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Being 26: A money checkup for biggest U.S. age group

NEW YORK - Callan Olive is about as adult as you can get for a 26-year-old.

She and her husband, Isaac, who is also 26, own a house near Chicago where they live with their 4-year-old, 2-year-old and newborn. She has her own private therapy practice; he works for a major retailer. They pay their own cellphone bills and car insurance.

“We are solidly in the grown-up phase - in a lot of ways, we feel out of the norm,” Callan Olive said recently.

There are 4.75 million more 26-year-olds like the Olives out there right now, which makes young adults born in 1990 the largest single age group in the United States today, according to Census Bureau data. They are now mostly out of school. Some are married with children, but the bulk are still single.

Here is a sampling of how 26-year-olds are tackling their biggest financial priorities:


U.S. student debt, which exceeds $1 trillion, is holding back some members of the United States’ biggest age group. A case in point: Joseph Lawson, who is living one version of the millennial dream by working for a major tech company in Seattle. However, Lawson owes more than $50,000 in student loans, which eats up $536 of his monthly pay.

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Rent keeps skyrocketing, and he had to move to control costs. Lawson now lives with his girlfriend, but marriage and a house are still just dreams at this point, as is grad school and someday putting his interest in Russian history to use.

“We’re adults now -- you have to do what you have to do,” Lawson said.


Victoria Schuyler, a 26-year-old who just started a job for a real estate website in New York, graduated without debt, thanks to help from her parents.

But that does not make the struggle to make it in the big city any easier. Her first sticker shock: paying a 15 percent broker’s fee to land an apartment.

What confounds Schuyler the most about her finances is how best to save for the future when she has so many needs right now. Like most people her age, she received no formal financial education in high school or college. When Schuyler has questions about finances, she asks her parents or her boyfriend, who just passed his exam to become a certified financial planner.

“I add a little bit every month to savings, but mostly it’s paycheck to paycheck,” said Schuyler.

This is a dynamic that financial planner Shannon Pike, president of the Financial Planning Association, sees often among his clients, who often get paralyzed when trying to put their funds into too many different buckets at the same time.

“You have to take each dollar and divide it into chunks,” Pike advised.


Staying on family plans for phones seems nearly ubiquitous among single millennials.

“I’m financially independent except for that ever-existing cellphone plan,” said Nick Hogan, who works in public relations in Chicago and is just about to turn 27.

“It’s one of those things, a lot of parents might forget about. It’s also a really easy way to help out a little bit,” said Rachel Rabinovich, head of the financial planning team for Society of Grownups, an online financial education resource. Her own 24-year-old is still on her family plan.

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Even young adults as independent as Callan and Isaac Olive say they piggyback on their parents’ Netflix accounts. Many also stay on family car insurance plans.

Current healthcare law allows children to stay on their parents’ medical insurance until they turn 26. But sometimes there are hitches.

Lise Deal, 26-year-old from Davenport, Iowa, remained on her father’s insurance even after she got married, and then realized the plan did not cover her pregnancy as a dependent.

Deal has since switched to her husband’s plan at work, and is working on how to balance their needs and wants - with saving for a house, retirement, and college for their son at the top of the list. What she wishes for her toddler son to eventually learn about money is this: Money is what helps you get your priorities.

“Financially, we’re chipmunking away,” Deal says. “But even at our poorest, we get fun money each month. If all the dollars go to grown-up things, you will go crazy and not stick to your budget.” 

(Editing by Lauren Young and Jonathan Oatis)

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