Why are many millennials broke?
Is there negative cash flow due to circumstances beyond their control or poor money management?
Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, is an American expatriate with an unusual financial perspective. Erin’s international experience made her view the millennial generation through a different lens. Are you guilty of the observations she makes of the broke millennials generation? Learn how millennials can make better financial decisions early on in their career to avoid this financial epidemic.
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Watch How Millennials Can Get a Grip on Their Finances on YouTube.Read the Transcript
Interview with Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry is a personal finance expert, and author. In this interview, she talks about tax implications for Americans who have lived overseas for many years. She also offers advice to young college students dealing with student loan debts and those planning to go to college.
Douglas Goldstein: I am very excited to have on The Goldstein on Gelt Show Erin Lowry, who is a millennial and personal finance expert. She wrote a book called Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together. I understand Erin also has a kind of interesting background. Let’s start by talking a little bit about where you grew up.
Erin Lowry: Sure. I was born in Houston, Texas, then we moved to Reno, Nevada, and then to Gaston, North Carolina. When I was 10, we moved to Japan, and when I was 16, we moved to Shanghai, China. Lots of moving around and not military. That’s always people’s first question. My dad actually works in the lithium industry, so that’s why, when I was 10 years old, we moved to Kobe.
Douglas Goldstein: What was it like in Japan?
Erin Lowry: I loved it. It was such a great childhood, especially because it’s so safe. There’s such ease of public transportation that when you’re 10 years old, you can be going places by yourself without your parents. That kind of autonomy, coming from having to be carpooled and shuttled around all the time as a kid in the States, was unbelievable.
Douglas Goldstein: That’s amazing. That’s interesting, and very much like it is in Israel. When my kids were little, and we would send them on buses and going all around, their cousins in America would be like, “Really? We’re not even allowed to go onto the front lawn to play unless there are parents there.”
Living overseas, you were a real expatriate when you were 10 years old. Let me ask you a question: What did you think about the taxation of U.S. expats?
Erin Lowry: Well, when I was 10, I definitely didn’t know very much about it. But I started to hear murmurs over the years, and it was always so interesting to me. I remember learning at a young age that we still got taxed by America when we were living overseas.
I didn’t have a lot of understanding of what that meant nor empathy for the situation. That is, until I started earning my own income when I was a little bit older and back in the United States.
We did a couple of interesting things. One was I remember we moved from North Carolina. We sold the house, we had no ties in North Carolina, and my dad actually declared our legal residence as my grandparents’ home in Georgia. From my understanding—and I could have this completely wrong after 18 years (I am 28 now)—I remember hearing that Georgia did not tax expats with state tax, while North Carolina did.
That was part of the reason that we switched residences. Then the funny way that that impacted me is that when I moved back to America at 18—I was the only one that was moving back—and my family was all staying in China, I really needed a driver’s license. The only option I really had was to do it in Georgia because that’s where we’d declared our state residency. I had no other place to identify as my home, so I had to get my driver’s license in Georgia.
Then the other interesting thing was from a college perspective. I was 18 years old and I was applying to all of these universities. We been paying taxes, but we didn’t have a state. I didn’t have state residence, and therefore, I had no option to go to a state school to make college cheaper for me.
Douglas Goldstein: No kidding. Not even Georgia?
Erin Lowry: No. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t a resident there. My parents had only declared that for state and tax purposes. I have no idea. But yes, they were like, “Sorry, you don’t count.”
Douglas Goldstein: That’s so interesting. That means that people who leave the United States for a while and come back with kids are all of a sudden going to find that a lot of the normal financial planning that people in America would do may not apply because they don’t live in the U.S. Well, in the specific states you’re saying, they can’t go to a state school and benefit from the lower tuition?
Erin Lowry: That’s my understanding. I graduated from college in 2011, graduated high school in 2007, so a decade ago. Things might be a little different now, but I doubt it. A very interesting financial choice then had to be made. I left for North Carolina, and there are great public schools for college in North Carolina.
I had to apply to all of them as an out-of-state option, which made it harder for me to get in, for one. And two, it didn’t really make any financial sense. It was still insanely expensive compared to going to some private liberal arts college.
Douglas Goldstein: Have you found that having lived overseas has helped you, now that you’re back in America?
How Did Living Overseas Help Erin?
Erin Lowry: Yes, absolutely. The biggest thing for me was there was definitely some reverse culture shock. It was a little hard to adjust because this was right before you had so much access on the Internet. Also remember, China is still a Communist country, so there are firewalls, and therefore, I didn’t have access to everything.
One thing that was very interesting coming back is I didn’t have FaceTime or really have Skype. So even having conversations with my parents or my sister were very difficult when I was in college, in the early years. I had been cut off pretty much, except for the summers, from understanding a lot of American culture. That was an interesting part of it. There was definitely a lot of growing pains there in the beginning.
But for the most part, I’d had so much exposure so young to so many different ways of thinking. I went to a university that was in a small area of upstate New York with a lot of people who had truly not really left their towns. Maybe some of them had gone to Canada because it was close, but not a whole lot of global exposure.
