12 Signs You’re Doing Worse Financially Than the Average Middle-Class American

Knowing how your finances stack up against others may help you get ahead.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Ever catch yourself sizing up your finances against others? While it's not always the best idea, understanding how your finances compare to the average American can help you prepare yourself financially.

Are you on track to pay for a comfortable retirement? Are you putting away enough money to prepare for a rainy day?

You may feel like you have saved a significant sum, but when it has to last 20 to 30 years, it may not cut it. That’s why you need to know if you’re doing worse financially than the average middle-class American. Here are 12 signs that’s the case.

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Your income is lower than $70,784

KMPZZZ/Adobe stressed couple calculating bills

The average middle-class household income is $70,784, though that should be adjusted depending on whether you live in a low-cost-of-living or high-cost-of-living area. If you make less than that amount, you could be doing worse than many of your middle-class American neighbors.

Your credit card debt is more than $2,400

Zamrznuti tonovi/Adobe couple using a laptop for paying bills

While credit card debt varies depending on income level and region, the average middle-income household has $2,400 in credit card debt. If you’re carrying more than that amount month-to-month, you may be in a precarious financial position.

You do not save money monthly

kerkezz/Adobe mother talking on smart phone

In a survey by the Washington Post, 91% of Americans believe that to be middle class, saving money for the future is important. If you do not have enough left over at the end of every month to put a little bit away for retirement or a rainy day fund, then you’re doing worse than the middle class.

Resolve $10,000 or more of your debt

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You worry about your bills month-to-month

Geber86/Adobe couple checking bills together in kitchen

If every month is a struggle to pay for electricity, water, rent, and cable, then you’re probably not keeping up with other average middle-class Americans. In a Washington Post survey, 90% of Americans believe that reaching the middle class means not worrying about paying bills on time.

You can’t afford a surprise $1,000 expense

highwaystarz/Adobe looking at garage bill

Whether it’s new car tires or an unexpected vet bill, big expenses can pop up without warning. According to 90% of Americans, being in the middle class means you can handle that $1,000 expense without hardship.

Your income has stagnated

Geber86/Adobe mature man calculating

To keep growing financially, you need to keep money coming in. If you haven’t gotten a raise or significantly increased your income in years, then you’re probably lagging behind many of the other average middle-class Americans around you.

Economic downturns impact you greatly

Praewphan/Adobe holding receipts from supermarket

Over the past few years, inflation has been noticeable for many people, especially at the grocery store. But it hit those who aren’t quite middle class the hardest. If you found yourself stressing over prices in the produce aisle, then you may be doing worse than other middle-class Americans.

You’re living paycheck-to-paycheck

Wayhome Studio/Adobe family dealing financial issues

When it’s a countdown to payday every month, you may be slipping below middle class. This is especially true if it impacts how you pay for necessities such as food, gas, and toiletries.

You can’t get approved for credit

Louis-Photo/Adobe shocked man holding documents

While taking on credit you can’t afford is not a good idea, it’s also not a good sign when you can’t get approved.

Those who are not on the same financial level as the average middle-class American will have difficulty being approved for a line of credit increase on their credit cards, and they may pay higher interest rates on car loans, mortgages, and other types of loans.

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You can’t afford to travel

satura_/Adobe upset about numerous checks

In the Washington Post survey, 67% of Americans believe it’s a sign of being middle class when you have both the time and the money to travel. If the idea of a vacation seems beyond your means, you may be doing worse financially than those around you.

Health insurance is out of reach

ARTFULLY-79/Adobe worried about medical fee

If you don’t have health insurance because it costs too much, then you likely aren’t keeping up with your average middle-class peers. In the Washington Post survey, 89% of Americans believe that having health insurance is a requisite for being in the middle class.

You don’t think you’ll be able to retire

WavebreakmediaMicro/Adobe distressed older couple talking about their bill payments.

Most Americans believe that a comfortable retirement — not extravagant, but comfortable — is part of being middle class. According to the Washington Post survey, 87% of respondents say that it is expected if you’re in the middle class.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to retire or feel behind on savings, you probably haven’t kept up financially with other average middle-class Americans around you.

Bottom line

Drazen/Adobe couple counseling with financial advisor

Even if you’re doing worse financially than the average American today, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your situation. It’s never too late to start saving, and an emergency fund can help cushion any surprise bills.

If you’re behind in your retirement contributions, make that a priority going forward. It’s also possible to get a side hustle to earn extra money or to adjust your spending so you can boost your savings. A better tomorrow is always within reach.

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Author Details

Heather Bien Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.

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