Personal financial satisfaction on the rise, says AICPA

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Record-setting stock market highs are helping fuel personal financial satisfaction for U.S. consumers, according to a survey by the American Institute of CPAs.

The AICPA’s Q2 2019 Personal Financial Satisfaction Index showed that satisfaction declined a bit from Q1, but stayed relatively close to a recent record high. The AICPA credited Wall Street’s bull market, abundant job openings, and steadily rising home equity for the gains in its quarterly index. Thanks to the job market, financial pain is lower now than prior to the Great Recession.

The S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq composite index neared all-time highs at the end of last month, coming after a strong first half of the year and a major rebound from May’s market downturn. But the good news was slightly tempered by the fact that the stocks of a handful of major tech companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet — drove about a third of the market gains over the past quarter.

“Having the bulk of your investments in one or two stocks is a risky strategy because of their individual volatility,” said Mark Astrinos, a member of the AICPA Personal Financial Specialist Credential Committee, in a statement. “Pullbacks are a regular occurrence for risk assets, so it is crucial to not put all your eggs in one basket—or in this case, all your investments in one company or industry. Instead, build a financial plan with a diversified and balanced portfolio that will lend itself to smoother gains and downsize risk over a longer time horizon.”

The AICPA CPA Outlook Index, which captures the expectations of CPA executives in the year ahead for their companies and the U.S. economy, dipped 0.9 points (1.8 percent) below the first quarter and is down 3.7 points (6.8 percent) from 2018. Compared with last year's CPA Outlook Index, all components in the index indicated declines, especially in the U.S. Economic Optimism component, the decline of which was nearly triple that of any other factor. While Americans are experiencing near record high levels of financial satisfaction, CPA executives are growing increasingly worried about the potential for an economic downturn in the year ahead.

Pain from personal taxes grew 1.5 points (3.1 percent) compared to the previous quarter. This is now the sixth quarter to reflect the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on taxpayers’ finances. After the TCJA led to an initial decline of 3.9 points (7.5 percent) in Q1 2018, the quarterly levels remained relatively flat. However, compared to the year-ago level, pain from taxes is up 2.1 points (4.4 percent) and is now only 2.6 points (5.1 percent) lower than its pre-TCJA level of 52.1 in the fourth quarter of 2017.

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Financial planning Investments Economic indicators AICPA