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Borrowed years. A spotlight briefing on young people, credit and debt

Evidence type: Insight i


18-24-year-olds face crucial transitions to adulthood, including first experiences of debt and borrowing. Although they report high levels of financial worry, they are comparatively unlikely to seek support. While 21% of over-indebted people in the UK are aged 18-24, a much smaller proportion (12%) of people seeking debt advice fall within this age group. More than 1.8 million people aged under 25 years are experiencing financial difficulty as they embark into adulthood.

The study

Money Advice Trust commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey of 18-24-year olds in August 2016 about their attitudes to and experience of credit and debt. 2,042 people were interviewed and the sample was weighted to be representative of adults aged 18-24 in Great Britain. Findings are supplemented by relevant data from other sources. The report also sets out a series of policies that could improve the situation and provides tips for young people themselves.

Key findings

The study’s main findings are outlined below:


  • More than a third (37%) of young people have taken out loans though credit cards, overdrafts or other sources. The figure increases to 67% when student loans and mortgages are included;
  • On average young people aged 18-24 owe £2,989, excluding student loans and mortgages. Additionally, the average student loan is £25,505;
  • Over a third (37%) do not have a plan to repay their credit cards, overdrafts, or loans from friends and family;
  • Men tend to have larger overdrafts, while women have higher credit card debt.

Financial concerns

  • Over half of young people (51%) worry about their finances on a regular basis;
  • A third (32%) feel heavily burdened by their debts, with 21% of respondents sometimes being kept awake at night by financial stress;
  • Women are more affected than men by money worries.

Managing finances

  • Most young people take active steps to manage their finances: 69% set a budget that they try to follow, and 71% check their bank balance at least weekly;
  • Managing their finances is more difficult than they expected for 42% of young people.


  • Among those who pay household bills, one in ten young people have missed one or more payments in the last year;
  • One-tenth of those who borrowed money have missed at least one repayment in the last 12 months;
  • Among those paying rent or mortgages, 7% have missed at least one payment in the last 12 months.


  • Young people are considerably more likely to ask parents for financial advice (63%) than to contact a charity providing money or debt advice (only 2%);
  • Only one fifth of young people have ever visited a website providing financial advice.


  • Financial education should begin at primary school, and there should be greater coordination around the secondary school curriculum on the subject;
  • When people borrow money for the first time, such as applying for their first credit card, they should be given financial advice, for example through an online resource;
  • The government should require monthly student loans repayments (rather than termly) and review how student loans affect young people’s financial behaviour;
  • Maintenance support for students should also be reviewed, to bring it into line with the rise in rental costs;
  • Employers should support young people entering employment to manage their money, for example by including financial management in the induction process, or developing partnerships with credit unions to offer affordable credit through payroll deductions;
  • The government, employers and universities should support young people to understand the importance of enhancing their credit scores. This should include encouraging young people, particularly students, to be on the electoral roll. A national scheme should also be developed to diversify the payment types recorded on young people’s credit files, to demonstrate their ability to keep up with a range of financial commitments;
  • Banks should make it easier for vulnerable people to open and maintain accounts. For example they should develop new standards to verify IDs; offer the option of paper statements alongside online banking; and review the eligibility criteria for saving schemes such as the Help to Buy ISA, to ensure their accessibility;
  • The advice sector should seek to reach more young people. The government should place over-indebtedness at the centre of its Life Chances strategy, and review whether the advice sector is adequately funded. The sector should explore innovative ways of providing advice, such as using smartphone apps.

Points to consider

  • Methodological limitations
    • The study is based solely on an online survey and therefore could include sample bias. For example, marginalised young people who have limited access to the internet, or individuals with physical or learning disabilities, may be less likely to respond to an online survey.
  • Relevance
    • This briefing is relevant for governments, credit agencies, financial services, schools, colleges and universities, as well as advice providers and other charities wishing to provide additional support to young people around managing their finances.

Key info

Year of publication
United Kingdom
Contact information

Money Advice Trust