Roughly 43 million Americans are struggling financially, according to a recent report from the Financial Health Network. That's around 17% of the adult population. In addition, another 54% are coping financially, saying they struggle with some areas of their financial lives but are doing OK in others. Only 29% of adults, then, are considered financially healthy.
In other words, many Americans are having a rough time with their finances.
That's understandable, considering most households have a long list of financial responsibilities -- from a mortgage to student loans to simply paying all the routine bills on time -- and balancing all those priorities can be overwhelming. However, some people are struggling more than others, and workers in one income group, in particular, are the most likely to face financial problems.
When income can predict your financial problems
In the Financial Health Network report, researchers looked at several different financial health indicators -- such as the ability to pay bills on time, spending less than you earn, and having a manageable amount of debt -- to gauge whether Americans are financially vulnerable, coping, or healthy.
The researchers also broke down responses by income group to see whether the amount a person earns affects their overall financial health. They found that those who are earning less than $30,000 per year were most likely to be financially vulnerable. Roughly 55% of people in this group are unable to pay their bills on time, more than 60% spend more than they earn, and approximately 65% say they have an unmanageable amount of debt.
Now, this may not be a complete surprise. After all, $30,000 is not a lot to live on, and it's easy to fall into a vicious cycle of financial stress. For instance, if you can't afford to pay your bills, you may end up spending more than you earn just to keep food on the table. That may involve racking up credit card debt and paying an exorbitant amount in interest, which then makes it even harder to pay all your bills. One problem leads to another, and it can feel impossible to get your finances back on track.
The good news is that even if you're struggling financially, there are steps you can take to get out of the vicious cycle and improve your financial health.
Improving your financial health one step at a time
The first step to improving your financial situation is to honestly examine your situation. When you know what you're up against, it's easier to find areas to improve upon.
First, map out all your monthly expenses and see if there are areas where you can make cuts. This may sound obvious, but sometimes it's difficult to understand exactly how much you're spending until you see all your expenses laid out in front of you. You may not think you're overspending in certain areas, but when you add up all your expenses for the month, you might find there are some places where you can cut back.
Depending on what your financial situation looks like and how much you're struggling, these cuts may be minor or relatively significant. If you can't pay your bills and are falling deeper and deeper into debt each month, you'll need to make some serious sacrifices to get back on track. But if you're just looking to beef up your retirement savings or build a stronger emergency fund, making some minor adjustments to your budget can help you come up with some extra cash.
Next, take a look at your debts. Figure out how much you owe for each type of debt you have, and pay special attention to the interest rates. Then, prioritize the order in which you should repay those debts based on the interest rate. High-interest debt, like credit card debt, is the most toxic, so it's wise to make this type of debt your top priority. The longer it takes to pay this debt down, the more you'll end up paying in interest.
Also, don't be afraid to get creative when paying down debt. For example, if you're swamped with credit card debt, it might be smart to take advantage of a balance transfer card. These cards allow you to transfer your existing balance, and although you'll often pay a transfer fee, you'll then pay little to no interest for a set period of time. That allows you to pay down the principal amount without worrying about steep interest charges, ultimately helping you pay off your debt more quickly.
If you're struggling financially, it might seem impossible to get out of the cycle and improve your financial health. And while it's not always easy, it can be done. When you go into it with a strategy and a clear action plan, you can save more money, pay down your debts, and accomplish your financial goals.