As rising prices continue to weigh on households, more families are feeling stretched too thin.
As of November, 63% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, according to a monthly LendingClub report — up from 60% the previous month and near the 64% historic high hit in March.
Even high-income earners are under pressure, LendingClub found. Of those earning more than six figures, 47% reported living paycheck to paycheck, a jump from the previous month’s 43%.
“Americans are cash-strapped and their everyday spending continues to outpace their income, which is impacting their ability to save and plan,” said Anuj Nayar, LendingClub’s financial health officer.
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Although consumer prices rose less than expected in November, persistent inflation has caused real wages to decline.
Real average hourly earnings are down 1.9% from a year earlier, according to the latest reading from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This leaves many Americans in a bind as inflation and higher prices force more people to dip into their cash reserves or lean on credit just when interest rates rise at the fastest pace in decades.
Already, credit card balances are surging, up 15% in the most recent quarter, the largest annual jump in more than 20 years.
At the same time, credit card rates are now more than 19%, on average — an all-time high — and still rising.
Compared with a year ago, 32% of all consumers are saving less than they were before, LendingClub found. Among those who said they are struggling financially, half are unable to save and have no savings at all.
One-third of working adults — 33% — feel somewhat or very uncomfortable about their ability to pay an emergency $400 expense, a separate survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center also found. Nearly 8% wouldn’t be able to afford it at all.
“With average savings stagnating, if not decreasing, setting financial goals for the new year will become increasingly difficult for many consumers,” Nayar said.
How to get your finances on track
“These challenges aren’t going to go away when we flip the calendar, so it is best to make a plan for mitigating ongoing risks to financial stability like inflation and market volatility in the year ahead,” said Kelly LaVigne, vice president of consumer insights at Allianz Life.
“It helps to have a documented strategy for your money — particularly one developed with the help of a financial professional — to review when you’re feeling financially overwhelmed,” LaVigne said.
Thomas Racca, manager of the personal finance team at Navy Federal Credit Union, offers these four tips to get your finances in check:
- Do your own audit. Start with a list of all of your assets and liabilities, Racca advised. “You won’t be able to make decisions for next year if you don’t take stock of where you currently stand,” he said.
- Make a plan to save. Prioritize a plan to set money aside every month. Even putting a small amount toward your savings account, emergency fund or tax-advantaged retirement account “will make a huge difference in the long run,” Racca said.
- Reevaluate your budget. Check in with your proposed budget regularly to see how close you’re staying to it. “You’ll stay more on track with your financial goals if you’re honest about what you have and can spend,” Racca added.
- Make changes if necessary. Finally, don’t be afraid to make adjustments. “If you thought you would spend $50 a week on groceries but are actually spending closer to $70, find ways to re-prioritize your spending to make up the $20 difference,” Racca said.
For its part, the Federal Reserve hiked its target federal funds rate half a point to the highest level in 15 years.
The U.S. central bank also indicated even more increases are coming in 2023, until inflation shows clear signs of a pullback.
During a news conference, Chairman Jerome Powell said it is important to keep up the fight against inflation so that the expectation of higher prices does not become entrenched.
LendingClub’s paycheck-to-paycheck report is based on a survey of nearly 4,000 U.S. adults in November.
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