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Americans Feel Generally Positive About Their Own Finances

Americans Feel Generally Positive About Their Own Finances

Story Highlights

  • 56% rate own financial situation as excellent/good; 57% say it's getting better
  • 56% are currently saving money; 26% just making ends meet
  • Biggest worries: retirement income and unplanned medical costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup readings across several personal economic measures since the beginning of this year confirm that the public has felt the effect of last week's news: The first quarter of 2019 was the strongest first quarter for the U.S. economy since 2015.

At the start of 2019, Americans' optimism about their personal finances reached levels not seen in more than 16 years, as 69% expected they would be financially better off in a year. Since then, Gallup has seen the following additional indications that the public's confidence in their own financial stability is strong.

1. A majority of Americans, 56%, rate their current financial situation as "excellent" (12%) or "good" (44%), while 29% rate it as "only fair" and 15% as "poor." This overall positive rating has increased 10 percentage points since 2015 and is currently the highest since 2002, though it is statistically unchanged since last year. Likewise, the 57% of Americans who now say their overall financial situation is getting better has risen 10 points since 2016 and is at its highest numerical point since 2002.

Both questions, which were included in Gallup's April 1-9 Economy and Personal Finance poll, have been asked at least once a year since 2001, and results have fluctuated as the U.S. economy has gone through downturns and recoveries.

Another April financial reading, Americans' views on whether they have enough money to live comfortably, has been more stable historically, with the "yes" responses falling below 65% only once (to 60% in 2012) since 2002, when the measure was at its highest point of 75%. The latest reading is 66% saying they have enough to live comfortably and 33% saying they do not.

Three line graphs. Americans' ratings of their personal financial situation and whether they are living comfortably.

Americans who tend to have more financial resources -- including those with higher household incomes and those who own stocks -- are more likely than their counterparts to rate their own financial situation positively in all three Gallup questions.

2. Two questions -- asked less frequently than the previous three -- gauge U.S. adults' ability to make ends meet and were included in a Feb. 12-28 poll. Overall, just 25% of Americans say they worry "all" or "most" of the time that their family income will not meet their expenses; 37% worry "some of the time"; and 37% "almost never" worry. The previous reading for this question, in 2008, found 37% worrying at least most of the time.

At the same time, 56% of Americans report that they are currently saving money (19% say "a lot" and 37% "a little"); 26% say they are just making ends meet; and far fewer are drawing on savings (6%) or running into debt (7%). This marks a slight increase in the percentage saying they are saving since the previous reading, in January 2016.

Two pie charts. Feb. findings that 25% worry at least most of the time about making ends meet and 56% are now saving money.

Several demographic subgroups show a significant advantage over their counterparts when it comes to worrying less about covering expenses and managing to save money, most notably those with higher household incomes and college graduates.

3. Not having enough money for retirement and not being able to pay for medical care in the event of a serious illness or accident are the most worrisome of eight financial issues for Americans. Slim majorities, 54% and 51%, respectively, report that they are "very" or "moderately" worried about each of these long-term financial matters in the April poll. Both of the latest readings are at the low end of the historical trend.

An inability to afford medical costs for normal healthcare and to maintain the standard of living they enjoy rank next in the list, with 42% registering concern about each. Slightly fewer, 36%, are worried about not having enough money to pay their monthly bills, and the same percentage worry about not being able to pay for college for their children. Yet, 65% of parents of children under 18 worry about affording college for their child.

Americans remain least concerned about being able to pay their housing costs (30%) and making the minimum payments on their credit cards (20%). Since 2001, the rank-order of concerns has been similar to this year's.

Bar charts. Americans' level of worry about 8 financial matters; retirement and emergency medical costs rank at the top.

Gallup uses these data to create a Financial Worry Index, which is based on the number of financial matters respondents say they are "very" or "moderately worried" about. The score ranges from 0 for those who do not worry about any of the matters to 7 for those who worry about all of them; it does not include the reading for college costs because it was not asked before 2007.

This year, 22% of Americans are worried about six or seven of the seven items -- putting them in the "highly worried" category. Another 24% worry about three to five items and are classified as "moderately worried." The remaining 55% have few financial worries, including 30% who are worried about none of the seven.

A maximum of 51% were highly or moderately worried about their finances from 2001-2007, but that spiked to 61% in 2012. Since then, it has ranged from 46% to 54%. The latest reading marks the lowest level of worry since before the recession.

Line graph. Americans’ level of high or moderate worry about 7 financial matters since 2001.

Bottom Line

Although Gallup's economic confidence reading faltered in April, Americans remain largely sanguine about their own personal financial situations and more upbeat than in recent years. Majorities rate their own situation positively, think it is getting better on the whole and say they are managing to save money these days. Their most pressing concerns about their own finances continue to be related to retirement and healthcare costs in the event of a medical emergency rather than meeting everyday bills. College-educated adults, those who are employed and those owning stocks are less likely than their counterparts to express concern about their personal economic situations.

Continued positive economic news, including sustained low unemployment and economic growth, are giving Americans some peace of mind about their own finances. As the 2020 presidential election approaches, a robust economy works in President Donald Trump's favor, as history has shown that a strong economy can buoy a sitting president's chances of re-election. Given the sharp political polarization in the U.S. today, Trump's inability to make inroads with Democrats means he will need to appeal to independent voters and will most certainly need economic conditions to remain positive to do so.

View complete question responses and trends.

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