Have Cards, Will Travel

Financial setbacks common, and we expect to pay with credit

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller



An unexpected car repair, the sudden need for a new roof, the inability to keep up with mounting bills and debt – almost two-thirds of Americans report they suffered a financial setback in 2017.

In its latest annual survey, the National Endowment for Financial Education found 63 percent of U.S. adults took at least one financial hit in 2017. Transportation problems such as expensive car repairs, having to replace a vehicle or increased commuting expenses were cited by 23 percent of respondents.

Unexpected home repairs and maintenance – such as replacing a furnace, water heater or roof – ranked second, striking a financial blow to 1 in 5 Americans.

Rearing its head in third place was debt and mounting bills. Sixteen percent of respondents said their 2017 financial picture was negatively impacted by an inability to keep up with debt or falling behind on bills. Medical care for an injury or illness also tied for third place at 16 percent.

When asked how they would pay for any setbacks they might encounter in 2018, more than a third of Americans (36 percent) said they would pull out the plastic. That made credit cards a more popular option than emergency savings (31 percent), cash (28 percent) or a loan from either a bank or credit union (22 percent) or a friend or family member (19 percent).

NEFE’s annual survey on consumer expectations was fielded by Harris Poll in December 2017 among 2,165 U.S. adults age 18 and older. With responses weighted to mirror national U.S. Census Bureau demographics, the findings were released Jan. 4, 2018.

Financial blows common in 2017, says research

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