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Nearly 6 in 10 credit cardholders say they are better off financially today than they expected to be when the pandemic began, according to a new report from CompareCards, although there were stark differences between responses from men and women.
Over six months into one of the most financially chaotic periods in our country’s history, CompareCards aimed to take the temperature of American credit cardholders as it relates to the pandemic.
- Key findings
- Better than expected for most Americans
- Jobs and government response drove cardholder option
- Huge differences in opinion by age, party and especially gender
- The bottom line
The primary intent wasn’t just to find out how cardholders felt about their current finances. It was about expectations. It was about comparing what they expected when the pandemic took hold in the spring versus where things stand today.
To do so, survey respondents were asked the following question: “True or false: I am better off now financially than I expected to be when the pandemic began.” Based on their answers, we also asked why they felt that way.
What was revealed was that most cardholders felt better about their finances than they expected to. However, a deeper dive showed that opinions vary enormously when the data was broken down demographically. Nowhere is that divide greater than between the sexes.
- Better off than expected: 57% of credit cardholders agreed that they are better off now financially than they expected to be when the pandemic began. Just 16% disagreed.
- All about the jobs: The two biggest reasons given for being better off than expected were, “I was worried I’d lose my job, but I didn’t” (30%), and “I was furloughed but I’ve since been brought back to work” (19%).
- Disappointed in government response: The most common reason given for saying things were not better than expected was, “I expected more help from the government” (27%). Second: “I lost my job and haven’t gotten a new one” (21%).
- Wide gender gap: Nearly 3 in 4 men agreed that they were better off financially than they expected to be compared with just 4 in 10 women.
- Political party differences: Republicans were the most likely to agree they are better off financially, while Independents were the least, by a significant margin.
- Massive differences by age group: Generation Xers were by far, the most likely to agree that they are better off today than they expected to be when the pandemic began.
Better than expected for most Americans
Six months into the pandemic, it is still unclear as to when this all will end. But one thing that is clear is that according to the survey, cardholders were just over three-and-a-half times more likely to agree that their financial situation was better off than expected than they were to disagree (57% to 16%).
That 57% number includes 33% who said they strongly agreed with the statement. Conversely, just 6% strongly disagreed with the statement.
Jobs and government response drove cardholder opinion
In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, it quickly became clear that the pandemic wasn’t just a health crisis, but an economic crisis as well. That jumped out when looking at cardholders’ reasons for seeing themselves as either better or worse off than expected.
Of the top five reasons given for feeling better off, the top two revolved around jobs, while two others were about getting financial assistance, either from the government or a friend or relative. Just one concerned health.
The ability to work with lenders, whether in terms of payment deferrals and forbearances or for larger changes such as a mortgage refinance, played a big role in helping cardholders feel better, too.
On the flip side, government assistance (or more specifically, the lack thereof) was the primary reason for saying they didn’t feel they were better off, followed by losing a job and failing to get another one.
Also, 18% of those who said they weren’t better off chose “other reason” when asked why and then wrote in their own reason. Their write-in answers varied widely, but the most common ones included reduced hours and loss of income.
Huge differences in opinion by age, party and especially gender
In today’s highly polarized America, we expect to see stark divides among different groups. This survey didn’t disappoint.
It is common to see a gender gap in financial studies, but this one was particularly shocking.
- 72% of men agreed they are better than they expected vs. just 40% of women.
- 48% of men “strongly agree” they are better off than they expected. Just 15% of women said the same.
- The biggest reason for women saying they’re better off? Economic impact payments allowing them to pay off debt. Twenty-eight percent of women said so vs. 14% of men. (Men’s top reason: “I was worried I’d lose my job, but I didn’t.” That was women’s second-most common reason.)
These differences weren’t just limited to gender, though. Generation X was far more likely than any other age group to agree that they were better off than they expected to be, as were those with higher incomes.
