stressed young couple worries about their finances

The disruptive effects of Covid-19 have made things worse, but even before the pandemic, many U.S. households were stressed about their finances, according to new research from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

A study of more than 19,000 adults found that 60% reported anxiety over their personal finances and 50% said discussing their finances was stressful. The study also found that more women (65%) reported finance-related anxiety than men (54%).

“Alarmingly, we find that even prior to the pandemic, more than half of American adults were experiencing financial anxiety,” said Annamaria Lusardi, economics professor and academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University (GW), which produced the research along with the FINRA Foundation.

“A multifaceted approach will be needed to address this problem; including a systematic increase in financial knowledge, which can happen through policy and programs,” Lusardi said.

Researchers found that various factors such as a lack of assets and income, high debt and low financial literacy contributed to stress and anxiety around money.

“These findings are sobering. Over the past year, Americans’ financial struggles, anxiety and stress levels have likely worsened,” said Andrea Hasler, deputy academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center and an assistant research professor of financial literacy at GW.

In addition to the survey, researchers carried out focus groups with investors in December 2020.

“Focus group discussions reveal that for most participants, the pandemic seems to have exacerbated existing financial anxiety, rather than creating new anxiety that was not present pre-pandemic. Thus, it’s more important than ever to build financial resilience and make it part of the recovery path,” Hasler said.

To address the widespread anxiety and stress surrounding finances, the researchers recommended increasing efforts aimed to enhance literacy, particularly among high-risk groups.

They also recommended that employers offer automatic savings programs and resources to help cope with financial stress, and advised adults to build up emergency savings to serve as a buffer against financial shocks.