Survey: Financial stress taking a toll on Americans

BY CHRIS BAYSDEN

Problems created by financial stress aren’t limited to people’s pocketbooks. A new survey found that money-related stress is also taking a toll on Americans’ waistlines, friendships, and sleep habits.

The telephone survey, conducted March 14–17, asked 1,011 U.S. adults to name all the ways financial stress is affecting their lives. Of those who rate their financial stress “very” or “somewhat high,” almost half, or 47%, said they are sleeping less. Another 43% said they have less patience with friends or are seeing them less often, while 31% are eating more junk food or gaining weight.

The survey also found that about one-fifth of respondents (21%) who rate their financial stress as at least “somewhat high” are arguing more with their spouse or significant other. And one-sixth (17%) said they are getting sick more often, according to the survey results.

Harris Interactive conducted the survey for the AICPA in recognition of National Financial Capability Month, which is observed in April.

While the economy has improved since the darkest days of the Great Recession, an increase in payroll taxes that kicked in at the start of the year intensified financial concerns for many Americans. The increase effectively cut take-home pay for most workers by 2% and prompted more than two-thirds (68%) of those employed to cut spending, reduce savings, or make other sacrifices, according to a news release about the survey that was issued by the AICPA.

The long period of economic sluggishness exhausted many Americans’ emergency funds, exacerbating the financial stress of the payroll tax increase, said Ernie Almonte, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.

“Our economy has been lagging for quite a long time now,” he said. “More and more people are starting to feel the effects of this.”

The survey numbers back up that assertion. Forty-four percent of U.S. adults currently register a high level of financial stress—with women almost twice as likely as men to say it is “very high.” Only 28% of adults see a reduction in financial stress over the next six months.

Almonte said this is an opportunity for practitioners to show clients their expertise. He is sitting down with his clients to show them how to prepare a budget. That allows people to take back control of their lives—financial and otherwise.

He also advises CPAs to direct their clients to a couple of AICPA resources that can help. The first is the comprehensive financial education program 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, which has a website that includes tools, calculators, and advice to help Americans understand and manage their financial needs. In addition, the AICPA earlier this year published the CPA profession’s first consumer book, Save Wisely, Spend Happily, with expert advice on myriad topics from CPAs across the country.

Chris Baysden ( cbaysden@aicpa.org ) is a JofA senior editor.

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