Three in four say they are ‘doing OK’ financially, Fed survey results find – but financial distress still exists

Three in four U.S. adults said in 2018 that, financially at least, they were “doing OK” or “living comfortably” – up 12 percentage points from 2013 – according to the results of a survey released Thursday by the Federal Reserve.

In its second-ever Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households (the first was released in 2013), the Fed said that, overall, the financial experiences reported by the 11,000 adults surveyed in 2018 were largely positive, and many families have experienced substantial gains since 2013, which the Fed said was in line with the nation’s ongoing economic expansion.

As an indicator, the survey pointed to survey responses to the hypothetical question “how would they pay for an unexpected expense of $400.” Sixty-one percent said they would pay the expense with cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement; 27% would borrow or sell something; and 12% would not be able to cover it. In 2013, only half of adults said they would pay with cash or its equivalent, the Fed said of the responses.

Despite the positive outlook, areas of financial distress are still in place, the Fed said of the survey results, as well as persistent differences by race, education level, and geography. “Nearly 8 in 10 whites reported doing at least okay financially, compared to two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics,” the report stated. “A similar difference exists by education: among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 87% were doing at least okay, compared with 64% of those with a high school degree or less. Of those who live in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods, 8 in 10 reported overall satisfaction with their community, compared to 6 in 10 of those living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.”

Understanding the experiences of bank customers in their ability to access their accounts is a new area of focus in the latest survey. According to the results, 13% percent of those with a bank account had at least one problem accessing funds in their account in the prior year. Problems with a bank website or mobile app (7% ) and delays in when funds were available to use (6%) were the most common problems cited, the Fed said. Those with volatile income and low savings were more likely to experience these problems, the central bank asserted.

Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households