51% of Americans are putting off major life events for financial reasons

By Courtney L. Vien

More than half of Americans have delayed at least one major life decision for financial reasons in the past year, a recent AICPA survey found. Fifty-one percent of the 1,010 U.S. adults surveyed this March said they had put off important life goals such as buying a home, retiring, or pursuing higher education. In contrast, just 31% of respondents reported delaying such decisions in a similar survey conducted in 2007, before the financial downturn took place.

Some of the decisions that have been pushed to the back burner include:

  • Pursuing higher education: 24% of Americans put it off in 2015 vs. 11% in 2007
  • Buying a home: 22% in 2015 vs. 14% in 2007
  • Having a medical procedure: 19% in 2015 vs. 9% in 2007
  • Retirement: 18% in 2015 vs. 9% in 2007
  • Having children: 13% in 2015 vs. 5% in 2007
  • Marriage: 12% in 2015 vs. 6% in 2007

Of respondents who said they had delayed a big decision in the past year, 60% named lack of savings as a reason. Other reasons respondents cited include:

  • Worries about the U.S. economy (50%)
  • Difficulty paying nonmortgage bills (39%)
  • Difficulty paying medical bills (29%)
  • Taking care of elderly parents or relatives (29%)
  • Paying off credit card debt (28%)
  • Concerns about losing their job (27%)
  • Difficulty making mortgage payments (25%)

The survey did report some encouraging news. More than 4 in 5 Americans (85%) said they made positive changes to their financial habits after the recession. Fifty-eight percent said they had started following a monthly budget, 44% started saving or increased their savings, and 35% started or added to an emergency fund.

These habits are in line with the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission’s advice to consumers on financing major life changes. The commission recommends that Americans who want to ensure they have enough money for a new phase in their lives start a monthly budget, start saving or increase their savings, start or add to an emergency fund, and put fewer purchases on credit cards.

Courtney L. Vien (cvien@aicpa.org) is an associate editor for the AICPA.

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