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Survey: Worst Financial Mistake of the Last Decade? Racking Up Credit Card Debt


Written by Sarah Berger | Published on February 11, 2020

 

A survey from DepositAccounts.com, a LendingTree company, has found that an overwhelming 85% of Americans admit to having made mistakes with their finances over the past 10 years. However, one financial fumble was more prevalent than others among our respondents: accumulating credit card debt. For this survey, we asked more than 1,000 Americans to reflect on both their financial mistakes and successes from the past decade. Here’s what we found.

In this article we will cover:

Key findings

  • A whopping 85% of Americans admit to making financial mistakes over the last decade. Interestingly, 15% of respondents said they didn’t make any financial mistakes in the last ten years.
  • Respondents said that their worst financial mistake of the last decade was racking up credit card debt (23%), followed by not saving enough for retirement (16%), spending beyond their means (16%), and paying bills late (8%).
  • All generations agreed that racking up credit card debt was a major financial mistake. Baby boomers, however, had an equally worse financial regret, with 26% also saying their biggest mistake of the decade was not saving enough for retirement. Meanwhile, millennials’ second-most polled financial mistake of the decade was spending beyond their means.
  • Our survey also asked what respondents believed were their biggest financial wins, too. Overall, the biggest financial accomplishment from the last decade was paying off credit card debt (15%), followed by buying a car (13%), paying off other debt (11%), buying a house (10%), getting a raise or promotion at work (10%) and increasing retirement savings (10%).
    • Millennials’ biggest financial accomplishment of the decade: Buying a car. For Gen Xers and boomers, it was paying off credit card debt.
  • Optimism isn’t dead! Nearly 49% of Americans say the new decade brings a better financial situation than the last. The top three reasons consumers feel better off financially: Increased income (52%), more savings (42%) and less debt (37%).
    • 54% of men report being financially better off now than in 2010, vs. 44% of women.
    • As for those who say they’re worse off financially, 35% said it’s because they make less money, and 21% because they have more debt.
  • Interestingly, younger Americans are more likely to say they’re better off financially at the start of 2020, while older consumers say they were better off in 2010.
    • 54% of older millennials are in a better financial situation now, compared to 45% of Gen Xers and 41% of baby boomers.
    • On the other hand, 37% of baby boomers were in a better place 10 years ago, versus 30% of Gen Xers and 27% of older millennials.

The biggest financial mistakes of the decade

Our survey found that racking up credit card debt was the worst financial mistake of the last decade, according to 23% of survey respondents.

Respondents admitted that their second worst financial mistakes of the decade were not saving enough for retirement (16%) and spending beyond their means (16%), followed by paying bills late (8%), buying a pricer car than they could afford (5%), getting fired from a job (4%), taking out too many student loans (3%), buying a pricer house than they can afford (3%) and not having health insurance (3%). It is worth highlighting, though, that a whopping 15% of respondents said they had not made any financial mistakes in the past 10 years.

Around 24% of younger millennials (ages 23 to 30) disclosed that racking up credit card debt was their worst mistake, followed by 23% of older millennials (ages 31 to 38), 24% of Gen Xers (ages 39 to 53) and 26% of baby boomers (ages 54 to 73).

However, younger and older millennials alike were more likely to cite spending above their means as their worst financial mistake of the decade — 19% and 23%, respectively — while Gen Xers and baby boomers were more likely to say their worst mistake was not saving for retirement, at 17% and 26%, respectively.

Men and women differed on what their worst financial mistakes of the decade were. Both agreed that racking up credit card debt was their biggest blunder, but differed in their second-highest polling answers — for men, that mistake was spending above their means (19%), while for women it was not saving enough for retirement (18%).

The biggest financial accomplishments of the decade

The last ten years wasn’t only a minefield of errors — our respondents reported some big financial wins, too. Overall, the biggest financial accomplishment was paying off credit card debt, with 15% citing that as their biggest money success.

Meanwhile, 13% said it was buying a car, 11% said it was paying off other debt, 10% said it was buying a house, 10% said it was getting a raise or promotion at work, 10% said it was increasing retirement savings, 8% said it was paying off their mortgage, 8% said it was creating an emergency fund and 6% said it was paying off student loans.

By generation, the biggest financial accomplishments differed slightly. Both young (15%) and old (18%) millennials said that buying a car was their biggest financial win of the decade. Meanwhile, Gen Xers and baby boomers said that their biggest success of the past 10 years was paying off credit card debt (16%). The most common money accomplishment of the decade among men and women was the same: both (15%) cited paying off credit card debt.

How Americans’ finances have changed in 10 years

Much has changed in the U.S. since the beginning of 2010, from politics to pop culture — and the state of Americans’ finances was no exception. Overall, 49% of respondents said they are better financially now than 10 years ago, including 60% of younger millennials, 54% of older millennials, 45% of Gen Xers and 41% of baby boomers. Among genders, 54% of men said they are better off now than 10 years ago, compared to 44% of women.

Over half of survey respondents (52%) said they are better off financially now than 10 years ago because they make more money, while 42% said it was because they have more savings; 37% said it was because they have less debt; 33% said it was because they are better at budgeting; 27% said it was because they have a higher credit score; 26% said it was because they feel financially comfortable; and 21% said it was because their financial literacy improved. (Survey respondents could select more than one reason as to why they are financially better off now than 10 years ago.)

However, not everyone feels as if they are in a better place financially now than they were a decade ago, with 29% of respondents saying they were better off financially in 2010. That included 24% of younger millennials, 27% of older millennials, 30% of Gen Xers and 37% of baby boomers. Meanwhile, 28% of men said they were better off financially in 2010, as did 31% of women. Overall, 22% of survey respondents said their finances had not changed since 2010.

Our survey found that the most common reason people said they are worse off financially now than 10 years ago was that they make less money (35%), followed by that they have more debt (21%), that they have less in savings (20%) and that they have a lower credit score (15%).

Methodology

DepositAccounts commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,069 Americans. The survey was fielded Dec. 10-16, 2019. For the purposes of our survey, we defined generations as: younger millennials are ages 23-30, older millennials are 31-38, Gen Xers are 39-53, and baby boomers are 54-73.

Members of the Silent Generation (ages 74 and older) were also surveyed, and their responses are included within the total percentages among all respondents. However, their responses are excluded from the charts and age breakdowns due to the smaller population size among our survey sample.

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