by Chris Byrd
Our friends at the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) have been contributing incredible work to the cause of both understanding and improving the financial health of Americans. Now, in new groundbreaking research on the financial lives of Americans, they explore this critically important issue more deeply than ever before. The report, called the U.S. Financial Health Pulse, argues that though facts are readily available on how millions of Americans are struggling with everything from credit card debit to student loans to insufficient retirement savings, it’s not enough to look at these individual markers to measure their financial health.
Instead, CFSI recommends looking at a bigger picture that considers the totality of an individual’s financial life: “Unlike abstract figures like GDP, financial health is a nuanced metric that assesses whether Americans are spending, saving, borrowing and planning in a way that will set them up to be resilient and pursue opportunities over time.” To assess financial health, CFSI has created a framework called the CFSI Financial Health Score that leverages consumer surveys and transactional data for demographic characteristics, financial behaviors and socioeconomic trends. The score sorts Americans into three financial health tiers: Financially Healthy (28 percent of Americans); Financially Coping (55 percent of Americans); and Financially Vulnerable (17 percent of Americans).
The entire report is worth a close read, but we pulled out some kernels that we think are the most relevant for WEX Health Partners:
Nearly half of Americans say their spending equaled or exceeded their income in the last 12 months.
Among respondents who said this, 43 percent said it’s because their spending was unusually high, their income was unusually low, or both. We know from other research that unplanned medical expenses are a leading cause; this squares with what 20 percent of the consumers (across the socioeconomic spectrum) who participated in our Clear Insights report earlier this year told us—that they would have to put a $1,000 unexpected medical bill on their credit card.
Low savings balances obscure the fact that many Americans are saving when and where they can.
CFSI points out that 79 percent of respondents said they are saving regularly or whenever possible in savings accounts, while 76 percent said are saving regularly or whenever possible in cash. Further, 70 percent of respondents said they are saving regularly or whenever possible in personal savings vehicles like mutual funds, money market accounts, stocks, certificates of deposit and annuities. Financially Healthy individuals reported liquid savings balances approximately four times higher than Financially Coping individuals and 30 times higher than Financially Vulnerable individuals. While many Americans lack sufficient liquid savings, it’s interesting and encouraging to learn that a full 28 percent of Americans (those in the Financially Healthy category) have money to save into tax-favored accounts that can be carried over and invested—i.e., health savings accounts (HSAs).
Forty-two percent of Financially Vulnerable individuals said debt has delayed or prevented them from seeking or receiving medical care.
With respect to the effect of health insurance on these decisions, 71 percent of Financially Vulnerable individuals and 88 percent of Financially Coping individuals have health insurance, compared with 98 percent of Financially Healthy individuals. This is key, as it shows the value of what many of us do to provide employees with an increasingly greater number of options that help employers balance and manage costs while providing safety-net coverage for employees.
Americans who experience workplace instability are falling behind as they strive for financial health.
Employees who have unpredictable schedules and volatile wages are less likely to be Financially Healthy than those who have predictable schedules and steady wages. Lower-income Americans are most affected by instability in the workplace; this group also stands to gain the most from employee-provided benefits, such as healthcare and paid leave. In so many ways, this underscores the importance of our work at WEX Health to deliver products that help minimize the volatility of unexpected healthcare spending on overall financial challenges.
For more insights on Americans’ financial health, read CFSI’s U.S. Financial Health Pulse in full here.