About 72% of Americans struggle with at least some aspects of their financial health, according to a recent survey by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, a nonprofit financial services consultancy. And 17% of those surveyed reported struggling with nearly all aspects of their financial lives. Just 28% -- about 70 million people out of 250 million, the survey indicates -- say they are on top of their finances. So how do you measure up?
Find out for yourself. These are the eight traits of financially healthy individuals, according to the survey:
- They spend less than their income.
- They pay all their bills on time.
- They have enough savings to cover at least six months of living expenses.
- They are on track to meet their long-term financial goals.
- They have manageable debt (or no debt at all).
- They have prime (good or excellent) credit scores.
- They are confident about the coverage of their insurance policies.
- They plan ahead financially.
I'll discuss below why each trait is important and what you can do to boost your financial health if you're struggling in a few areas.
1. Spending less than your income
About 47% of those surveyed said their spending equals or exceeds their income. The obvious problem is that it impedes your ability to save for long-term goals, and it could put you at risk of being unable to pay your bills.
It may not be the easiest problem to correct, but doing so, along with responsible money management, can boost your financial health significantly. The first step is to look at where your money is going and if there are any areas where you can reduce spending. You may want to cut back on the number of times you go out to eat, for example. Or you could consider downsizing to a more affordable residence. Alternatively, you could look for ways to boost your income by working overtime or starting a side hustle.
2. Paying all your bills on time
Your payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit score; even a single late payment can drop an excellent credit score by more than 100 points. This can make it difficult to secure new loans and lines of credit when you need them.
If you often forget to pay bills on time, see if you can automate your payments to be deducted from your account each month. If that's not possible, set reminders for yourself. It's common to turn to credit if you can't afford to pay your bills, but this creates more problems than it solves, so it's best to avoid this whenever possible. Follow the steps listed above to balance your income and spending.
3. Having enough money to cover at least six months of living expenses
It's crucial to have an emergency fund with at least three to six months of living expenses in case you lose your job or have an unexpected expense arise, like a hospital bill. It can help you avoid the trap of charging these expenses to a credit card and accumulating more debt. If you don't have an emergency fund, this is where your savings should go first, unless you have a lot of high-interest debt, in which case you should pay this off first. More on that below.
4. Being on track to meet long-term financial goals
Long-term goals include retirement, buying a home, or saving for your kids' college educations. To meet these goals, you need to have a clear idea of how much money you need. Take time to figure out your goals and how much you need to reach them. Then, break that amount down to see how much you need to put away each month in order to hit your goals. If you're having trouble, it may be a good idea to seek help from a financial advisor who can give you advice specific to your situation.
5. Having manageable debt (or no debt at all)
Ideally, your monthly debt payments should not exceed more than 35% of your income. A higher ratio than this indicates that you're living beyond your means, and it may make it difficult to secure new credit when you need it. Credit card debt in particular is a problem because of the high interest rates. This should be your first priority if you're trying to lower your debt-to-income ratio. You could try transferring the balance to another card with a 0% introductory APR or taking out a personal loan to cover the amount.
6. Having prime (good or excellent) credit scores
The definitions of a good credit score vary depending on whom you ask, but most say it's about 700 or above. A good credit score indicates to lenders that you're responsible with your money, and it gives you access to the best interest rates on loans and credit cards.
If your credit score is low, take steps to improve it by paying your bills on time and paying down your debt. You can also apply for a secured credit card. These cards are available to everyone, including those with bad credit. They report your payment history to the credit bureaus every month, and regular on-time payments will help to boost your scores over time.
7. Being confident about the coverage of your insurance policies
Familiarize yourself with how much your home, auto, and health insurance policies actually cover and then decide if that's enough to protect you in the worst-case scenario. If not, you may want to revise your coverage so that you're fully protected should you need to file a claim. It's a good idea to recheck these periodically to ensure that inflation hasn't eroded the value of your policies.
8. Planning ahead financially
As I mentioned above, planning is crucial for meeting your long-term goals and being prepared for the unexpected. You may not be able to account for every variable, but you can give yourself a better chance of weathering the ups and downs if you create a monthly budget and regularly set aside money for your goals.
This may all sound overwhelming to you, especially if you're struggling in many of these areas. But several of these traits are interconnected, and working on your financial health in one area can boost it in other areas. You may not be able to change your situation all at once, but if you're determined, you can improve your financial health gradually over time.