Americans Reconcile with Financial Hardship, According to AICPA Survey

Personal Finances Are Seeing a New Norm

NEW YORK--()--Financial hardship is redefining the American dream. A new survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs by Harris Poll shows that although three out of four U.S. adults (74 percent) believe they are worse off or about the same financially as they were a year ago, stress levels about finances have not increased in the past year. In both 2013 and 2014, just over 4 in 10 (44 percent) U.S. adults said their stress about personal finance matters is somewhat or very high. The leveling off of anxiety about personal finances may indicate that Americans have changed their view of the financial norm and grown accustomed to some financial pain in their lives. The new survey interviewed 1005 U.S. adults (ages 18+) in March and was done in recognition of National Financial Capability Month.

Within the past year, shrinking household budgets, increasing debt loads and difficulty coping with living expenses have been the reality for many Americans. Twelve percent of U.S. adults said that managing day-to-day expenses was their primary financial concern, followed by medical expenses (10 percent), retirement (9 percent) and student loans (9 percent). Only 2 percent are concerned about their emergency savings, which may indicate that emergency savings is simply not a priority—given that only 31 percent of U.S. adults said they contributed to it in the last year. Only 10 percent of U.S. adults said they had no financial worries.

“With slightly more than half of U.S. adults expressing little to no stress about their increasingly difficult financial circumstances, it seems that many Americans are reconciled to an uphill financial battle and that financial juggling and sacrifice will be a part of the foreseeable future,” said Ernie Almonte, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “The good news, however, is that you can improve your situation through simple steps—many of which Americans are already being forced to do. Creating a monthly budget, sticking to it and putting $50 a month into savings are small actions that can make a big difference over time.”

The AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission recommends the following additional steps to help alleviate the four major financial concerns identified by survey respondents:

  • Managing day-to-day expenses. Look at all of your daily expenses and ask yourself: do I need this or do I want this? If I spend the money on this, what will I have to do without? Tracking where your money goes and making sure that your spending doesn’t exceed your income is the best way to stay financially healthy.
  • Paying for medical care. Pay attention to your insurance plan. Your out-of-pocket costs can vary significantly depending on which providers you choose, especially if your insurance has a narrow network. If you find yourself with steep medical bills, it’s important that you address issues with your healthcare provider as soon as possible, even when you have a billing dispute, as medical billing companies are quick to send bills to collections which will affect your credit.
  • Funding retirement. An easy rule of thumb in estimating how much you’ll need to save for retirement is to multiply your salary (that you are earning immediately prior to retirement) by 16. That’s roughly how much you should have saved before you can retire. If you haven’t already started putting money away for retirement, start with something simple like contributing to your 401(k) or other retirement accounts—especially if your company will match contributions. Every bit helps and it’s never too early to be building your savings.
  • Paying off student loans. Pay down your higher-interest-rate student loans first (those that impose more than 4.5 percent interest). After you pay them, decide if it makes sense to pay down those with rates around 2 percent. Paying down higher-rate loans first is often a good starting point to get debt under control.

Many additional recommendations are available at, the CPA profession’s dedicated resource to help Americans achieve financial soundness.

Since 2004, the CPA profession has been helping consumers increase their financial literacy through a free, comprehensive financial-education program—360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. A robust website ( is the centerpiece of the program with tools, calculators and advice to help Americans understand and manage their financial needs during every life stage, from childhood to retirement.


Harris Poll has conducted an annual survey for the AICPA since 2007. This year’s poll was conducted by telephone within the United States between March 21 and 23, 2014, among 1,005 adults (501 men and 504 women age 18 and over), including 605 interviews from the landline sample and 400 interviews from the cell phone sample; 524 identified themselves as a parent or guardian of at least one child.

The theoretical sampling error for this survey is + or – three percentage points. For smaller subgroups the sampling error is higher.

For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Kristin Vincenzo at 212-596-6138 or

About the AICPA

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) is the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession, with more than 394,000 members in 128 countries and a 125-year heritage of serving the public interest. AICPA members represent many areas of practice, including business and industry, public practice, government, education and consulting.

The AICPA sets ethical standards for the profession and U.S. auditing standards for audits of private companies, nonprofit organizations, federal, state and local governments. It develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination and offers specialty credentials for CPAs who concentrate on personal financial planning; fraud and forensics; business valuation; and information technology. Through a joint venture with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), it has established the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation to elevate management accounting globally.

The AICPA maintains offices in New York, Washington, DC, Durham, NC, and Ewing, NJ.

Media representatives are invited to visit the AICPA Press Center at


Kristin Vincenzo, 212-596-6138

Release Summary

A new survey conducted for the AICPA by Harris Poll shows that although three out of four U.S. adults (74 percent) believe they are worse off or about the same financially as they were a year ago.


Kristin Vincenzo, 212-596-6138