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Consumer Money Matters: Debt on the Rise, Savings on the Decline

A recent survey from MX highlights data points between consumers and their money, including attitudes towards saving, debt, financial trust, and mobile apps.

Consumer Money Matters: Debt on the Rise, Savings on the Decline

Record-breaking inflation rates. A slowing economy with predictions of a recession to come. Everyday necessities like milk and gas at sky-high prices. Skyrocketing household debt. This is the reality for American adults today. And, according to new research from MX, consumers are less confident in their financial futures due to rising costs.  

The latest research of 1,000 U.S. consumers from MX shows that 40% of consumers surveyed believe their current financial situation has changed for the worse due to rising costs compared to last year. Half of the respondents also say they are saving less money today, while 32% say the amount of debt they owe has increased. Across generations, Gen Z may be most optimistic in the face of these economic challenges, while the majority of Baby Boomers are less confident.

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This new report highlights consumer money habits and behaviors, including financial stress, spending and saving, and how they leverage mobile banking apps.

Money Anxiety and Stress

The reality of financial stress is sobering. Fifty percent of respondents agree that thinking about money makes them anxious. And, nearly half (47%) agree that money is their primary source of stress. Interestingly, Gen X (58%) and Millennial (56%) respondents were more likely to say money is their primary source of stress compared to Baby Boomers (36%) and Gen Z (45%). 

In the face of this stress and today’s financial situation, it’s no surprise that less than half of respondents (46%)  agree that they feel confident about their financial future. That said, younger generations still may be more optimistic — 50% of Gen Z and 49% of Millennials agree that they feel confident about their financial future, compared to 38% of Gen X and 44% of Baby Boomers. According to the survey, men (51%) are also more likely to feel confident about their financial future than women (41%). 

As we look further into the causes of financial stress, the survey reveals a potentially alarming view into savings and retirement among consumers: 

Unprepared for Unexpected Expenses?

When asked if they have any emergency savings, only 60% of respondents say yes. That means 40% don’t. Additionally, only 40% of respondents agree that they are confident they can cover any unexpected expenses. 

The good news? Of those who do have emergency savings, more than one-third (36%) say they have more than $5,000 set aside. However, among Gen Z, this drops to just 17%, and more than half say they only have $1,000 or less (53%).

Ready for Retirement?

Only 38% of respondents agree that they are confident they will be able to retire comfortably. Most alarmingly, this includes just 40% of Baby Boomers — those closest to retirement age. At the same time, less than half of those who work full-time (49%) agree they are confident they will be able to retire comfortably. 

Why do consumers feel unprepared for retirement? Forty-six percent of respondents say they regularly save for retirement, with 26% also saying they take full advantage of the employer match on their 401(k). However, 37% say they do not have retirement savings. This is consistent across all generations.

Further, when asked about 401(k) accounts, only 1 in 4 respondents said they have one. This is even lower among Gen Z — only 13% indicated they have a 401(k) account.

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These findings showcase just a few areas that may be the source of financial stress. Coupled with those who say the amount of debt they owe has increased in the past year, financial institutions and fintechs have an opportunity to provide more personalized, proactive support to help consumers reach their financial goals. In fact, our previous research showed that 70% of respondents expect their financial services providers to give them personalized notifications and insights. At the same time, 63% want their financial services providers to proactively help them better manage their finances. 

Empowering financial wellness could not only help alleviate the stress and anxiety many consumers feel about money, but it can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty — creating positive outcomes for both consumers and businesses.

Building Trust through Support, Security, and Context

While many articles and reports have talked about the decline of a primary financial institution, the majority of respondents (85%) indicate that they have one they would consider their primary financial provider. And, the good news is that trust is high.  

Sixty-nine percent of those who have a primary financial provider say they trust them with their personal data.  However, 1 in 10 consumers say they do not trust their primary financial provider with their personal data, and 22% remain neutral on the topic.  More broadly, only 44% of all respondents agree they believe financial providers have their best interest at heart. 

The research also shows there is an opportunity to become a trusted advisor to consumers and provide more support, security, and context around their finances:  

Support

For instance, when asked where they would go to get help with a question about their finances, only 29% of respondents said they would turn to their primary financial provider. Unsurprisingly, Gen Z (42%) and Millennials (31%) turn to their parents more often than any other resource. 

Security

Two-thirds (67%) say they trust their financial providers to protect them from fraud and other security risks. That said, 26% of respondents say they have been victims of fraudulent transactions on a financial account in the past two years. 

