Degrees don't make millennials financially literate

Millennials are better educated than previous generations, but that knowledge isn't keeping them from engaging in risky financial behavior. For instance, Americans born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s are heavy users of alternative financial services such as payday loan stores and pawn shops, according to research published Thursday.

"There's an appetite for faster money quicker without thinking of the longer-term ramifications," said Shannon Schuyler, head of corporate responsibility and chief purpose officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC. "They don't want to ask for help, they are embarrassed, they feel they are in this by themselves, and they are using interesting ways, like taking cash advances on their credit cards" to try to deal with their plight, she added.

The research coincides with prior studies that found the millennial generation -- the estimated 75.3 million Americans born between 1981 and 1997 and now the country's largest demographic group -- aren't feeling particularly bright about the future.

In the past five years, 42 percent of millennials used an alternative financial service, such as payday loans, pawnshops, auto title loans, tax refund advances and rent-to-own products, according to the study conducted by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University and supported by PwC.

Broken out, among those using alternative services 50 percent had a high school degree or less and 28 percent had a college degree. But millennials are in too much debt regardless of their education, with two-thirds overall and 81 percent of the college-educated carrying at least one outstanding long-term debt.

Nearly 30 percent of millennials are overdrawing on their checking accounts, and more than 20 percent with retirement accounts took loans or hardship withdrawals in the past year.

Millennials are the age group with the lowest level of financial literacy among the overall population: Only 24 percent demonstrate basic financial knowledge, and just 8 percent show high financial literacy.

A majority, or 54 percent, of millennials are concerned about their ability to repay their student loan debt, and 34 percent with annual household incomes above $75,000 worry they may not be able to repay their student loans.

Schuyler advises millennials in financial trouble to ask for help, including from parents, and to ask questions about financial products, including the fees involved with using them.

"If you start off on a bad foot, you can easily recover. But the question is, how far down the road do you kick the can?" said Schuyler, who added that poor decisions could curtail future options such as purchasing a home.