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Survey May 18, 2023

College grads claim fundamental financial literacy but don’t understand credit-building basics

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75% of Gen Z know their credit score, but many don’t understand the steps to improve, a new Bread Financial study finds 

COLUMBUS, OH – May 18, 2023 – Bread Financial™ (NYSE: BFH), a tech-forward financial services company that provides simple, personalized payment, lending, and saving solutions, today released findings from a national study of 2023 college graduates on the ways they plan to navigate the “real world,” specifically as it relates to their finances. The study found that some college students are receiving financial literacy as part of their education and are staying financially focused as they head out into the workforce. For example, more 2023 college graduates claim to have learned how to budget (32%) and balance a checkbook (26%), than claim to have learned how to play the recorder (24%) or dissect a frog (25%) – both classic staples of American schooling. 

The survey also found that many 2023 graduations show fundamental credit awareness, but misconceptions abound when it comes to building credit and boosting their score. For example, while 75% of 2023 graduates know their credit score and consider improving credit scores their number one financial priority post-graduation (39%), many think that having a full-time job (43%), spending most of their allotted credit limit in a month (21%), and applying for multiple credit cards close together (18%) improves their credit. Additionally, 14% of new college grads report they don't have or use a credit card, and 16% regret never opening a credit card.

"Our research shows that as this year’s college graduates enter the real world, more Gen Zers are taking the steps to be financially literate but are struggling to connect the dots on how to apply this knowledge to the real world," said Nick Antonelli, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Bread Financial. “These insights help us build financial wellness tools and educational materials specifically geared toward Gen Z consumers entering the workforce so that they are more prepared to establish responsible habits and financial independence.”

These insights help us build financial wellness tools and educational materials specifically geared toward Gen Z consumers entering the workforce so that they are more prepared to establish responsible habits and financial independence.”

Nick Antonelli - Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Bread Financial

Additional interesting findings from the study include: 

Nixing budget-busting habits: Building a budget has historically been one of the most difficult things for those leaving the nest, but the survey found that some 2023 college graduates may have a leg up. In fact, 32% of grads claim they learned how to budget as part of their schooling, and 37% confirm that making a budget is a top priority in their first year after graduation. However, many graduates admit to having developed some poor financial habits during school that could bust even the tightest budgets, like overspending on alcohol and partying (25%) or Spring Break (24%). But, some do plan to leave their bad habits behind as they transition into the real world, including tempering both use of food delivery services (41%) and going out every weekend (36%).

Gen Z has (saving) money on their mind: The survey showed that 35% of grads plan to save as much as possible in the first year after graduation. At the same time, many say that the thought of saving money after graduation is top of mind – specifically, saving for their first home (31%), retirement, (17%) and other large life expenses (17%). 

The gender confidence divide: Thirty-eight percent (38%) of women surveyed say they feel stressed about managing their finances after graduation, compared to just 21% of their male counterparts. Women also have more concerns about saving for a first home (36% women vs. 26% of men), providing for a current or future family (25% women vs. 12% of men), and securing a job that is fulfilling both professionally and personally (25% women vs. 15% of men). 

You’re (almost) on your own, kid: While 32% of respondents say they are prioritizing becoming financially independent from their parents/guardians, nearly the same amount (31%) say the thought of being financially independent after college keeps them up at night. However, most grads confirm they will be leaning on their family/guardian coming out of graduation. In fact, 87% of graduating seniors expect to receive some financial aid from their parents or guardians, and more than a quarter (27%) say they expect to have that support for as long as they need it. 

About Bread Financial™   
Bread Financial™ (NYSE: BFH) is a tech-forward financial services company providing simple, personalized payment, lending and saving solutions. The company creates opportunities for its customers and partners through digitally enabled choices that offer ease, empowerment, financial flexibility and exceptional customer experiences. Driven by a digital-first approach, data insights and white-label technology, Bread Financial delivers growth for its partners through a comprehensive product suite, including private label and co-brand credit cards, installment lending, and buy now, pay later (BNPL). Bread Financial also offers direct-to-consumer solutions that give customers more access, choice and freedom through its branded Bread Cashback™ American Express® Credit Card and Bread Savings™ products.

Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Bread Financial is powered by its 7,500+ global associates and is committed to sustainable business practices. To learn more about Bread Financial, visit or follow us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Instagram.

 ¹A sample of 2,200 US consumers participated in this study conducted by Bread Financial through an online quantitative survey that took place on Feb. 27, 2023.