Since the first case hit the United States in late January and in the weeks of social distancing and mass quarantines that would follow, the coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly all aspects of everyday life. Americans are left worrying not only about their health but also the status of their finances.
On a biweekly basis, Bankrate will release data from its COVID-19 Financial Health Index, a poll that highlights the financial concerns of households across the country.
The latest results indicate that generally — across different generations, racial groups and levels of income — individuals today are more nervous than they were prior to the coronavirus outbreak about their jobs and income stability, the value of their investments and their ability to pay everyday bills. These concerns, however, pale in comparison to the extent to which Americans are anxious about the well-being of themselves and their loved ones.
Bankrate’s COVID-19 Financial Health Index:
- Paying everyday bills: 5.82/10
- The value of investments: 5.93/10
- Job and income stability: 6.22/10
- Personal health: 6.83/10
- The health of loved ones: 7.66/10
Now, with the coronavirus spreading so rapidly, the poorest households are more likely than the highest earners to say they’re extremely concerned about their finances and health. Members of Generation X (age 40-55) today are more likely than other generations to say they’re extremely concerned about paying bills and their own health. (This was also the case before the outbreak began.)
The oldest Americans (age 75 and up) were more likely to say they were extremely concerned about the value of their investments than others before the virus spread. That’s still true today when you compare the Silent Generation to all other generations, except Gen X.
Paying everyday bills
Current level: 5.82/10 (Before the crisis: 5.14)
On a scale of 1 to 10, the average concern about paying everyday bills among Americans today is 5.82, up from 5.14 before to the coronavirus spread.
More than one-third of the lowest earners (35 percent) are extremely concerned about their ability to cover their bills, compared with 14 percent of the wealthiest households. Before the outbreak, about one-quarter of the poorest households (26 percent) and 8 percent of the highest earners shared the same concerns.
Today, the extreme concern about paying bills is highest among Gen Xers, just as it was before the outbreak. Nearly 4 in 10 adults (37 percent) between the ages of 40 and 55 say they’re incredibly worried about bills, compared with 33 percent of older millennials (age 31-39) and 14 percent of baby boomers.
Author and personal finance educator Fo Alexander recommends taking advantage of the chance to defer repayments if needed, and to use the funds you would’ve used to pay certain bills to cover more pertinent expenses. Just consider any long-term consequences of these actions. “Remember to contact your providers before discontinuing payment,” Alexander says. “Communication is important.”
The value of investments
Current level: 5.93/10 (Before the crisis: 4.84)
When it comes to investments like stocks, CDs and retirement accounts, the average concern about the value of these holdings increased from 4.84 before the outbreak to 5.93 after it began.
Not surprisingly, the wealthiest households were more likely to say they were extremely concerned about the value of their investments before and after the outbreak, with nearly one-quarter (23 percent) saying they’re very concerned about this today. Extreme concern today is also highest among the most-educated Americans, 18 percent of which say they’re very concerned. Fourteen percent of the least-educated adults would say the same.
Despite the general increase in concern among investors, data from another Bankrate survey reveals that more than half of U.S. adults with retirement or investment accounts (or both) haven’t made any changes to their stock-related investment holdings, like mutual funds or individual stocks.
“Stocks are long-term investments, so knee-jerk reactions to short-term volatility can severely impact your future financial health,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. “Staying the course is the best way to respond.”
Job and income stability
Current level: 6.22/10 (Before the crisis: 5.35)
Concern about job and income stability also increased, on average, from 5.35 before the outbreak started to 6.22 today.
Gen Xers and older millennials (age 31-39) are more likely today than others to say they’re extremely concerned about their jobs and income stability and the health of their loved ones. Three in 10 of the members of those generations responded that way, compared with 16 percent of baby boomers and 24 percent of the youngest adults who say they’re also very concerned about the stability of their job and income sources.
Minorities are more likely to report being extremely concerned about employment and income stability than white Americans. This was true before the outbreak began as well. And extreme concern is highest among the least-educated Americans when it comes to job and income stability. That’s the case for 24 percent of high school graduates and adults without a high school diploma, compared with 19 percent of post-graduates who are also extremely concerned about how stable their sources of income are today.
Current level: 6.83/10 (Before the crisis: 5.93)
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans (18 percent) were extremely concerned about their own health before the coronavirus spread. Today, this has jumped to 28 percent. Average concern for personal health on a scale of one to 10 today is 6.83, up from 5.93 before the pandemic began.
More than 1 out of 3 Gen Xers (34 percent) are highly concerned about their own health, up from 24 percent before the outbreak. That’s higher than extreme concern among the oldest Americans, 24 percent of whom are very worried about their health, up from 20 percent before there were confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
Today, extreme concerns about personal health are also highest among the poorest households (34 percent fall into this bucket, versus 21 percent of the wealthiest households) and minorities. About 4 in 10 Hispanic adults (41 percent) and 35 percent of black Americans are very anxious about their health compared with 23 percent of white Americans.
Individuals who are also concerned about the cost of healthcare should consider all of their options for keeping medical expenses down. Caitlin Donovan, senior director of public relations for the National Patient Advocate Foundation recommends, among other things, checking out state marketplaces for good healthcare coverage. “A lot of places will be able to take into consideration that type of income loss when evaluating how much you’ll have to pay for premiums,” Donovan says. Keep in mind that losing your job is considered a qualifying life event that triggers the opportunity to enroll in a different plan.
Families should also compare costs of medications at different pharmacies and on websites like GoodRx. They could also ask for help, if needed, from hospitals and organizations offering financial assistance to individuals with medical costs they can’t afford.
The health of loved ones
Current level: 7.66/10 (Before the crisis: 6.61)
Americans who are extremely concerned about their health are even more concerned about the well-being of their loved ones. Average concern for this factor is 7.66 on a scale of 1 to 10, up from 6.61 before the outbreak.
Among different generations, Gen Xers and older millennials (age 31 to 39) were more likely than others to express extreme concern about the health of their loved ones before the coronavirus spread. That’s also the case today now that the number of confirmed cases is growing exponentially in the U.S.
Concern for the health of loved ones is also worth noting among different racial groups. Half of Hispanic adults today say they’re concerned about this issue, compared with 46 percent of blacks and 37 percent of whites.
Financial tips for dealing with coronavirus impact
Families feeling financially strapped should review their budget and look for opportunities to trim expenses. Tapping an emergency fund first is better than tapping into a retirement fund, and those who still have a source of income should focus on socking away money.
“If you’re working, pad your emergency savings with a direct deposit from your paycheck,” McBride says. “Also route your tax refund and upcoming government check into savings. If you’ve seen an income reduction, lost your job or worry it might happen, get in contact with your creditors. Getting forbearance on your mortgage or car loan makes a significant difference in your budget and allows you to focus on day-to-day essentials.”
Investors shouldn’t make adjustments based on concerns about the current economic climate or an impending recession. Rather, continue to focus on your primary financial priorities.
“Most should continue to save and invest with respect to a variety of possible goals, including retirement, funding a child’s college education or for the eventual purchase of a home,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s Washington bureau chief and senior economic analyst. “Bear markets don’t last forever, but they do tend to leave an indelible impression. Trying to time when to get in and get out of a market is an impossible for mere mortals, including as he admits himself, one of the world’s greatest investors named Warren Buffett.”