Stimulus Update: What Having an Influx of Extra Money Felt Like for Many

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  • Approximately 472 million stimulus payments were issued in 2020 and 2021, and for some they were life changing.
  • Stimulus payments allowed many to pay down debt and build an emergency fund.

What happens when you get a break from living paycheck to paycheck?

In June, CNBC investigated 2020 and 2021 stimulus payments from an interesting angle. The news organization wanted to know if payments changed the way Americans think about money. Given the millions of households that received payments, it's impossible to believe that everyone feels the same. Still, it's worth taking a deeper dive and noting how some recipients were impacted.


CNBC spoke with a mother of three from Florida named Denise. Denise co-directs a nonprofit called Central Florida Jobs With Justice, and between the three rounds of economic impact payments, received more than $10,000 in stimulus funds.

According to Denise, she used the money to pay off her car loan and a credit card. She built an emergency fund, something she'd never been able to do before. As her debt was reduced, Denise's credit score improved.

And that emergency fund? It allowed the family to get through when her partner lost his job earlier this year. Despite what she's been through, Denise says she feels more financially stable today than she has at any other point in her adulthood.

A wake-up call?

What's most interesting about Denise's experience is the way it changed her outlook on money. She's taken control by automating bill payments and putting more effort into how she manages her finances. Having stimulus funds to spend gave her a glimpse of what's possible, and judging from the CNBC report, inspired her to take an active role in her financial wellbeing.

Salaam and Hina

Salaam and Hina are a married couple raising two young children in Virginia. Like many Americans, the couple sometimes feels as though they can't get ahead financially. With stimulus funds in their bank account, the couple was able to reduce credit card debt, pay for groceries, and buy diapers for the baby.

Although they're both professionals -- Salaam was a public benefits attorney (now a deputy director), and Hina teaches college classes online -- the couple says they were living paycheck to paycheck. Before receiving stimulus funds, they would "debt shuffle" to stay atop their bills. Debt shuffling is when someone takes advantage of a 0% credit card offer and transfers existing credit card debt to that card. The debt is still theirs to pay, but now they won't have a high interest rate hanging over their head until the promotional period expires.

Salaam describes the costs associated with a new baby as "scooping water out of a boat with a hole in it." And that's where the enhanced Child Tax Credit helped.

Despite great careers and "doing everything right," the couple's finances were a careful balancing act before stimulus payments. While they may find themselves back where they were now that stimulus has ended, they now know what it feels like to have enough to cover the basics and focus on paying down debt.


Nestor, a California resident, stressed over debt. In total, he received about $4,000 in federal and state-issued stimulus payments. Nestor told CNBC that he used half to catch up on loans, 10% to build a savings account, and the rest to pay basics like auto insurance and his cellphone bill.

More importantly, perhaps, is what Nestor says the experience taught him. According to the new college graduate, the experience puts into perspective how much money he makes each month and how much he has to spend. He learned that every dollar truly does matter when it comes to personal finances.

There were an estimated 472 million stimulus payments issued in 2020 and 2021. For some, those payments showed what's possible and how good it feels to have bills paid down and a financial safety net in place.

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