Financial Focus

One-in-Four Americans Are “Barely Getting By” Financially

With an array of financial obstacles facing many Americans, setting simple and realistic financial goals is essential


July 11, 2017 — RADNOR, Pa.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A new study from Lincoln Financial Group (NYSE: LNC) gauges consumer perspectives and emotions around personal finance, and progress — or lack thereof — toward financial goals.

Most Americans say they feel “comfortable” or “stable” when it comes to their money — but a significant portion of the population (24 percent) say they are “barely getting by” or worse.

The study — Financial Focus: Goals and Reflections of Today’s Consumer — looks at Americans’ short- and long-term financial goals, as well as immediate goals, such as New Year’s resolutions. In addition, the findings shine a light on factors that can either help individuals reach those goals or derail them from their desired outcomes.

The study also explores the emotional side of personal finance — finding that certain financial situations spark a dichotomy of reactions in Americans — many feel both excitement and fear about things like retirement and providing for their families.

Setting Specific Goals: Reducing Debt and Increasing Savings Rise to the Top

Lincoln Financial asked survey participants for open-ended responses about their 2017 financial goals, and found that priorities for those individuals with specific goals tend to focus on some key themes: reducing debt, general savings and saving for retirement. And while about a third of the general population set specific financial goals, that number jumps up to just under half of Millennials.

Many Americans (55 percent) also made New Year’s resolutions for 2017. Thirty-six percent of those resolutions focused on finances or career, others mostly focused on health and fitness.

The Profile of Progress

Most Americans (72 percent) say they are progressing with their resolutions in some way, versus 28 percent who are challenged in moving forward. Lincoln Financial looked at the segment of successful individuals and uncovered some prevalent behaviors:

  • They use extra funds to pay down debt. Debt has become somewhat of an epidemic in the U.S. — 50 percent of the individuals surveyed say that debt is a financial issue, and 14 percent say it is a “major” issue. However, those who show progress toward their resolutions make reducing debt a priority. About a third of this group would use any leftover money each month toward paying debt.
  • They don’t sacrifice savings. When money is tight, this group is likely to sacrifice vacations — 31 percent have actually done so in the past year. However, they never skimp on savings. Almost 60 percent say they have never sacrificed savings.
    They leverage financial products. Those who are progressing with their resolutions are more likely to have a retirement plan (52 percent), life insurance (45 percent) and at least one investment account (44 percent).
  • “Those who are progressing toward their goals and resolutions are first and foremost working to ensure they have a solid foundation to build upon,” said Dick Mucci, president of Group Benefits at Lincoln Financial. “Putting some extra money toward debt, savings and insurance coverage certainly pays off in the long run — and those who have financial goals understand this.”

Financial Feelings: A Stark Contrast

The things that excite and scare us in regards to money are the same for a reason — they impact one another and are critically connected

The study also asked about sentiment around personal finance matters, and found that several common financial situations can spark a dichotomy of emotional responses.

Forty-six percent of Americans say they are excited about having enough money for retirement, but 35 percent are intimidated by saving for it. This number is highest for Gen-X, where 47 percent say they fear saving for retirement.

This same conflict arises when Americans think about providing for their families. Many are excited to do it (41 percent), but the fear factor still comes through at 27 percent for the general population, spiking at 38 percent for Young Millennials.

And there are some circumstances that purely incite fear — forty-two percent of Americans are afraid of unforeseen health or accident expenses.

“The things that excite and scare us in regards to money are the same for a reason — they impact one another and are critically connected,” said Mucci. “Without the right protections in place, an accident or illness can derail retirement savings. But if you focus on the outcomes you want and ensure you take the steps to get there, you’ll wind up in a good place. An employer-sponsored retirement plan is a great way to build savings, and insurance coverages offered through the workplace can help protect against the financial challenges that could come with an unexpected injury or illness.”

Comparing Expectations to Reality

Lincoln Financial will survey the same demographic of consumers again at the end of 2017, to determine where, and how, reality stacks up to the expectations set in this study — and gauge how consumer attitudes differ when asked the same questions relative to their short- and long-term financial goals.

For an infographic highlighting the findings cited in this release, please click here.




About Lincoln’s Financial Focus Study
Results of the 2017 Financial Focus Study are based on an online survey of 2,500 adults 18 years of age or older across the United States, conducted in 2017 by Lincoln Financial Group and PSB. The sample was targeted using quotas to reflect the proportion of adults 18 or older within the United States. The margin of error is +/- 2% at the 95% confidence level.
For more information about the findings cited here, visit this link.
About Lincoln Financial Group
Lincoln Financial Group provides advice and solutions that help empower people to take charge of their financial lives with confidence and optimism. Today, more than 17 million customers trust our retirement, insurance and wealth protection expertise to help address their lifestyle, savings and income goals, as well as to guard against long-term care expenses. Headquartered in Radnor, Pennsylvania, Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation (NYSE:LNC) and its affiliates. The company had $236 billion in assets under management as of March 31, 2017. Learn more at: Find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. To sign up for email alerts, please visit our Newsroom at