Financial Well-Being Remains Lower Than During First Half of 2021

UPDATED: JAN. 11, 2021

Each month Morning Consult polls at least 2,200 U.S. adults about how they view their personal financial situations and how this perception impacts their ability to feel secure and enjoy freedom of choice. This data is incorporated into Morning Consult’s Financial Well-Being Scale, modeled after a scale by the same name from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You can learn more about Morning Consult’s scale in our methodology below.

How to read this data: The Financial Well-Being scores reflect the extent to which a person’s financial situation provides them with security and freedom of choice. Consumers’ Financial Well-Being scores can change over time, and while some score shifts may appear small, even the slightest change can be meaningful. For example, according to the CFPB, an individual’s 1-point month-over-month increase is associated with a $15,000 increase in household income, a five-year age increase or a 20-point credit score hike.

Key takeaways

Morning Consult’s Financial Well-Being Scale shows that well-being for the average American stayed relatively stable again in December, ending the year at 50.37, up from November’s average of 50.26. This means that consumers rounded out 2021 feeling less financially secure than they did in the summer, likely due to rising inflation concerns and pandemic fatigue as the omicron variant brings uncertainty to many consumers’ lives. Overall consumer confidence mirrors this trend and remains lower than in the first half of the year, as consumers report a sharp decrease in their 12-month personal finance expectations.

December saw a reversal of generational trends in financial well-being from previous months, largely due to future expectations. Older generations — baby boomers and Gen Xers, who tend to be less optimistic about future economic conditions — both showed drops in financial well-being of almost 1 point. Meanwhile, millennials and Gen Zers, whose financial well-being fell in November as they faced the near-term pressures of holiday shopping, saw increases at the end of December as those pressures dissipated.

Financial well-being differences among income brackets remain the same; households with annual income over $100,000 enjoy higher financial well-being than others, as they feel more secure in their financial future. Adults with an annual household income over $100,00 are almost four times as likely to report that they could handle an unexpected expense compared with those whose annual household income is under $50,000 (59 percent versus 15 percent, respectively), and three times more likely than the same group to say they are securing their financial future (61 percent versus 18 percent, respectively).

Key Demographics
Financial Well-Being Scale Buoyed by Boomers, High Earners

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Control Over Finances
'My finances control my life'
Share who say the above phrase describes them “always” or “often”

'Giving a gift for a wedding, birthday or other occasion would put a strain on my finances for the month'
Share who say the above phrase describes them “always” or “often”

Financial Freedom
'Because of my money situation, I feel like I will never have the things I want in life'
Share who say the above phrase describes them “completely” or “very well”

Capacity to Absorb a Financial Shock
'I could handle a major or unexpected expense'
Share who say the above phrase describes them “completely” or “very well”

On Track to Meet Goals
'I am securing my financial future'
Share who say the above phrase describes them “completely” or “very well”
The above charts represent five of the 10 prompts used to calculate financial well-being. For information on the five additional prompts, contact cprincipato@morningconsult.com.

METHODOLOGY

 

Morning Consult surveys at least 2,200 U.S. adults every month on their financial health, well-being, habits and attitudes. To determine overall financial well-being, Morning Consult replicated the CFPB’s Financial Well-Being Scale and scoring methodology.

The CFPB created its Financial Well-Being Scale in 2015 for the purpose of allowing “practitioners and researchers to accurately and consistently quantify, and therefore observe, something that the respondent already has a sense of — the extent to which their financial situation and the financial capability that they have developed provide them with security and freedom of choice.” The scale includes 10 questions for gauging present and future security and freedom of choice, touching on consumers’ control over their finances, their capacity to absorb financial shocks and their trajectory to meet their financial goals.

The 10 questions were selected by the CFPB through cognitive testing, factor analysis and psychometric testing of large populations. The score used for the Financial Well-Being Scale is based on Item Response Theory (IRT) analysis, a statistical method that provides a more precise measure than a summary score.

The IRT-based scoring method allows researchers to give precise and consistent estimates for the aspects of financial well-being that have traditionally been hard to quantify, including feelings of empowerment, confidence and satisfaction. Scores can be calculated via a two-step process. First, the respondent’s self-assessment is converted to a zero-to-four scale; second, a lookup table is used to convert each total response value to the Financial Well-Being Scale based on the respondent’s age group.

Special thanks to Sam Hughes; Laura Maxwell, Ph.D.; Rachel Venaglia, Ph.D.; Samantha Elbouez and Sara Wickersham for their assistance with this project.

Morning Consult