New Payoff Study Finds Nearly 1 in 4 Americans and 1 in 3 Millennials Suffer From PTSD-Like Symptoms Caused by Financially Induced Stress

Company Expands Trials to Further Validate New Method Using Online Therapeutic Techniques Initially Shown to Significantly Minimize Effects of ‘Acute Financial Stress’

COSTA MESA, Calif.--()--Payoff (, the leading financial wellness company innovating at the intersection of psychology and finance, today released a first-of-its-kind study showing 23 percent of Americans – and 36 percent of Millennials – experience a debilitating degree of stress surrounding their finances, resulting in pathological effects on their thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Galen Buckwalter, world-renowned psychological research scientist and Chief Science Officer at Payoff with more than 25 years of experience and over 150 peer-reviewed published articles, identified this profile of PTSD while studying how personality relates to financial behaviors – a similarity with PTSD was not the initial focus of the study. Dr. Buckwalter has spent years researching PTSD among members of the military and front line humanitarian workers, which has uniquely positioned him to identify symptoms resulting from financial stress that are indistinguishable from symptoms of PTSD.

“As I analyzed our initial research on financial personality, I began to realize people were reporting on a psychological and emotional level the same symptoms I was familiar with from separate research I’ve done with PTSD,” said Dr. Galen Buckwalter, chief science officer at Payoff. “When we re-analyzed the research and conducted new studies focusing on PTSD the similarities of financial stress and symptoms of PTSD were an obvious and unfortunate reality.”

Despite years of anecdotal evidence of the detrimental effects of financially induced stress, the study from Payoff’s Science Team is the first to examine the effects current economic circumstances have on individual mental health. People suffering from this condition have behavior grounded in denial and avoidance that isn’t rational or by choice, and results in an increased inability to plan, organize and manage one’s financial life, while simultaneously experiencing a full range of symptoms associated with PTSD. These include agitation, irritability, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior and isolation that can lead to an inability to have loving feelings towards others. The Payoff team dubbed this new condition Acute Financial Stress (AFS).

“There was a sense on the part of some mental health professionals who were told about AFS that it must be ‘PTSD-lite’ and that study participants must be exaggerating their symptoms,” continued Dr. Buckwalter. “However, it was the universal experience of a variety of experts who observed participant interviews, either live or on video, that these people are living with a devastating condition and that their symptoms are profound and life-altering, leaving each of them feeling incapable of making even the smallest step toward positive change. This is clearly not ‘PTSD-lite.’”

The psychological effect of this intense and pervasive stress was the focus of a number of Payoff studies, including the largest one analyzing data collected by Survey Sampling International (SSI). Acute financial stress and associated symptoms were widely reported in the 2,011 respondents who completed Payoff’s survey. Twenty-three percent of survey respondents met criteria as symptomatic for PTSD in the three most important and required dimensions: 1) Intrusive thoughts, 2) feelings of detachment and avoidance, and 3) behavioral arousal.

Payoff defines the 23.2 percent of responders who met the total criteria for PTSD related to financial events as positive for Acute Financial Stress. When considering only Millennials (22 to 29 years of age), 35.3 percent met the criteria for AFS. A clear pattern of statistical associations was apparent between AFS and credit and financial difficulties.

“When we consider today’s reality of stagnant incomes, limited savings and high amounts of credit card and other debt, along with frequent financial traumas such as defaults, evictions and aggressive debt collection, these findings should trigger alarm bells for our society to address the challenges with debt millions are facing,” said Scott Saunders, founder and CEO of Payoff. “This research has added a level of urgency to the work we are doing at Payoff to help our Members get ahead financially by helping them understand the psychological effects of debt and what steps can be taken to reduce this stress.”

In response to the discovery and significant prevalence of Acute Financial Stress, Payoff has begun testing and validating a scalable method to help people address the negative psychological effects of debt. Early research has shown the program designed by Payoff’s Science Team of clinical psychologists, neuroscientists, data scientists and psychometricians can drastically reduce AFS symptoms by more than 70 percent. Payoff is expanding the study size to further validate the new program, with plans to introduce it during the second half of 2016.

Payoff's Chief Science Officer Dr. Galen Buckwalter discusses his research into Acute Financial Stress and the impact this stress has on people in this short video here:

For more information on Payoff’s Science Team please visit: And for more information on the company please visit:

About Payoff (

Founded in 2009, Payoff, Inc. is a financial wellness company that applies science, psychology and technology to help Members reinvent their relationship with money – accelerating their journey to financial well-being. Payoff empowers Members through an integrated package of products and services that includes a loan to refinance past credit card debt, support from dedicated Member Advocates, access to ongoing education and the consistent application of psychometric research and psychology to drive positive and sustained behavior change along the path to financial wellness. Payoff’s Board of Directors includes Joe Saunders (former Visa CEO), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post Founder), Mohamed El-Erian (former Pimco CEO), Sean Park (Anthemis Group Founder), and Jim Lane (former Goldman Sachs partner).


For Payoff, Inc.
Ronald Quintero, 323-761-6600

Release Summary

Payoff, the leading financial wellness company, released a study showing 23 percent of Americans and 36 percent of Millennials suffer from PTSD-like symptoms caused by financially induced stress.


For Payoff, Inc.
Ronald Quintero, 323-761-6600