Majoring in Money 2019

By Sallie Mae® and Ipsos

Young adults are confident and optimistic in money management skills

See how spending behaviors, saving habits, and financial literacy skills differ among college students, college graduates, and young adults who didn't finish their degree (non-completers).

View the Majoring in Money 2019 report (PDF)
View the Majoring in Money 2019 infographic (PDF)
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College graduates are the most confident about how they handle their money

71% of college graduates consider themselves excellent or good at dealing with money, followed by 59% of college students, and 42% of non-completers.

More college graduates practice positive money management skills than college students or non-completers

  • Most college graduates (82%) know their credit scores, compared to about half of students (56%), and two-thirds of non-completers (67%).
  • College grads (41%) are more likely to have an emergency fund than students (22%) or non-completers (31%).
  • More college grads (24%) invest their savings in high-interest accounts than students (17%) and non-completers (10%).

Every group says they want to improve their financial literacy

college grads

The future is top of mind for grads. They say they need information on investment strategies (34%) and retirement and future financial planning (33%).

college students

Education financing is a hot topic. Students want to learn their options for paying for school (33%) as well as repaying their student loans (33%).


This group has an interest in getting help with day-to-day money management skills like budgeting (40%) and debt reduction strategies (33%).

There's still room for learning when it comes to financial topics like interest accumulation

When put to the test via a four question, multiple-choice quiz on interest and the cost of credit, a small group of young adults got it right.

24% of college graduates
got them right

11% of students
answered correctly

18% of non-completers
knew all the answers

Credit cards are popular among all young adults

The majority of young adults have them, including 57% of college students, 83% of college graduates, and 61% of non-completers.

And, college students' use of credit cards is rising

They have, on average, five cards

In 2016, students reported having and using an average of three cards.


Their average balance is $1,183

That's a 31% increase over the average credit card balance in 2016.

Building credit is the #1 reason all young adults give for opening a credit card

Establishing credit was cited by 58% of college students, 74% of college graduates, and 77% of non-completers.

Each group has different reasons for choosing a specific credit card
  • 35% of students chose their first card because their parent/ guardian used and/or recommended it.
  • College grads said their top reason was rewards points (34%).
  • Among non-completers, ease of approval was the number one reason (42%).

More than half of young adults with credit cards would be interested in a credit card that offers loan repayment rewards

59% of students, 52% of college grads, and 57% of non-completers said they'd like to earn rewards that could be redeemed through automatic payments on their loans.


Use of mobile payments and debit cards is nearly universal across young adults

icon credit card digital wallets feature accent

College grads and college students lead the way in mobile payment use at 88% and 86% vs 78% of non-completers.

dark blue icon with coral accent for ATM. a dark blue card with a coral stripe inserted into an e-reader or register.

More non-completers carry debit cards, 91% vs 89% of students and 85% of grads.

8 in 10 college grads, students, and noncompleters are likely to carry cash.

dark blue icon with coral accent for mail. dark blue envelope with coral details.

Checks are rarely used among any group. Only 15% of grads, 12% of students, and 9% of non-completers report paying with them.

footnote Majoring in Money 2019, by Sallie Mae, the nation's saving, planning, and paying for college company, and lpsos, the world's third-largest market research company, reports the results of 2,419 online interviews conducted between December 21, 2018 and January 18, 2019 with 810 college students, ages 18 – 29; 804 young adults who have graduated from college (completers), ages 21 – 29; and 805 young adults who have left college without a degree (noncompleters), ages 21 – 29.