JA USA TEENS & PERSONAL FINANCE SURVEY 2017: 70% of Teens Don’t Have Basic Understanding of 401Ks

Junior Achievement Survey Also Shows “Cash is Still King” as Payment Method for Teens

When did you start saving for retirement? Were you ever given information to help explain your options?  According to Junior Achievement’s 2017 Teens & Personal Finance Survey, a large disconnect exists between young people and a basic understanding of 401Ks. Although thirty percent of teens know that a 401K is a retirement plan where the employee contributes a certain amount and the employer matches, the majority (70%) of teens don’t know what a 401K is based on anything that they have read or heard. The survey of 1,000 U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 17 was conducted March 17-21, 2017 by Junior Achievement USA and ORC International.

“Some may wonder why it’s important for teens to know how a 401K works, but the fact is if you are a 17-year-old, within the next few years you may have the opportunity to contribute to one.” said Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “One of the reasons Americans don’t save enough for retirement is that they get started too late. By teaching teens today about the importance of contributing to 401Ks and IRAs starting with their first job, we may be able to start addressing that issue.”

Another finding shows that more than 3 in 5 teens (62%) prefer to use cash when purchasing items in a store. Fewer than 1 in 3 (29%) said they use a credit/debit card, far fewer (4%) use an electronic form of payment such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, or PayPal, or use a check (1%). Five percent weren’t sure. Despite today’s access to technology, cash is still a preferred method of payment for teens. This means that they do not have much experience with interest and fee bearing methods of payment. The education of using these payment methods responsibly is very important before reaching adulthood.

Junior Achievement is the nation's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to categorize needs and wants, own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices. Junior Achievement's programs—in the core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy—ignite the spark in young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of work and life in the 21st century.


This report presents the findings of an Opinion Research Corporation’s Youth CARAVAN survey conducted among a sample of 1,000 13-17 year olds. Respondents for this survey are selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation, no estimates of sampling error are calculated.