With the cost of living increasing, and student loan payments set to resume this fall, there have been many discussions about Gen Z’s ability to afford necessities such as rent and to repay debt.

To learn more about the financial health of Gen Zers that are currently students, in August, Intelligent.com surveyed 400 full-time U.S. higher education students aged 18-26.

Key findings:

  • 71% of students have student loan, credit card, or car loan debt
  • 75% of students with debt are worried about paying it off
  • 53% of federal student loan borrowers say repayment is unfair
  • 1 in 6 students say they spend more than $500/mo on things they don’t need
  • 63% of students say they could easily save more money on a monthly basis
  • 1 in 5 students haven’t had a paying job while in school

3 in 4 students with debt are worried about repayment, yet most overspend

Overall, 71% of students surveyed say they have debt, and 75% are worried about paying it off.

Of students who are worried about debt repayment, despite having this fear, many are spending more than they need to.

In fact, 53% of students who worry about debt repayment say they could easily save more money each month. Twenty-two percent say they are spending more than $500/mo on non-essentials, while 82% say they spend more than $100/mo on non-essentials.

Overall, 81% of students say they spend more than $100/mo on non-essentials, 43% spend more than $250/mo, and one in six say they spend more than $500/mo.

Students say they typically spend more than $100/mo on dining out (65%), clothing/accessories (58%), and entertainment (47%).

Overall, 81% of students say they spend money responsibly.

“When the results of the survey are taken into consideration, it is clear that the perspectives held by Gen Z students regarding financial responsibility are quite varied,” says Michael Hammelburger, CEO of Bottom Line Group, a finance company in Baltimore.

“Those who have debt should make responsible financial management their top priority. It is recommended to draft a budget that sets aside a suitable amount of money for non-essential purchases while directing the majority of available funds toward the payment of existing debt.

“Those students who are struggling with debt should, in my opinion, work out a detailed financial strategy. Developing healthy financial practices at an early age, such as setting aside a predetermined amount of one’s income and refraining from spending money unnecessarily, can have long-term beneficial effects.”

More than half of students with federal loans say repayment is unfair

Fifty three percent of students with federal student loans say having to repay the debt in full is ‘somewhat unfair’ (31%) or ‘very unfair’ (21%).

Of students who say repayment is unfair, 18% say they spend more than $500/mo on non-essential items, and 56% admit they could easily save more money each month.

Sumeet Kumar, NFEC Certified Financial Education Instructor℠ (CFEI®) and founder of MoneyFromSideHustle says, “The student debt issue among Gen Z is a paradox that’s like a financial riddle.”

“On one end, the burden of debt has got students up in arms, calling it unfair. Yet, at the same time, there’s this self-admitted room for saving, with plenty still spending a good chunk on non-essentials.

“Now, let’s not forget the elephant in the room: social media. Instagram, TikTok, you name it, they’re like 24/7 billboards showcasing glammed-up lives and must-have items. It’s almost like the digital world is egging you on to spend, giving you FOMO, and pumping up desires you didn’t even know you had. Before you know it, you’ve clicked ‘buy’ and added to your financial load, often without even realizing you’ve been sucked into the overspending vortex.

“So, how financially responsible is Gen Z? It’s a mixed bag. They’ve got the awareness, sure, but there’s a disconnect between that and their actions. It’s like they’re anxious about their financial health but still munching on fiscal junk food. They’re worried about their debt but also giving in to temptations, fueled in part by social media’s siren call.”

A number of students don’t work, live alone

Overall, 20% of students surveyed haven’t had a paying job while they’ve been a full-time student. On the other hand, 60% say they’ve had a paying job at times, while 21% say they’ve had one the entire time they’ve been in school.

Additionally, of students who currently rent an apartment, 24% say they live alone.


This survey was commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish. It was launched on August 16, 2023. Overall, 400 current full-time U.S. students enrolled in higher education completed the survey.

To qualify for the survey all participants had to be aged 18-26 and hold at least a high school degree.

To avoid bias Pollfish employs Random Device Engagement to ensure both random and organic surveying. Learn more about Pollfish’s survey methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.