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In U.S., Worry About Making Monthly Payments Adding Up

by Elizabeth Mendes and Brett Pelham

Those who are very worried are much more likely to be stressed or angry

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Five separate Gallup Polls conducted in 2008 found the percentage of Americans who report they are somewhat or very worried about keeping up with their monthly payments rose dramatically in December to 30%, up from 21% in February. Monthly payments include the amount of money they owe on a mortgage, credit card, car loan, or other personal loan or line of credit.


The loss of over 2.5 million jobs in 2008 will certainly continue to hinder the ability of many Americans to meet the demands of their monthly financial obligations. According to the most recent data released by the Federal Reserve the delinquency rate on residential real estate loans rose to 5.08% in the third quarter of 2008, up from 2.72% at the same time in 2007. Likewise, the delinquency rate on credit cards rose to 4.79% in the third quarter of 2008, up from the 4.35% reported during the same quarter in 2007.

Income and Education Make a Difference

Combining all five survey points to examine demographic differences reveals that those Americans with the lowest incomes, and those with less than a high school education, are the most worried about keeping up with their monthly payments, at 40% and 36%, respectively. Worry about monthly debt is lowest among those making $90,000 or more a year, at 14%.


The Emotional Toll of Unmanageable Debt

Gallup also finds a clear relationship between worry about paying off debt and negative emotions, consistent with previous findings revealing the financial crisis' damaging effect on wellbeing. Americans who are very worried that they can't keep up with their bills are four times more likely to be angry and nearly three times more likely to be stressed than those who are very confident that they can keep up with their bills.


While these data are the result of a combined sample across all five survey points in order to provide more accurate estimates of the relationships, separate analyses of these relationships for each of the five time periods shows that the same patterns were evident both before and after worry levels increased in June and December of 2008.

With an astounding 200,000 job cuts made in January 2009 alone, and as unemployment checks begin to run out for the millions who lost jobs in 2008, meeting monthly debt payments is likely to become an increasing problem for many Americans.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 4,996 adults in the U.S., aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 19, March 27, April 28, June 2, and Dec. 1, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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