Employment instability, difficulty paying debt, and other issues emerged during COVID-19 - according to the ACCC Q4 ‘Financial Health Index’
Boston, MA – January 21, 2021
According to a recent poll by American Consumer Credit Counseling, Americans ended the harrowing year that was 2020 on a real financial downer – with a large percentage saying they were worse off in December 2020 than at the end of 2019.
The ACCC Financial Health Index for the fourth quarter of 2020 found that 55 percent of those polled said their financial condition was worse at the end of December than during the same period a year earlier. That simple litmus test summed up a historically challenging year during which the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy and created record jobless claims and unemployment.
“This country has never experienced anything like what we all were up against in 2020. It’s no surprise the year took its toll on household finances and placed so many families at risk of foreclosure, eviction, vehicle repossession, and other severe outcomes of financial distress,” said Steve Trumble, President and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling. “Fortunately, the New Year brings hope as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out.”
ACCC’s Q4 Financial Health Index poll surveyed 418 respondents aged 25-65 with incomes of $100,000 or less. It was conducted in December.
Respondents in the Q4 poll indicated they feel the pressure from 2020’s economic fallout – with the percentage of those who say their current employment is “very stable” falling to 30 percent from 36 percent in September’s Q3 survey. Meanwhile, the number who said their employment status is “very unstable” rose to 15 percent from 10 percent over that same period. Just over 44 percent said they were no worse off in December 2020 than they were a year earlier – a stark contrast to the majority 55 percent of respondents whose circumstances worsened.
“The early federal relief package following the pandemic’s first wave of economic devastation was massive. Yet many people continue to struggle, entire sectors like restaurants and travel are badly damaged, and households need more stimulus funding,’ Trumble said. “It’s a good sign that the new White House administration is promising still more relief – even on the heels of the most recent federal aid earlier in January.
While separate data shows that many households have used stimulus funds to build emergency savings or reduce debt and lower overall financial risk, survey respondents are still concerned about their ability to pay down debt. Just 36 percent of those polled in December said they were “somewhat confident” in their ability to reduce total debt by 10 percent over the next six months. That declined from 41 percent in the Q3 survey. And those with zero confidence in their ability to cut debt by 10 percent rose to 31 percent from 25 percent since September.
By the end of December, almost two million Americans had received the COVID-19 vaccine, and health officials say that by the end of June, every American should have access to the vaccine. Many are hopeful this means that life could return to normal by the summer of 2021. In December, the U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, but there are still 10 million fewer jobs in the U.S. than there were before the pandemic started.
One possible sign of optimism from Financial Health Index respondents: there was no significant change among those polled from September to December in confidence in the U.S. economy. A small number (9 percent in both September and December) say that they are “very confident” in the U.S. economy. In September, 16 percent said they were “not confident at all” in the U.S. economy – a finding which stayed relatively consistent at 15 percent in December. The vast majority of respondents still fall somewhere in the middle.
American households dug deep and took even drastic measures to stay afloat in 2020. The ACCC second quarter Financial Health Index, released in July, found 25 percent of those surveyed said they had borrowed from their 401(k) accounts or other retirement savings.
Financial counselors at ACCC continue to provide callers with budget counseling and assistance with creditors while providing further assistance through ConsumerCredit.com and the ACCC Talking Cents blog. Counselors are also directing clients to resources such as the Ready.gov section on financial preparedness, and the downloadable EFFAK (Emergency Financial First Aid Kit) guide.
About American Consumer Credit Counseling
American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a nonprofit credit counseling 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering consumers to achieve financial management through credit counseling, debt management, bankruptcy counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, and financial education concerning debt solutions. To help consumers reach their goal of debt relief, ACCC provides a range of free consumer personal finance resources on a variety of topics including budgeting, credit and debt management, student loan assistance, youth and money, homeownership, identity theft, senior living, and retirement. Consumers can use ACCC’s worksheets, videos, calculators, and blog articles to make the best possible decisions regarding their financial future. ACCC holds an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®). For more information or to access free financial education resources, log on to ConsumerCredit.com or visit https://www.consumercredit.com/debt-resources-tools/