Half of Americans Are Spending Their Entire Paycheck (Or More)

NEW YORK — Nearly half of Americans say their expenses are equal to or greater than their income, according to a new study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation. And for those 18 to 25 the percentage is over half, up to 54 percent.

“Half of America has no financial cushion,” says Jennifer Tescher, president and CEO of CFSI, which released the study. “They are living really close to the edge.”

Of the 25 percent who say they have too much debt, 96 percent report being stressed. This kind of financial stress has lasting health effects for those constantly working to cover the nut, says Tescher. “We can’t deal with their health problems if we can’t deal with their financial health.”

With one out of every two people maxed-out with expenses, it is likely you or someone you know. “It’s your co-workers, the receptionist, the guy mowing your lawn, the woman who takes care of your kids.”

Maybe it’s you.

Why we’re struggling

Perhaps we’re overspending? Maybe the gig economy isn’t working for us?

Certainly we can all do the hard work of cutting back on our expenses, says Tescher. But she says the results of this study show something more structural than individual spending.

“People are spending a shockingly large amount of income on housing. They have to pay for transportation to get to a job. These costs are going up while their wages stay the same.”

Another major contributor, according to the study, is irregular income. Nearly 40 percent of those who spend as much or more than their paychecks have volatile income, which means it varies from day to day, week to week, month to month.

On average, families experienced income volatility five months out of the year, according to the recent book, “Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty,” by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider, who is also at CFSI.

And in those volatile months, income could range by more than 25 percent, meaning $1,000 in income could be upwards of $1,250 one month, under $750 the next.

How do we get out of the rut?

New financial tools aim to help people manage their money more efficiently. Like Activehours, which allows you to get part of your pay ahead of payday in a way that is not a payday loan. There is also a tool called Even, which, in addition to helping you budget, does just that: it evens out your pay from high periods and shoots it to you when you have lower periods.

But Tescher doesn’t see tech tools as a magic bullet.

“We have a series of structural challenges in this country that require policy solutions,” she says. “We need to remove the stigma of talking about money problems and make it clear that a lot of people are struggling.”