It was amazing for me to realize, one, how things were taught in the United States because I wasn’t being taught by Americans at American schools. My understanding of, for example, history was very different. I was taught from a very different scope of lens. It was never the very American-focused version of history. Starting to unwrap these things as I was going through college and learning was just so fascinating.
But then you also have the flip side of when I was young, I was in the South. The version of history that I was learning in the South was very different in the context of American history than what I was learning both in college and when I lived overseas.
It was just a bunch of very different voices. At a young age, I was able to disseminate how information is given to us and how we focus in. Then, you don’t grow up fast in a negative sense when you live overseas, but you learn to be very independent very quickly. I am so grateful for that. It made my transition into adulthood a lot easier.
Douglas Goldstein: We’re talking with Erin Lowry who is the author of the book Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together.
Erin, one of the stories you told reminded me of a story about my daughter. She was quite the entrepreneurial teenager. She started teaching online, and she would teach Hebrew to people in America through one of these online schools.
Even though she was very young, she was their top Hebrew teacher, and she did quite well. She was really very successful. Then toward the end of the year, we said, “Okay, it’s time that we go talk to the accountant.” She looked blank, thinking, “This is only what grown-ups have to deal with.” We said, “No, this is what you have to deal with. Because you’re self-employed, you have to pay both the employer and the employee tax.”
She ended up paying 15% of her income as self-employment tax, and that was a huge eye opener. Like you said, you learned about paying for college tuition the hard way. She had to learn about taxation the hard way.
Erin, one of the things that I know you focus on a lot in your day job, other than just talking to me, is dealing with millennials. Do you think that there are certain issues that millennials and younger people in general have with money that kind of cross borders?
Millenial Challenges Go Literally across the Borders
Erin Lowry: Certainly the lack of early education is a problem, and this can completely transcend borders. In the United States, specifically, we definitely do have a big issue with student loan debt and how many millennials are very heavily burdened at the moment.
In 2016, the average grad had something around $37,000 of student loan debt, which, personally, I think is on the low side, just based on people I talk to, my friends, and people I know.
It’s unbelievable here in the States how many people have that. They’re shackled to these debts very early on. The problem is that it kind of inhibits your career; you can’t take the same risks early on because you just need a job so you can get a paycheck and put money toward your debt.
This keeps you from being able to pursue maybe either your dreams or a job that is more aligned with what you want to do long term. But it’s so low-paying that the finances of it just don’t make sense.
Douglas Goldstein: If someone wants to get ahead of that, what would be the first step you should take?
Dealing with Student Debt
Erin Lowry: I wish that I could get a hold of everybody before they make their college decision. This is because a big part of it is having that conversation—whether it’s in the home or with teachers and college counsellors, whomever it is—about what actually makes the most sense in terms of what you want to do long term and what your career ambitions are. Do you really need to go to XYZ college that costs so much money, or does it make more sense to go to the more affordable option, or the option that’s giving you scholarship money?
We can’t really be hung up on the name-brand aspect of going to college. A lot of times, as long as you’re getting a good education and you’re building a strong network, the name brand doesn’t often matter a year out of college. That’s definitely what I found out.
Douglas Goldstein: That’s what I found also. I’ve now been in this business for 25 years. People don’t say, “So, Doug, tell me about your schooling.” They actually want to see results and that someone knows what he’s doing, whether he’s giving financial advice or working anywhere. Let’s say that someone does come out and he’s stuck with debt, what do you tell them?
Erin Lowry: The first thing that you have to do is definitely face your numbers, which is probably the scariest part of the whole equation. Just take a look at exactly how much debt you have. So many people have 10, 12 different loans with different lenders and different interest rates. You have to know the information before you can make an action plan.
Then look at all your different resources. For some people, if they’re offered low loans and they’re working in some sort of public service–oriented position, they might be eligible for income-driven repayment plans and a forgiveness program. Although due to recent changes, I am not sure I totally trust those anymore.
There are other options, such as refinancing, which moves your debt to a lower interest rate. But that turns everything into a private loan, so if you ever need a break, you don’t quite have the same advantage as you do with federal loans.
The other thing too, especially within the personal finance community, we really focus on save and pay down your debt. Which is certainly not bad advice, but we also need to purposely focus more on encouraging people to figure out how to earn more, how to advocate for themselves, and how to negotiate.
Most people don’t even negotiate when they get their first job. They’re just so grateful they even get a job offer that they don’t bother to negotiate. It’s figuring out how to teach people at a very young age to get a handle on this so it doesn’t spiral out of control and they don’t get deeper into debt. You just back up, you face what the situation is, and you make your plan.
Follow Erin Lowry
Douglas Goldstein: I am going to get started. That sounds like very good advice. We are just about out of time. We’ve been talking to Erin Lowry. In the last few seconds, tell us, how can people follow you?
Erin Lowry: Certainly. They can find me at my site, brokemillennial.com. My book is in stores nationwide in the United States and on Amazon as well. You can follow me on Twitter @BrokeMillennial or Instagram @brokemillennialblog.
Douglas Goldstein: Erin Lowry, thanks so much for taking the time.
Erin Lowry: Thanks for having me.