — yikes. I’m excited about Pillar because it tells me how much money I save by paying a few extra dollars towards my loans every month, which lender apps don’t do and are hard to use. With Pillar, I can see all my loans in one place and can finally see how much money that extra $5 saves me!” exclaimed BNY Mellon project manager Jordan Trejo.
With Pillar, people can make in-app payments and they are regularly updated on new ways to save money so that they can pay off their loans more effectively. And Pillar shows people how much money they will save over time if they make specified payments now or in the near term and whether they can afford to increase or decrease their payments.
“There is no simple way to figure out if you’re on track with making your student loan payments, I’m always wondering if I’m doing the right thing and making the right payments. Pillar’s app makes it easy to know if you are on the right track and making progress,” explained filmmaker Nora Unkel.
Pillar was founded last year by Bloch and CTO Gilad Kahala. Kahala was previously a senior data engineer at Spring Inc., a senior software engineer at Fiverr, and a software engineer for ForNova, IBM, and Zoran. And prior to launching Pillar, Bloch was a manager at DoorDash, the head of growth at Camio.
“I’ve been looking for a way to easily see and repay my student loans all in one place,” explained Ashwin Aravind — who is a law school graduate and management consultant with more than $200,000 in debt. “It’s exciting to see Pillar come along because that’s exactly what it does. I can use it without getting confused or feeling like I’m being kept in debt longer so someone else can make money off of me.”
Through the power of financial technology (FinTech), succeeding and doing well are no longer mutually exclusive. In fact, they are combining forces to exponentiate success across the board. Helping others is just as important of a metric as making money.
But, what is FinTech and how can it help to make a difference in your world?
Reiling has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business” for the past four years and earned an Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” award.
As a social entrepreneur with a long history of innovation in community development finance, Reiling’s visionary leadership has positioned his social enterprise for long-term financial sustainability and positive social impact.
Sunrise Banks, based in Minneapolis, is devoted to helping millennial entrepreneurs take full advantage of their financial burdens and turn them into a “frictionless approach,” as he also outlined in a recent Forbes interview.
In our conversation, Reiling pointed out that with most companies, “providing value” or “doing good” is an addition to corporate responsibility.
“With most companies, if you’re doing well, it’s going to subtract from your margin or bottom line,” he explained.
“But, our entrepreneurial mindset and mission is different than most companies. What we’ve recognized is the better we do from the mission-side—volunteer and community engagement, the better our business is. The more risk taking on new innovations to provide people with more accessibility to credit, the more business has come in. Our business model is not addition/subtraction, but multiplication.”
Meet the 5 “FinTechs”
In the book, Reiling identified five FinTech companies to keep in mind when thinking about how to approach your financial wellness—
Self Lender aims to “create a simple way to establish credit history for the first time.” The platform offers an online credit-builder loan for people to establish credit history through a “savings-secured” loan.
In other words, when you take out a credit-builder loan, you aren’t entitled to those funds right away. Rather, you receive the money after you pay off the loan. The loan itself is deposited in a certificate of deposit (CD), until the completion of the loan term.
The idea of student loan forgiveness is music to millennials ears. According to Peanut Butter, a student loan repayment company, Americans hold $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, which comprises of the majority of the debt crisis.
The company provides access to information that helps employees learn strategies in paying back their student loans and helping to answer questions like when it does or does not make sense to refinance their loans.
Offered by Employee Loan Solutions, True Connect, is an employer-offered small dollar loan alternative which works through the employer payroll system. Borrowers cannot take more than they can pay back, and those payments are taken from checks over the course of the loan.
For many immigrants in the U.S., lacking a credit history prevents them from realizing and accomplishing their vision. NOVA enables immigrants to share their credit history from their home country with financial service providers and others.
Through EarnUp, consumers are able to automate their loan payments, with the company making those loan payments for you, allocating funds in the best way possible to help them escape debt quicker.
How Millennials Fit Into Fiscal Wellness
In the 21st century, the millennial generation has changed everything—from social media and marketing, technology and entertainment, to finance and management.
GritDaily: What role do you see millennials play with respect to fiscal management?
David Reiling: I love the millennial demographic because you are changing the game and the rules in how we play today. A checking account is nice, but it’s not the savior product to some financial wellness. I find that millennials are open to new technology in ways of looking at their financial world. Like everyone, they need financial education, tools, and help, and want someone to make it simple.
Depending on what your day to day transactions are, it’s complicated and full of jargon. Millennials are pushing us towards technologies that make finance simpler. They can combine things, create budgets, manage student loan debt, and help people optimize how they pay their bills. This builds confidence and more accessibility.
They are tech-savvy and aren’t afraid to try things. That opens us to technology and the willingness to try different things, providing for one less barrier we must overcome.
GD: Recognizing many of these new technologies, what challenges are still What are the bigger challenges with respect to the fiscal space, keeping in mind evolution of blockchain technology and digital currencies?
DR: Unfortunately, there are still dangers out there—there are still several options in terms of what products and services to use. I think in some ways like crypto, which seems sexy, they also serve as a distraction to the everyday financial wellness. It’s like buying a lotto ticket—the gamble and volatility.
It doesn’t help pay student loan debt on a regular basis or build your credit history. I think there’s a lot of new things to try, but at end of the day, we do our best within the industry to protect people’s data, keeping it secure and safe, as well as their money. Those are two basic tenements of building trust.
Choose Your Own Fiscal Wellness Adventure
But this is no ordinary book—this is one of those reads where you can put it down, do your own research, and come back to it later on when you are ready.
GD: What inspired you to take your experience in this space into a book?
DR: Sunrise focuses mainly on low- and moderate-income communities and target populations. Whether you are in a low-income, on-bank, or wealthy individual, everyone struggles with their confidence and control around their financial situation. Particularly, managing their own financial wellness. Part of that is the actual money and the psychology and tools to do it. Bringing this into the world with the financial companies we work with, in many ways, they empower people to take control over their financial situation.
This is done by providing access to the system in a very convenient and easy way. The inspiration for this is demonstrated by the beauty of technology to really help people gain control and become a bit more financial well in their life, again monetarily and psychologically thinking about how money intersects with their life.
GD: Let’s talk about your latest book, Fintech 4 Good. For those picking up a copy, how would you advise readers to approach reading the book? Is it an instruction manual?
DR: I would look at the Table of Contents and choose your own adventure, so to speak. I would find the thing that interests me the most, take a quick read, and then pick your next chapter. This allows you to personalize your approach to reading. The one theme I stuck with throughout—all of these things in one-way shape or form, will impact people’s credit history. It’s underplayed how important credit history is, not only in getting access to credit and financial services, but to insurance—your landlord and employer pull this. Having a fundamental decent payment history can lower your costs, provide more access to things, and helps the individual on a positive financial wellness path.