Reducing debt wins out for most Americans over saving as a top financial priority, according to research released Tuesday by BMO Wealth Management (U.S.).
The study, “Your Personal Net Worth Statement,” shows that 31 percent of 1,018 people surveyed named debt reduction as their top priority. The number is higher (35 percent) for baby boomers and Gen Xers, and lower (24 percent) for millennials, who say they are concentrating on saving for goals such as buying a house.
“Priorities can shift over time. It is reassuring to see Americans focus on eliminating debt that otherwise could be a hindrance to reaching their financial goals,” says Jason Miller, national head of wealth planning for the Chicago-based BMO. “Having a financial plan, budgeting and continuously monitoring your financial situation can help ease the stress of the life transitions that you’ll face at each life stage.”
The report also notes that 42 percent of Americans are concerned about being unprepared to meet unexpected expenses. This is probably because 44 percent report unexpected health-care costs, 40 percent had a major bill after some unexpected crisis, 33 percent had to provide support to a family member, and 28 percent had lost a job.
“Significant life events—such as the death of loved ones, a divorce, a major medical issue—can cause people to have a fair degree of anxiety about their financial future,” says Miller. “In addition to helping you create a holistic financial plan, working with a financial professional can help you stay on track should unexpected life events arise. Your advisor can also reorient your financial strategy to help meet your personal needs and goals.”
BMO has advice for different life stages. New grads should put together a plan for paying major expenses and paying down student debt. Parents should use gift-giving occasions to teach children to budget their money. Retirees should reduce expenses and establish a consistent cash flow, taking into consideration any goals such as traveling.