Americans are afraid — and not just about the recent volatility in the stock market.
Nearly one quarter (23%) of people say a lack of emergency savings is the one financial issue that keeps them up at night. Some 22% who say they don’t have enough retirement savings, 20% fear they’ll be the victim of some kind of fraud, 19% worry about losing their job, 9% fret about losing their health insurance and 7% say poor credit is the one thing that keeps them awake at night.
That’s according to a survey released Thursday by personal-finance site WalletHub.com. With credit-card debt now exceeding $1 trillion, it may be less of a surprise that 4 in 10 people say they overuse their credit card. In fact, 3 in 10 people describe their finances as a “horror show.” (A slew of recent research suggests people have only a few hundred dollars saved for a rainy day.)
“If I had to wager a bet on it improving in the next 12 months or getting worse, I would vote in the direction of the economy getting worse,” said Debbie Psihountas, professor of finance and dean of Florida Southwestern State College’s School of Business and Technology. Economists cite the trade war with China, volatility in the stock market and rising interest rates as a triple threat.
Bradley Stevenson, an associate professor of finance at Bellarmine University, attributes the financial jitters to a lack of financial planning, which experts say should start when people are children. “This goes back to budgeting and understanding personal finance,” Stevenson said. “The lack of education most people have about their personal finances makes this more likely.”
One reason why people aren’t freaking out over the stock market: After nine years, the current bull market is the longest since World War II. What’s more, just over half of people (54%) actually own stocks, which includes individual stocks, as well as employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, mutual funds or an IRA account. And two-thirds of Americans don’t have access to a 401(k) plan.
Millions of Americans have more pressing financial issues, namely putting food on the table. Nearly 40% of adults said their families had trouble meeting at least one basic need for food, health care, housing, or utilities last year, according to a recent survey by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, D.C. Nearly 24% reported two or more such hardships.
The most common hardship Americans said they faced was food insecurity, with 23% of respondents saying they did not have reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable and nutritious food. Others included paying medical bills (18% of respondents), getting medical care (17.8%), missing utility bill payments (13%) and missing rent or mortgage payments (10.2%).
Even with unemployment at a 48-year-low, some Americans remain skittish about their own economic future, citing stagnant wages and an uneven recovery in the housing market. “Build an emergency fund,” said Laura Hendrix, an associate professor of personal finance and consumer economics with the University of Arkansas. “Save and invest for the future.”