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Despite the “good economy,” only 28% of Americans are financially healthy

Only 45% of people in a new survey said they have enough to cover three months of living expenses.

Despite the “good economy,” only 28% of Americans are financially healthy
[Source Image: Gearstd/iStock]

By some measures, the American economy is booming. Corporations are raking in profits. Unemployment is low. But wages are still stagnant, and a new report says that only 28% of Americans can be considered financially healthy.

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“We felt like we needed to create a definitive study that helped to demonstrate that while the larger economic headlines around a roaring stock market, and low unemployment, and great consumer spending are out there, that’s not actually telling an accurate story,” says Jennifer Tescher, CEO of the Center for Financial Services Innovation, the organization that created the report, called the U.S. Financial Health Pulse.

The organization, which works with startups that are building financial health tools, surveyed more than 5,000 Americans this year.

  • Nearly half said that their spending had equaled or exceeded their income in the last 12 months.
  • 44% of those relied on credit cards to make ends meet.
  • Only 45% have enough to cover three months of living expenses (even though the majority of Americans say that they save whenever possible).
  • 42% have no retirement savings.
  • 30% have more debt than is manageable.

The report aims to give a fuller picture of financial health than typical studies. “We tested dozens and dozens of indicators,” says Tescher. Looking at something like annual income, for example, doesn’t necessarily indicate whether someone can cover their expenses. “If you’re not really understanding how people are managing their money in a day-to-day kind of way, you’re missing the whole picture,” she says.

The group plans to repeat the survey each year, which will give new insight into changes over time at a national level. It’s data that financial services companies can use, but Tescher believes can also be used more broadly.

“Employers should care a lot about this data, because they’re going to be more successful if they’re thinking about the financial health of their employees,” she says. “We think that colleges and universities, with whom we’re already working, should care about this data because if they want to reduce the dropout rate, they’ve got to be focused on money challenges that their students are having. It’s similar in the housing arena, the healthcare arena, and in the local city and government arena. We think that this sort of data not only shines the light nationally on a very important and big problem in this country, it also gives providers important insights to be able to take action.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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