First-Gen Guilt Weighs Heavy on Americans’ Wallets and Minds 

  • Nearly half of first-generation Americans provide financial support to their parents and/or extended family (47%)
  • 57% of first-generation Americans feel obligated to financially support their family 
  • Nearly a quarter of those supporting their families financially say that doing so is holding them back from paying for basic necessities (24%)

First-generation Americans, those who are born in the US to immigrant parents or are the first of a generation to become a US citizen, are met with a unique set of financial circumstances. From a young age, many take on the role of helping their parents navigate the complicated US financial system, often serving as translators or even bookkeepers for their parents. Later as they’re faced with their own set of financial firsts, including applying for student loans, negotiating their first salary and opening their first line of credit, they’re often flying solo. What’s more, once first-generation Americans begin earning their own income, many feel an obligation to provide financial support to their family, both near and far, which can have an impact on their own ability to make financial progress. 

According to a study conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma, nearly half of all first-generation Americans provide financial support to their parents and/or extended family (47%) with 38% saying they are the primary financial provider. For many, this is done out of a sense of obligation. When asked, 57% of survey respondents said they feel obligated to support their parents and/or extended family financially. 

Of those who provide financial support, 41% estimate they send an average of $300 or more to their family each month and this number may have crept up as inflation set in. According to the study, nearly half of first-generation Americans now provide more financial support to their families as a result of inflation (47%). In addition to monetary support, first-generation Americans provide a range of financial support to their parents and extended families. Among those who provide financial support, 53% report helping family members pay bills, such as a mortgage, phone and utilities (53%), 30% report setting up online and/or mobile banking, 28% help with budgeting and 27% help with filing taxes. 

Providing financial support to parents and extended family takes a toll on First-Gens’ mental and financial wellbeing. 

According to the study, 60% of first-generation Americans providing financial support to their parents and extended family say doing so is financially stressful. Another 39% say financially supporting their family prevents them from achieving their own financial goals, including paying off debt (37%), building credit (32%), saving an emergency fund (28%) and saving for retirement (28%). For others, the strain is more dire. Nearly a quarter of first-generation Americans say financially supporting their parents and/or extended family is holding them back from paying for basic necessities (24%). 

Despite greater financial responsibilities, first-generation Americans tend to earn less.

Many first-generation Americans are questioning their earning potential. According to the study, 35% of respondents believe their earning potential is negatively impacted by their status as a first-gen. What’s more, many first-generation Americans say they have experienced inequitable pay in the workplace. In fact, 61% of respondents say they’ve found out that someone in a similar role at their company earned more money than them. This means, while most first-gens have a greater financial responsibility to their families, many earn less and still have to spread that income across multiple generations and/or households 

Learn by doing, first-generation Americans know how to manage their finances.

More than 60% of first-generation Americans believe they are financially literate (62%) and much of this financial knowledge comes from helping their parents manage their finances. According to the study, 43% of first-generation Americans say they have learned how to manage their own finances by helping their parents manage theirs. This has helped first-generation Americans feel more comfortable managing various aspects of their financial lives, including paying bills (72%), saving money (62%), tracking spending (52%) and paying off debt (49%). 

“As a daughter of an immigrant, I’ve witnessed how much hard work and sacrifice goes into making a new life in America and understand it can come with a number of difficult tradeoffs,” said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “The good news is you’re not alone and there are things you can do now to set yourself up for success while still supporting your family. First, start by asking yourself if you’re in a financial position to help your family right now. That means doing an audit of your finances to see how much money you have left over after you’ve covered your fixed monthly costs, including rent, groceries and other bills. If you have money left over, decide exactly how much you want to put towards savings and paying down debt. Once you have those costs mapped out you should be able to determine exactly how much you can contribute to your family without compromising your own financial goals.” 


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma from January 25, 2023 to January 26, 2023 among 1,027 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who identify as a first-generation American. For the purposes of this survey, a first-generation American was defined as the first of a generation to become a citizen in the United States, or the first of a generation to be born in the United States of parents who had immigrated.