[Survey] Americans Are More Concerned About Paying Their Bills Than Catching Coronavirus

Americans are anxious about COVID-19, especially the financial impact it could have on their families.
Last updated Mar 18, 2020 | By Tracy Odell
young couple worried about finances

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

There's an undercurrent of anxiety rippling across the United States as we come to terms with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on our lives. The effects are being felt financially, as well as emotionally, socially, and physically. Nobody is untouched.

At FinanceBuzz, we wanted to better understand what's causing anxiety today, especially financial anxiety, and to understand what might help alleviate some of Americans' worries. We surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults on March 17, 2020, and here's what we found.

Key Findings

  • Americans are more worried about unexpected expenses (79%) and paying their bills (68%) than catching COVID-19 (63%).
  • 30% are not concerned about the possibility of running out of toilet paper while 25% are not concerned about stock market losses.
  • When asked to choose their top worry, Americans cited an even split between health (50%) and financial (50%) concerns.
  • Almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) believe a $1,000 monthly stimulus check would help alleviate their money worries over the next three months.
  • 50% of Americans believe the federal government is LEAST likely to help individuals during this time of crisis. They think the government will focus on big corporations and small businesses.

Our health and our finances are equally concerning

Respondents were split right down the middle when asked whether they're more concerned about their health or their finances today.

When broken down by age, those ages 45 and older were more likely to say they're worried about their health (58%) vs their finances (42%). For the 18-44 year-old cohort, the results were reversed: 43% said they're more worried about their health.

The increased worry about health in the older age bracket may be driven by the news that COVID-19 seems to affect older people and those with underlying medical conditions more severely. While anyone, regardless of age, can contract the virus, early data from China indicates that the fatality rate increases with age.

Unexpected expenses and paying the bills are top worries

Digging in deeper to their worries, 79% of respondents said that they're "very worried" or "somewhat worried" about the possibility of unexpected expenses while 68% said they were also worried about paying bills. Actually catching the coronavirus is a top worry for 63%.

Despite toilet paper shortages making a lot of headlines, 30% said they're not worried about running out of toilet paper. Stock market dips have also been big news, but 25% said they're "not worried at all" about these losses.

Our emergency savings aren't enough

The coronavirus took almost all of us by surprise, and unfortunately, many Americans don't have emergency savings that can cover a period of extended unemployment or unexpected expenses.

In our survey, 58% said they do have an emergency savings fund.

But, of the group with emergency savings, only 25% have enough saved to cover more than two months of expenses and 10% only have enough to cover two weeks or fewer. 

Experts don't know how long we'll see the impacts of the coronavirus or when life may return to some kind of normalcy. It’s impossible to predict how long businesses will be shut down causing widespread financial stress or how long children will be out of school. But, it's safe to say most Americans don't have enough emergency savings to weather the impact COVID-19 will have on our economy.

A stimulus check would most reduce worry

When asked what type of financial relief would most alleviate their money worries, nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents chose "being given $1,000 per month for the next 3 months" over other options, including having mortgage/rent payments suspended (17%), reducing the taxes deducted from their paycheck (8%), having unemployment benefits extended (5%), and having student loan payments suspended (5%).

Relief could be on the way. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) made headlines earlier this week when he proposed sending every American a $1,000 check as part of the federal government's emergency response to the coronavirus and its financial impact. Since then, others have voiced support for similar measures including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who said on Tuesday that he would like to get checks out to Americans in the next two weeks. Details around the checks, including the amount each household might receive, have not yet been made public.

Other proposals being discussed in Congress include boosting paid sick leave, offering free coronavirus testing, and student loan debt cancellation. A three-month extension for paying federal taxes was also announced this week.

Skepticism around how much help individuals will get

Our survey found skepticism around how much help individuals will get from the federal government. When asked who is least likely to get help from the federal government, 50% said individuals are the least likely to be helped, while big corporations and small businesses are more likely to get government assistance.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,200 U.S. adults (ages 18+) on March 17, 2020. The survey was conducted using the Pollfish platform.