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Poll: Americans sleeping better as economy recovers

Retirement savings, education expenses still keep many awake

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Financial worries poll
Financial worries poll

Losing sleep over financial stress is on the decline in the U.S., according to a new CreditCards.com poll.

A national poll commissioned by CreditCards.com found that 62 percent of adult Americans are losing sleep over at least one financial problem -- 7 percentage points lower than in June 2009, the last time this poll was conducted.

Today's most common money worry is saving enough for retirement; two in five Americans say this keeps them up at night at least occasionally. The second biggest concern is educational expenses, which trouble young adults the most.

Poll results
The poll, conducted May 28-31, 2015, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on behalf of CreditCards.com, gathered data from telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. (See poll methodology.)

Respondents were given a list of financial concerns and asked to identify which cause them to lose sleep at least occasionally. Their responses, in order of sleep deprivation, were:

  • Saving enough money for retirement (40 percent).
  • Ability to pay your own or someone else's educational expenses (31 percent).
  • Health care or insurance bills (29 percent).
  • Ability to pay mortgage and monthly rent bills (27 percent).
  • Ability to pay credit card debt (21 percent).

 

As economy recovers, sleep loss diminishes
This is the third time CreditCards.com has conducted a poll to gauge how money worries affect sleep. The first was in March 2007, just before the recession kicked in, and the second in June 2009, the recession's final month.

Financial worries cause sleep loss, 2007-2015

In the latest survey, 62 percent of respondents say they lose sleep to at least one financial worry. That's not as good as the 56 percent in 2007, but much better than our losing sleep poll in 2009, when 69 percent said they lost sleep to financial issues.

"I think people are better off today than they were six years ago," said James Chessen, chief economist with the American Bankers Association. "They are more secure in their jobs, their incomes are a little better, housing values are improving and they've managed their debt. There are still a lot of challenges, but overall people are in better positions than they have been since the recession."

Health care recedes as a worry
Sleepless nights due to health care expense worries have declined the most since 2009, falling 6 percentage points. What's changed? One possibility is the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), through which 10.2 million Americans have health insurance this year. Nearly 9 of 10 Americans now have health insurance, representing a sharp decline in the number of people who need to worry about health care.

"ACA has made it possible for many people to feel more secure in that if they experience an acute health care event, they have some sort of safety net," said Joyce Serido, associate professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.

However, many lower-income individuals still feel burdened by medical costs, as they reported the most sleep-depriving stress. "For many low-income families, the monthly cost of even a subsidized plan may still be taxing their limited monthly income, as do out-of-pocket co-pays," Serido said.

Card debt manageable
Credit card debt caused the least sleep loss. There's less to lose sleep over: The April 2015 revolving debt balance totals about $900 billion, $100 billion shy of the $1 trillion level it achieved when the recession hit at the end of  2007. Federal Reserve data says the average credit card debt per borrower is falling, from $6,276 in mid-2008 to $5,164 in the first quarter of 2014, the lowest point over that six-year period. And in 2014, only 34 percent of U.S. adults carried card debt from month-to-month, down from 44 percent in 2009, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

I think consumers have been sensitive, at least on the credit card side, when it comes to taking on debt that they can reasonably afford.

-- James Chessen
Chief economist, American Bankers Association

"I think consumers have been sensitive, at least on the credit card side, when it comes to taking on debt that they can reasonably afford," Chessen said. "They've also done a good job managing those debts and getting debt levels down to something they can handle. Delinquencies are also very low by historic standards. All in all, we are on a slow grind upward."

Retirement woes remain
Retirement worries causes the most stress, especially among older adults approaching retirement age. Retired households spend an average of $40,237 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, so if you retire at 62, you'll need about $1.35 million if you live to be 95. But that general estimate doesn't take individual situations into account, which is why many people stress over retirement savings, Serido said.

"How can you feel secure when you don't know how much you need?" she said. "The number always changes. The uncertainty that surrounds how long you will live and how much you need -- even if you have a job -- can be so overwhelming."

Young adults count education dollars, not sheep
The Federal Reserve's tally of student loan debt is nearing $1.4 trillion, a sum higher than what Americans owe on their credit cards or their auto loans. Experts aren't surprised student loans cause widespread sleep loss, among those trying to figure out where to get the money to pay next semester's tuition, those making student loan payments, and among parents helping out wherever they can.

"It's not that this is the first generation to have educational loan debt; there are people much older still dealing with student loan debt," Serido said. "What's unique about this generation is that the amount of debt is really high so when they graduate from college, it's hard for them to know how to manage everything -- finding a job, debt, living costs, you name it."

THE SECRET TO SWEET DREAMS:
AGE, GOOD INCOME
Want uninterrupted sleep? Try being old. And make lots of money.
  • Of those 65 and older, fewer than half (46 percent) reported losing any sleep over financial issues. For everyone else, 2 of 3 (67) percent lost sleep at least occasionally.
  • Just 1 in 2 of those making more than $75,000 a year say they lose sleep over money. At $30,000 and below, though, it's nearly 3 in 4 (72 percent).

For students struggling to find employment post-graduation, debt management stress only gets worse.

"If you have a regular paying job, at least there can be a balance between income and debt repayment," Serido said. "But some have trained for careers that don't exist anymore. Others found a job and then a few years later they got laid off or something like that. In the past, a college education was the ticket to success. This is a generation for which that's not a guarantee."

Don't toss, turn. Plan
If you're not sleeping due to financial stress, lying awake with worry until the wee hours won't fix the  problem.

"If things are keeping you awake, what are those things?" Serido said. "Write them down. Face them. We usually stew about things and feel like there are a million things ahead of us, but really it's just a few little things."

Start the process by reviewing the basics: How much money do you have coming in and how much is going out?  It's unlikely big financial matters, such as building a retirement nest egg or paying off hefty medical bills can be tackled overnight, so reduce your stress by dealing with the things you can control.

"I'm guessing someone who is really worrying does not have the basics covered," said Edward Tonini, director of education at Alliance Credit Counseling. "For a lot of us, the unknown can really create the most anxiety. Take little steps and focus your energy on them and feel some sense of relief that at least you are making progress. It might take longer than you would like it to take, but realistically you have to work within your budget."

These small steps to improved financial health (and a better night's sleep) may include spending less than you earn, starting an emergency fund and making a budget. Accumulating some savings can help with life's financial surprises.

"The people who come to us who are financially bleeding, so to speak, and don't have any savings," Tonini said. "Start with getting that under control before losing sleep over matters like retirement."

Still tossing and turning at night? Stop suffering alone.

"The key is not to panic," said Jo Kerstetter, spokeswoman for nonprofit financial counseling organization Money Management International. "If you feel overwhelmed, the best thing to consider is reaching out for professional assistance."

Poll methodology
The CreditCards.com poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International May 28-31, 2015. Princeton obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults 18 years or older livings in the continental U.S. Interviews were conducted by landline and cellphone in both English and Spanish. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies such as age, sex, race, education and geographic location. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

See related: 3 ways to alleviate financial stress

Published: June 24, 2015


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Updated: 09-28-2016


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