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Nearly 70% of Americans Celebrated a Financial Accomplishment in 2021, but Regrets Still Weigh Heavily on Their Wallets

Nearly 70% of Americans Celebrated a Financial Accomplishment in 2021, but Regrets Still Weigh Heavily on Their Wallets
20 Dec
5:09

Updated on Monday, December 20, 2021

Americans made successful money moves in 2021, but many wish they had done more to save. MagnifyMoney researchers surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, finding that many consumers accomplished their 2021 resolution of paying down debt, but more people had regrets. As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches out, fewer Americans have a financial goal for 2022, but 89% of those setting a money resolution think they’ll achieve it.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Key findings

  • Nearly 70% of Americans celebrated a financial achievement in 2021. Paying off credit card debt and growing savings topped the list, followed by buying a car.
  • Despite these celebrations, 78% still had financial regrets. This was led by not saving enough money, spending above means and racking up credit card debt.
  • Fewer Americans are making 2022 financial resolutions. Just over a third of consumers (36%) are setting a money resolution for the new year, compared with 51% last year and 47% in 2019.
  • As in previous years, getting out of debt is consumers’ top financial resolution for the new year. That’s followed by increasing their credit score and saving more money.
  • More consumers say they’re worse off financially than this time last year. Of the respondents, 35% say they were better off last year, while 24% say they’re better off now. However, two exceptions are Gen Zers and those earning $75,000 or more, who say their finances are better now than they were this time last year.

Clearing credit card debt is a top success

Of the nearly 70% of Americans who said they had a financial accomplishment in 2021, the most common success was paying off credit card debt, with 9% wiping their bills.

Leading the charge on paying off credit card debt were people who make more than $75,000 annually (16% of those making over $100,000 and 13% of those making $75,000 to $99,999), millennials (13% of those ages 25 to 40) and men (12%).

“Debt is stressful, and so many Americans have some kind of debt,” says Ismat Mangla, MagnifyMoney senior content director. “It can feel like you can’t do anything about your big financial goals, like saving for retirement or buying a house, until your debt is paid off.”

Though, Mangla says, paying down debt can be done in conjunction with other goals and should not be done at their expense.

By generation, 81% of Gen Zers (ages 18 to 24) and 80% of millennials report they achieved a big financial win in 2021, compared with 58% of Gen Xers (ages 41 to 55) and baby boomers (ages 56 to 75). Here’s a closer look at each group:

  • Gen Zers: 13% bought a car and grew their savings
  • Millennials: 13% paid off credit card debt, while 10% invested money
  • Gen Xers: 9% paid off other debts, while 7% bought a car
  • Baby boomers: 11% grew their savings, while 9% made significant progress in paying off their debt

Most people have financial regrets from 2021

On the flip side, more than three-quarters of Americans still experienced financial regret over the past year. The biggest money miss was not saving enough, with 25% of respondents wishing to put more aside.

Nearly one-third (31%) of Gen Xers, who may be thinking about retirement, felt this strongly.

Gen Zers and millennials report that their biggest regret was spending above their means (26% and 24%, respectively). Likely related, credit cards were also a source of lamentation. Just about 20% of millennials — and 15% of total respondents — say racking up their credit cards was the biggest financial regret of their year.

Men and women may be from different planets, as the popular saying goes, but they have similar regrets. Their strongest regret was not saving enough in general (21% and 29%, respectively), while they were least concerned about not paying off student loans (tied at 2%).

The exception is found in older generations: 41% of baby boomers say they had no financial regrets from last year. Only 13% of younger generations say the same thing.

Top money resolutions for 2022 split by age, income

Fewer people are making financial resolutions for 2022 than in previous years. More than a third of consumers (36%) are setting a money goal for the new year, compared with 51% last year and 47% in 2019. The largest contributors to 2022 resolutions are Gen Zers and millennials, with more than half of them setting a goal (57% and 55%, respectively).

Reducing debt and increasing credit scores are the most popular resolutions for the new year, with 45% and 42% of all respondents choosing them as goals, respectively.

Older Americans largely aim to get out of debt in 2022 rather than into it, while the two younger generations aim to increase their credit scores. Also noteworthy, 41% of Gen Zers are specifically saving for a house.

To help yourself stay accountable to your goals, Mangla recommends being straightforward.

“The best thing you can do is, to be honest about where you stand,” Mangla says. “You can’t reach your goals if you don’t first understand where you are in relation to them.”

She says meeting with a financial advisor or planner to create a road map could provide a great tool for success.

Meanwhile, the top money resolutions by generation are:

  • Gen Zers: Increasing credit score and saving for a house (tied at 41%)
  • Millennials: increasing credit score (48%)
  • Gen Xers: Getting out of debt (53%)
  • Baby boomers: Getting out of debt (57%)

The other popular resolutions depend on income tiers, with respondents split at the $50,000 income line. The goal to stop living paycheck to paycheck was popular for those making less, while those making more aim to reduce their debt and increase the amount of money saved.

Are consumers better off now?

Overall, 35% of respondents say they were better off in December 2020, while just less than a quarter (24%) say they’re better off today.

“The pandemic has affected people in different ways financially.” Mangla says. “For some Americans, it’s been devastating…others have been able to save more than ever.”

People in the youngest generation and those in the top income levels say they’re in a better place now, but they are the exception.

  • I am better off financially now in December 2021: Gen Zers and people who earn over $75,000 annually
  • I was better off financially in December 2020: Millennials and people who earn $35,000 to $74,999 annually
  • My finances haven’t changed in this period: Baby boomers, Gen Xers, and people who earn less than $35,000

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,050 U.S. consumers from Nov. 9-15, 2021. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.

Source: https://www.magnifymoney.com/blog/news/financial-resolutions-survey/

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