CHICAGO -- At 24, Jeffrey Berman is in better financial shape than many peers. He has no student loans, thanks to his parents, and $1,200 in credit card debt, which he plans to pay off with his tax refund. He just started contributing $85 a month to his 401(k) -- paltry, he says, but better than nothing.
Still, Berman knows he should be saving more. Companies are cutting pensions, and Social Security remains a question mark. In addition, young people's debt from student loans and credit cards continues to skyrocket.
''The twentysomething generation, more than any other generation, is going to be left to fend for itself," says Bill Slater, a St. Louis-based vice president at MetLife. A recent survey of MetLife clients and employers found that 40 percent of workers ages 21 to 30 had not begun to save for retirement. Many have little clue about how to begin.
''No one teaches you what you're supposed to do," says Berman, who graduated from Syracuse University two years ago and lives in Los Angeles, where he works as an assistant to an entertainment studio executive. ''It's a real shock getting out into the real world."
Growing up in more prosperous times has made the adjustment that much more difficult for this generation of twentysomethings, one expert says.
''Through high school, the stock market was doing great; unemployment was low," says Catherine Williams, a Chicago-based vice president for Money Management International, a credit counseling service. That caused many young people to have high expectations.
But the student-loan balance for the average college graduate was $18,900 in 2002, more than double the amount a decade earlier, even adjusted for inflation, according to Demos, a nonpartisan public policy group. Average credit card debt for ages 24 to 34 was $4,088 in 2001, up 55 percent since 1992.
Some twentysomethings, including 23-year-old Michael Wilford, fear credit card debt will keep them from ever buying a home. ''If I knew then what I know now, I would never have gotten myself into the debt that I am still struggling to climb out of," says Wilford, an aspiring author in Cape Neddick, Maine.
For Berman, a review of his finances revealed he was spending too much at restaurants. So he recently started buying more food to cook for himself. ''If I don't start trying to save more now," he says, ''when am I going to start?"