AICPA finds financial worries easing in U.S.

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About one-third of Americans are postponing a major life decision, such as getting married, having children, buying a house, or going to college, for financial reasons, according to a new survey by the American Institute of CPAs, but that proportion is down from three years ago.

The survey of 1,014 people, conducted last month by the Harris Poll for the AICPA, found that the number of American adults who have postponed at least one important life decision in the past year for financial reasons has declined to 35 percent. That’s an improvement from the 51 percent in a similar survey conducted in 2015 by the AICPA and Harris when Americans were still recovering from the recession.

The proportion of Americans delaying specific life events for financial reasons has been almost cut in half in several areas. While 6 percent postponed marriage last year, down from 12 percent in 2015, only 7 percent put off having children, compared to 13 percent in 2015.

The proportion of Americans postponing higher education due to financial constraints also fell considerably. In 2015, 24 percent of Americans reported delaying higher education, but in the new survey only 13 percent said they are delaying college.

Fewer Americans are putting off buying a home. This year, only 14 percent delayed buying a home for financial reasons, compared to 22 percent in 2015. In addition, fewer Americans are postponing a medical procedure (12 percent in 2018, compared to 19 percent in 2015) and retiring (10 percent delayed in 2018, compared to 18 percent in 2015) for financial reasons.

“As the economy continues to pick up steam and we put the recession further in the rearview mirror, it is important to be cautious and not forget the difficult financial lessons we learned,” said Greg Anton, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, in a statement. “When making a major life decision, don’t just focus on the immediate costs. Consider the long-term financial implications as well. Taking on too much credit card debt to buy things your savings can’t cover, or making big purchases when you aren’t financially stable are reckless moves in any economy.”

For those Americans who were forced to delay life decisions, the top concern they cited in 2018 was a lack of savings (60 percent), similar to the 60 percent who pointed to a lack of savings in 2015. The second highest factor cited was concerns about the U.S. economy, but that fell 12 percentage points from 50 percent in 2015 to 38 percent in 2018. Medical bills were the third highest cited factor and the only concern to get worse (34 percent in 2018, compared to 29 percent in 2015).

Other reasons cited by the survey respondents for delayed life decisions this past year were difficulty paying non-mortgage monthly bills (29 percent), credit card debt (27 percent), a need to take care of elderly parents or other relatives (25 percent), concerns about losing their job (22 percent), and difficulty making mortgage payments (17 percent).

While their financial situation seems to be improving, the percentage of Americans who report making at least one positive change to their financial behavior since the recession has fallen (68 percent in 2018, compared to 85 percent in 2015).

The changes include following a monthly budget (39 percent in 2018, compared to 58 percent in 2015); starting or increasing their savings rate (36 percent in 2018, versus 44 percent in 2015); putting less money on credit cards (30 percent in 2018, vs. 50 percent in 2015); starting or adding to an emergency fund (30 percent in 2018, as opposed to 35 percent in 2015); and starting or increasing contributing to retirement accounts (28 percent in 2018, compared to 32 percent in 2015).

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