Context

When asked if they have seen a transaction on their financial accounts that they didn't recognize at first glance in the past two years, more than a quarter (27%) of respondents said it happens sometimes or more frequently. This rises to 40% among Gen Z respondents. An unrecognized transaction on your account can be a source of anxiety for consumers — whether it means not recognizing the purchase or wondering if someone has unauthorized access to your account. This highlights the importance of data cleansing and categorization to translate unclear strings of transaction data into clear information.

Gen Z Money Habits

Among Gen Z consumers, our research shows financial institutions and fintechs may need to shift their focus even more to delivering personalized customer experiences and not just offer traditional financial products.

The Decline of the Credit Card?

Credit card usage among Gen Z respondents is much lower than their older counterparts. Less than half of Gen Z respondents have a credit card (49%) — the only generation to drop below a majority.  By comparison, 61% of Millennials, 65% of Gen X, and 81% of Baby Boomers have a credit card.

And, for those Gen Z respondents who do have a credit card, most avoid carrying a balance. Fifty-three percent say they pay off the total balance every month while another 15% say they only have it for emergencies and do not regularly use it. 

This attitude towards credit cards extends to shopping both online and in store. When asked what payment method they prefer when shopping at a physical store, credit cards fell behind debit and cash. For online, debit and mobile pay methods also beat out credit cards as the most preferred payment method — with debit cards preferred 2:1 over credit cards (50% vs. 22%). 

And, when asked in which cases they would be likely to add a personal checking account (Pay by Bank) as a payment method for online shopping, 45% of Gen Z said they would add it for online retailers where they shop frequently, compared to 41% of Millennials, 27% of Gen X, and 22% of Baby Boomers. Eleven percent of Gen Z also said they would add a personal checking account for an online retailer that provided the option while 30% would add one if there was a promotion or added benefit to do so. Only 28% say they would never add a personal checking account as an online payment method. On the other side, 64% of Baby Boomers and 50% of Gen X said never.

That said, credit card usage is also lower than debit card among other generations when it comes to in-person shopping. And, only Baby Boomers chose credit cards as their most preferred payment method for online shopping. While our survey didn’t get into the reasons why respondents prefer debit or other payment methods, this may be an indicator for the future of payments.

Online Payment Preference

Online Payment Preference

In-Person Payment Preference

In Person Payment Preference

Financial Wellness over Financial Products? 

When it comes to the needs of Gen Z for specific financial products, our research also delved into the support Gen Z receives from their parents today. It’s no surprise based on the results that Gen Z may have lower debt in some areas than other generations. For instance,  nearly one-third of Gen Z respondents (31%) say they live with their parents or another relative and do not pay rent. 

And, parents are playing a role in helping their adult Gen Z children on everything from car insurance to groceries. In most categories, Gen Z respondents who received full support from their parents twice as often as Millennials:

Financial Support

Understanding Gen Z money habits can guide financial institutions and fintechs on where they should focus their efforts to support them with digital experiences that can evolve as their habits and preferred financial products change.

The Expectation for Digital Experiences and Mobile Apps 

The majority of respondents (73%) say they have connected money-related apps to their financial accounts, with Gen Z (78%) and Millennials (84%) being most likely to have done this. However, one roadblock that may stand in the way of an excellent mobile app experience is the ability to connect financial accounts securely and easily. 

Nearly 1 in 10 respondents (8%) said no when asked if connecting an app to a financial account went smoothly the first time they attempted it. For Gen Z, this jumps slightly to 12%. Additionally, 27% of respondents said that they have had to reconnect an account because the connection broke. Forty-five percent of those who have been disconnected also say that their connected financial accounts and money-related apps regularly get disconnected.

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The organizations that solve this connectivity pain point will garner stronger customer satisfaction and loyalty, especially among Gen Z, by providing better consumer experiences when interacting with a mobile or digital banking experience. 

MX sees Open Finance as the key driver to enabling consumers to access and act on their financial data more reliably and securely. Open Finance connects the dots — both by enabling seamless account aggregation and a more complete picture of a consumer’s finances — to allow financial institutions, fintechs, and other third parties to build personalized experiences, increase the pace of innovation, and drive industry collaboration.

 

Survey Methodology

This survey of 1,000 American adults was conducted by MX in June 2022 using the online survey platform. Results included responses across each generation, with 25% of respondents identifying as Baby Boomers, 21% as Gen X, 21% as Millennials, and 33% as Gen Z. The respondents were evenly split between male (49%) and female (51%).