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If you’re a millennial, study says, your money-managing skills may not be as bad as you think

(Andrei Tchernov/iStock)

When it comes to money, millennials are doing better than many people think. And yet the vast majority are still fretting about their finances, even as the oldest part of the group has begun applying for mortgages.

Let’s start with savings: Millennials (ages 23 to 37) are saving money. Nearly half have saved $15,000, and 1 in 6 has saved $100,000, according to the latest Better Money Habits Millennial Report from Bank of America. That’s a significant improvement in the past three years: In 2015, only 33 percent had $15,000 or more saved and only 8 percent had $100,000 or more.

Even better, 57 percent of millennials are setting savings goals, and two-thirds are meeting those goals. (From a savings perspective, millennials are far out-saving their baby boomer and Gen X cohorts.)

Not only that, but millennials are extending a DIY mentality to their pursuit of financial independence. A 2017 Merrill Edge study asked millennials to think about 20 years and predict what they could rely on. Two-thirds said they would be able to rely on their savings, a self-created and self-funded source. (Merrill Lynch, which commissioned the study, is a subsidiary of Bank of America.)

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Will millennials continue to save money? According to both studies, at least some millennials are willing to make the kind of tough choices necessary to continue building their savings accounts. More than half are cutting back on entertainment, 42 percent are willing to skip taking a vacation for a year, and 38 percent are saving more than half of their salary.

At the same time, 73 percent of millennials say they worry about money; that’s about the same number that worried about money in 2014. There is clearly a hangover effect from the Great Recession, when millennials were teenagers or in their early 20s, watching their parents battle against the biggest financial storm in 80 years.

Not only that, but the vast majority of millennials say they’re terrible when it comes to money-management skills. (The Better Money Habits Millennial Report found that their parents and grandparents agree with that conclusion, though it seems unfounded.)

Which brings us to mortgages. How do millennials measure up when it comes to getting approved for a mortgage?

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Pretty well. Despite spiraling home prices and a dramatic lack of homes for sale, the National Association of Realtors reported that last year, millennials were the single largest group of home buyers. According to Lending Tree, 38 percent of mortgages went to millennials in 2017. In Cook County, where Chicago is located, 43 percent of mortgages were secured by millennials.

And why are millennials taking the homeownership plunge now? The National Association of Realtors says it’s because the oldest millennials are finally getting around to securing mortgages and buying homes because they’re having children and are thinking about schools.

That might be the tail wagging the dog. Literally. A survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage found that while 66 percent of millennials bought a home for additional living space, a full third said their decision to buy a home was driven chiefly by their dog.

Ilyce Glink‘s latest book, “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, 4th edition,” will be published in mid-February. She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website,