Catching up on bills top priority for Americans, report says
Getting a handle on bills has been the No. 1 priority for three consecutive years, and is now on the minds of nearly half of Americans, from 32 percent in 2012 to 36 percent in 2013 to 41 percent this year.
"It just goes to show that these priorities reflect a reality that a lot of people have about stagnant incomes, outstanding debt and insufficient savings," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "Incomes haven't gone up, many are still hemmed in by high household expenses from years past, including debts that they've been working to pay down and savings that were either really insufficient to begin with or may have been eroded by a period of joblessness or income reduction. Those are the realities a lot of Americans are grappling with, and their priorities reflect that."
Among the other top financial priorities:
- 22 percent of Americans say "paying down debt" (previously 20 percent in 2013 and 23 percent in 2012)
- 17 percent say "saving" (down slightly from 18 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2012)
- 10 percent say "providing financial assistance to family members or friends" (formerly 12 percent in 2013 and 10 percent in 2012)
According to the report, Americans 65 years of age and older were more likely than any other age group to say that providing financial assistance to family and friends was their first priority.
"This is a reflection that many senior citizens' children or even grandchildren are in a situation where they're unemployed, underemployed and they too are having trouble keeping up with the bills, so they're relying on that assistance from their parents or grandparents," McBride said.
While many Americans are feeling much better about their overall financial situation, savings continues to be a weak spot. Nearly one-third of Americans say they are less comfortable with savings now, while 20 percent are more comfortable.
"People are feeling better, but the missing ingredients have been wage growth and the fact that people don't feel good about their savings -- those two really go hand in hand and are really the missing link in this economic recovery," McBride said. "It's not only why we have a slow growth economy, but also why people haven't been able to move the needle on savings. There is just not enough money left over in the paycheck. Savings is really the Achilles' heel of financial security. Month in, month out, that's the area consumers point to and say that they're not comfortable with what they have and they're not making progress."
Bankrate.com's Financial Security Index came in at 101.3, the highest level it has approached since it measured 101.5 in June 2014. Any reading above 100 indicates improved financial security over the past year.