It's no secret that Americans have some pretty sloppy financial tendencies. But a new roundup from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) sheds some pretty telling light on just how badly we're doing on the whole. Here are six troublesome personal finance trends that should inspire you to rethink your money-related habits.
1. U.S. credit card debt is rising
In December 2018, U.S. consumer credit card debt hit $870 billion, representing its highest total ever, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Now, there's nothing wrong with having a credit card if you know how to use one responsibly. But if you've been known to abuse your credit cards, you're better off without them. As a general rule, you should never charge more on a credit card than you can afford to pay off by month's end. Furthermore, don't make the mistake of relying on credit cards to bail yourself out of a financial emergency. You should have dedicated savings so that an unplanned expense doesn't end up costing you even more in accrued interest.
2. Only 46% of Americans are confident they'll achieve their retirement goals
More than half of Americans have doubts about their ability to retire when and how they want to, according to AICPA data. To alleviate this concern, start saving for that milestone as early in life as you can. Doing so will allow you to take advantage of compounding, thereby turning a series of modest contributions to a retirement plan into a larger sum over time. Imagine you're able to set aside $300 a month for your golden years beginning at age 27. If you wish to retire at 67, and your invested savings generate an average annual 7% return during that 40-year period, you'll wind up with close to $1 million to work with -- not too shabby.
3. Americans aren't following budgets
Despite the fact that budgeting is one of the simplest money management tools out there, only 39% of Americans have a budget, according to the AICPA. If you don't have one in place, carve out some time to create one immediately. To start, list your recurring monthly expenses, from rent to car payments to leisure. Next, factor in once-a-year expenses, like annual membership renewals, and divide their costs over 12 months. Finally, compare your total spending to your total earnings. If you find that you're spending down your entire paycheck, or, worse yet, spending more than what you make, then you'll need to begin cutting back immediately -- but having that budget will show you where there's room to do so.
4. Car loan delinquencies are climbing
A whopping 7 million Americans are three months behind on their car payments, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And seeing as how the average new car loan in the U.S. comes with a $523 monthly payment, that's not particularly shocking. To avoid getting in over your head, don't pay for bells and whistles like extra cameras or seat heaters that can really drive up the cost of vehicles, and, if your circumstances allow for it, stick to a compact car, which is cheaper to purchase and maintain. Better yet, buy yourself a certified used car. New vehicles lose a large chunk of their value the moment you drive them off the lot, so buying used from a reputable source often makes more sense.
5. Americans lack emergency savings
We're all supposed to have three to six months' worth of living expenses in the bank to cover unplanned bills. Yet a frightening 40% of U.S. adults don't have the savings on hand to pay for a mere $400 emergency, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. If you're one of them, it's time to prioritize your emergency fund above all else, and that means cutting back on spending to free up cash to save. You should also look at getting a second job on top of your primary one if you're starting out with far less than $1,000 in the bank. Since the earnings from that additional gig won't be earmarked for living expenses, you should have no problem sticking all of them into savings.
6. U.S. student debt has reached $1.57 trillion
With college costs continuously climbing, a larger number of students are taking on greater amounts of debt to finance their educations. And 81% of graduates with student loans are making financial or personal sacrifices to keep up with their monthly payments, according to the AICPA. If you have a child who's applying to college, it pays to encourage him or her to opt for a less expensive school. Attending a four-year, in-state public school over a private one could save you a solid $100,000 in tuition alone over the course of four years, based on average rates for the 2018-2019 academic year. At the same time, aim to avoid private student loans; they typically charge a lot more interest than federal loans, and they don't offer the same borrower protections.
Clearly, the above trends paint a pretty bleak picture. The good news, however, is that we can learn from them to avoid becoming statistics ourselves.