Financial Stress Has Biggest Impact on Americans’Mental Health: Survey

As Americans cope with high inflation, many said their stress levels were at an all-time high, according to a recent survey by Clever Real Estate. 

In fact, 61% of respondents said they have never been more stressed and 80% reported they were stressed about the cost of living, the survey said. 

“Although stress comes from many sources, the data shows financial struggles have the most significant impact on Americans’ negative mental state,” Clever said in its report. 

Clever reported the most common sources of financial stress were:

  • Not having enough emergency savings (69%)
  • Spending more money than they earn (58%)
  • Lacking enough money to afford necessities (57%)
  • Not having enough saved for retirement (57%)

For many, financial stress has extended beyond their wallets. In fact, 61% of Americans said financial stress has caused them to experience physical symptoms including headaches and lack of sleep, Clever found. 

In addition, 27% of Americans said they’ve skipped meals, and 22% have avoided medical appointments or treatments to save money, according to a survey by Real Estate Witch. 

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Inflation is still a top stressor 

Although inflation has cooled in recent months, it has continued to be a major stressor for many Americans, according to several studies. Inflation increased 5% year-over-year in March – down from 6% in February –, signaling the smallest 12-month increase since the end of May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Seventy-four percent of workers around the world said inflation has been the top stressor in their lives, a Fidelity Investments analysis reported. Plus, inflation has increased anxiety by 89% among Americans, based on a five-point rating scale published in the latest Impact of Inflation report by AnalyticsIQ.

“The end of 2022 was the first positive sign that inflation, which began rising in April 2021 approximately a year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was cooling off,” AnalyticsIQ said in its report. “After a year and a half of steady price increases, US consumers are continuing to adjust their finances, lifestyles, and future plans due to elevated interest rates and significant hikes in gas prices and consumer goods of all kinds.”

But while inflation has slowed, the interest rate environment has remained uncertain. To cool inflation, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates several times last year and into 2023. At its latest meeting, the Fed increased interest rates by 25 basis points. That drove the federal funds rate to a targeted range of 4.75% to 5%, the highest level in 15 years. 

Americans are stressed about their retirement savings 

Amid financial stressors like the rising costs of goods and economic uncertainty, many Americans have pulled back on retirement savings, a Fidelity analysis found. Americas’ Retirement Score dropped to 78 from its all-time high of 83 in 2020, according to the 2023 Retirement Savings Assessment.

“American savers continue to navigate through uncertainty, and as a result, may consider pulling back on saving for the future,” Rita Assaf, vice president of retirement at Fidelity Investments, said in a March press release. “When it comes to long-term investing, staying focused on your individual goals is critical. Having a plan in place is one solid way to help weather any storm, as we’ve seen the last few years and weeks with the pandemic, inflation and market volatility.”

To meet their retirement needs, people should aim to contribute 15% of their income into a well-diversified portfolio within a tax-advantaged retirement account, Fidelity recommended. That may not be possible for all, but increasing contribution rates by 1% each year could help, Fidelity said.

Most private industry workers (69%) had access to employer-provided retirement plans as of March 2022, according to the BLS. But workers can still invest in their retirement while enjoying tax breaks, even if their employer doesn’t offer retirement benefits. 

Virtually anyone can open a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) through a bank or investment management firm. It works similarly to a traditional 401(k). Contributions may be tax-deductible and investment earnings grow tax-free. Additionally, investors have until the April 18 tax deadline to make tax-deductible contributions for the previous year, according to the IRS website. For instance, taxpayers can make 2022 IRA contributions until April 18, 2023.

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