When Different Generations Think Kids Should Start Paying Their Own Bills

Millennials and baby boomers have different ideas about when kids should start paying their own bills.

An older man walking with his adult son outdoors.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does turning 18 automatically knock a kid off the family cell phone plan, or should you wait until a child graduates college? There are many schools of thought on when parents should stop paying for their children’s bills, and there is a generational divide on the “right” time for financial independence. Baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z have very different thoughts on what age young adults should assume more financial responsibility. 

According to a February 2023 Savings.com survey, 45% of parents support at least one adult child, and the average monthly price tag of that financial assistance is $1,400. It’s a tricky area to navigate, with inflation and high interest rates making it harder for younger generations to be financially independent at the same age as their parents or grandparents, but paying for bills too long could negatively impact parents. “It can put your own retirement and other financial goals at risk,” Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman warned in an April 2023 article.

Older generations lean toward a younger age for when kids should pay their own bills, according to a March 2023 Bankrate survey. Across nine categories of living expenses, baby boomers were the only ones to say young people should start paying a third of those expenses — car insurance, cell phone, and credit card bills — at 19. Gen X was the only other generation to go as young as 19, and it’s only for one category: cell phone bills. 

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

Millennials deem 20 an appropriate age for when a young adult can pay for their cell phone, streaming subscriptions and credit card bills. Gen Z only went as young as 21, but it’s across four categories: cell phone, streaming subscriptions, credit card bills and travel costs.

The survey reveals a sliding scale for a child’s financial independence. Cross-generationally, people agree the average age when children should be responsible for health insurance and student loans is 23, which is three years older than when people, on average, believe kids should cover car payments and credit card bills. 

Baby boomers believe a child should be in charge of all their bills by 22, indicating health insurance and student loans as the last expenses to become a young adult’s responsibility. Gen X and millennials think 23 and 24, respectively, are better ages to take on those same costs, which they also denote as the final bills to change hands from parent to child.

You might not ever get agreement between boomers and Gen Z on when kids should pay their bills. They differ the most on car insurance (19 for boomers and 22 for Gen Z), but also have two-year gaps between cell phone bills and housing costs, with Gen Z on the higher end for both. 

There’s no perfect time to hand over control of the bills to an adult child, but the key to a smooth transition is preparation. “You’ve got to cut it off, but you can’t do it cold turkey,” Southern California-based financial counselor Scott Thor told Kiplinger in November 2020. “You must set goals and help them become financially independent.”

Collette Reitz
Contributing Writer

Collette Reitz is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she was a news editor at Elite Daily, where she covered tech, social media, finance and trends. Collette studied at The Ohio State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.