Opinion – How Gen Z is being ripped off by America’s economic and national debt troubles

Times have been tough for plenty of people in 2020, regardless of age.

But things could go from bad to worse for Gen Z, the generation born roughly between 1997 and 2012, said Toby Mathis, a tax attorney, founding partner of Anderson Law Group (andersonadvisors.com) and current manager of Anderson’s Las Vegas office.

“The young people who are part of Gen Z, along with Millennials, are not only suffering more than Gen X and baby boomers, but they are getting ripped off because they will be saddled with the debts of the older generations’ mistakes,” Mathis said.

The current U.S. debt is more than $26 trillion. At some point something has to give, Mathis said, and Gen Zers could see a hefty tax hike sometime in the future.

Not that long ago, things looked rosy for Gen Z, as the generation’s first wave graduated from college into a booming economy.

Enter COVID-19, which threw the economy – and Gen Zers – for a loop.

Half of the oldest Gen Zers (ages 18 to 24) reported they had lost a job as a result of the pandemic, or someone in their household had taken a pay cut or lost a job, according to a Pew Research Center survey. That’s higher than what was reported by Millennials, Gen X and baby boomers.

While no individual is going to change the course of the country’s debt or economy, young people can take steps to improve their personal situations, Mathis said.

Those include:

  • Begin saving early for retirement. Gen Z is many decades removed from the much older generations that could depend on pensions to help fund their retirements. Add to that questions about Social Security and they could be entirely on their own when it comes to paying for retirement, Mathis said.

“The sooner you can start saving, through an employer’s 401(k) plan or a personal IRA, the better,” he said. “Even a small percentage of your income set aside now can show extraordinary growth over 40 or 50 years.”

  • Be wary of credit card debt. As a group, Gen Zers aren’t as cautious about the pitfalls of credit cards as they should be. They are more likely to run up their credit card debt than the Millennials were, according to research by TransUnion. For example, the average 24-year-old in 2019 had a $2,000 credit card balance, about one-third higher than 24-year-olds in 2012.

“It’s one thing to use debt to buy an asset, such as a house,” Mathis said, “but don’t fall into the trap where you use credit cards to buy your clothes, food, and other such items.”

  • Invest with long-term goals in mind. Regardless of age, many people invest hoping for a quick return. Mathis said such investors have a microwave mentality (getting what you want almost instantly) as opposed to a crockpot mentality (better things come, but it takes a while).

“The stock market is still solid if you quit listening to the pundits and focus on a specific subset of boring companies,” Mathis said. “Gen Z definitely has been dealt a difficult hand, at least in part because of the generations that came before them. But opportunities exist for them to make the best of a bad situation if they plan carefully and make wise decisions.”


About Toby Mathis

Toby Mathis is a founding partner of Anderson Law Group (andersonadvisors.com) and current manager of Anderson’s Las Vegas office. He has helped Anderson grow its practice from one of business and estate planning to a thriving tax practice and national registered agent service with more than 18,000 clients. In his work as an attorney, Mathis has focused exclusively in areas of small business, taxation and trusts. Mathis has authored more than 100 articles on small business topics and has written several books on good business practices, including “Tax-Wise Business Ownership” and “12 Steps to Running a Successful Business.”