Interestingly, in this election year, the biggest political gap was not between Republicans and Democrats, but between Republicans and Independents. Seven in 10 Republicans (70%) agreed, while just 40% of Independents said the same, though the sample size of that group was smaller than that of the two main parties.
The bottom line
This data clearly reveals that most Americans actually feel better about their finances than they expected to when the pandemic began. What is also clear is that the good feelings are not equally spread among all Americans.
Some disparity in opinion among demographic groups is to be expected. No one expects Republicans and Democrats to agree on much of anything. Generation gaps have existed since the dawn of time, as have differing opinions between the wealthy and the poor and, of course, between the sexes. There is danger, however, when those gaps get to be too wide – especially when it comes to gender.
The fact that men are nearly twice as likely as women to say they’re better off financially than they expected to be is troubling and keeps this survey from being an overwhelmingly positive one. Yes, it is certainly good that 57% of all cardholders – regardless of gender – feel better about their finances than they expected to, but for a real economic recovery to happen, half of the population can’t just be left behind.
If you’re fortunate enough to still feel comfortable financially:
- Keep putting money away: Americans’ savings rates skyrocketed as the pandemic took hold and people had fewer places to spend. As the economy opens more, it is unrealistic to think we will still save as much as have been, but it’s vital that we don’t just stop saving altogether. After all, it may not be raining today, but that doesn’t mean a storm won’t hit tomorrow.
- Revisit your budget: Chances are you’re home more than normal and may have more spare time on your hands that you did pre-COVID. Use some of that time to take a second look at your budget. Are there costs you can reduce or even eliminate? Is it time to look for that second job or start that side hustle? Can you save more?
- Do what you can to help: Millions of Americans are struggling. If you have the financial means, try to make a difference. Get takeout from your favorite local restaurant or buy a book from your beloved indie bookstore. Donate to a charity that’s helping folks in need. The list of options is endless.
For those who are struggling financially:
- Prioritize: As much as you may love it, that gym membership may not fit your budget for a while. Same with that streaming service. When times get tough, your financial focus must be on what matters the most. Look at your budget, get honest with yourself about your situation and then move forward.
- Ask for help: It’s not always easy to do, but when you’re in a financial crunch, there are often people who are willing to help. For example, you could talk to a friend or relative or consider credit counseling. Also, credit cardholders going through tough times would be wise to call their card issuers and ask for assistance. Financial institutions have programs designed to help folks in short-term times of need, but you must approach them.
- Give yourself a break: Unemployment is brutal. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by what you’re facing and feel completely out of control. However, it is also important to take time for yourself and your family to take care of your mental health. Whether you prefer to walk, read, mediate, shoot baskets, play board games or something else, keep carving time out of every day to do it. It doesn’t have to cost a penny, but it’ll make a world of difference.
One thing to note: This survey didn’t ask people to quantify how worried they were at the beginning of the pandemic, only how their initial expectations were compared to what they feel today.
However, those initial feelings are a key factor. For example, someone who was terrified at the beginning of the pandemic and wound up in a relatively stable place financially would likely view their situation far more positively than someone who was only mildly worried but still wound up with that financially stable financial footing.
Numerous studies have shown women to be more cautious and level-headed than men when it comes to money, so it is possible that tendency might explain some of the massive disparity between the genders, but only to a degree.
In America 2020, it would also be unwise to ignore politics. With the pandemic having been so politicized, it shouldn’t be surprising that Republicans were far more likely to say that they felt they were better off than they expected to be or that Democrats were less likely. (Americans can be pretty savvy about what makes their favorite political team look good and the other guy look bad in a poll.) And given that men are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats, that could partly explain the massive gender gap, too.
Still, despite the disparities, the big takeaway is that most Americans do feel better about their finances than they expected to back when the pandemic took hold. That is something to applaud. We just can’t forget that there’s plenty of work to be done to ensure that the economic good feelings are felt more widely across more diverse groups.
CompareCards commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,527 credit cardholders, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Sept. 4-11, 2020.