Federal Reserve Survey: Consumers’ Overall Financial Well-Being Improves

6/13/2017 12:36:00 PM

The survey with responses from more than 6,600 consumers, however, also shows some struggle with emergency expenses and student loan payments.


Results from a Federal Reserve Board survey show overall improvement in consumers’ financial well-being; however respondents also report they are struggling financially and could not cover unexpected emergency expenses.

The Fed published results of its fourth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, conducted in October 2016, in its Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households released in May.

It states that consumers’ overall financial well-being “continued on a modest upward path” last year.

Overall, 70 percent of respondents reported they were either “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” in 2016. The result is 1 percentage point higher than 2015 and 8 percentage points higher than in 2013, when the Fed released its first survey.  “The improvements in well-being as reported by the survey respondents are concentrated among adults with at least some college education,” according to a news release from the Fed.

“The survey findings remind us that many American households are struggling financially, including fully 40 percent of those with a high school diploma or less,” said Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard in the news release. “More broadly, 44 percent of all respondents could not cover an unexpected $400 emergency expense or would rely on borrowing or selling something to do so. The survey also shows that many adults have no savings for retirement.”

Additional findings in the survey, according to the news release, focus on several examples of financial instability:

  • 23 percent of respondents in the survey said they did not expect they could pay all of their current monthly bills in full;
  • 25 percent said they skipped medical treatments in the prior year due to the expense; and
  • If they had an unexpected emergency expense of $400, 44 percent of respondents said they could not afford it or would have to borrow money or sell something to pay the bill.

“This share of adults who appeared ill-prepared for a $400 emergency has declined 6 percentage points since 2013, and the share who reported missing medical treatments due to an inability to pay has declined 7 percentage points since 2013,” the Fed reports.

More than 6,600 respondents completed the Fed’s survey. Topics also included employment experiences, income and savings behaviors, access to banking and credit, student loans.

For example:

  • More than 75 percent of respondents are “somewhat or very confident” in obtaining a credit card they apply for.
  • 46 percent of respondents with a credit card said they have credit card debt and 55 percent “carried a balance at least once in the prior year.”
  • More than half of respondents under age 30 who attended college “took on at least some debt while pursuing their education.”
  • One-third of respondents with “some college, a certificate, or a technical degree are behind on their education debt payments.”
  • 11 percent of respondents with a bachelor’s degree are behind on their student loan payments.
  • 19 percent of respondents with a loan to pay from their own education said they have assistance – such as from a parent – with the debt payments.

View the complete report from the Fed and a video summarizing its findings on the Fed’s website.

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