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How financially coping Americans plan, save and invest

Evidence type: Insight i


Being able to save and invest in a way that builds long-term security is critical to financial health and related to overall wellbeing. However, for a large proportion of Americans, long-term savings and investments can feel unobtainable. Using data from the 2019 US Financial Health Pulse survey, it is estimated that 54 per cent of the US population are just getting by, or ‘financially coping’. Looking at this tier of consumers allows us to develop a deeper understanding of the financial lives of what is the majority of the American population.

The study

This 2020 report from the Financial Health Network (FHN), with financial support from TD Ameritrade, analyses the planning, saving, and investment behaviours and obstacles faced by more than half of the US population, classed as ‘Financially Coping’.

The analysis presented in this report uses the FinHealth framework, based on eight indicators of financial health, which are grouped into the below four domains:


  • Spend less than income
  • Pay bills on time


  • Have sufficient liquid savings
  • Have sufficient long-term savings or assets


  • Have a sustainable debt load
  • Have a good credit score


  • Have appropriate insurance
  • Plan ahead for financially

A survey tool measures a consumer’s financial health using eight questions, grouped into the four domains listed above. A score is then derived for each consumer. Those who have a score of between 40-79 are classified as Financially Coping. The data was collected in July 2019, from 1,547 Financially Coping individuals and 553 ‘Financially Healthy’ individuals (who scored 80+). Four focus groups were also held to provide deeper understanding.

Key findings

  • One-in-six Americans (17%) are classed as ‘Financially Vulnerable’, with less than one-in-three (29%) classed as ‘Financially Healthy’. Over half (54%) are classed as ‘Financially Coping’.
  • Stretched budgets present challenges to financial health, with a third (34%) of those who are Financially Coping indicating that there is no point in planning ahead as they struggle with their day-to-day finances.
    • Just 44% of the Financially Coping say their income is easily predictable every month, compared with 75% of Financially Healthy respondents.
  • Debt and insufficient emergency funds complicate planning and saving, with about a quarter of the Financially Coping saying that debt has prevented or delayed them saving for retirement.
  • Among the Financially Coping, identifying specific financial goals is associated with improved financial health, regardless of income.
  • On a self-rated scale between one and ten, Financially Coping respondents rated their mean investing knowledge as 4.18, compared to 5.96 among the Financially Healthy.
  • Despite their low confidence, the Financially Coping are more likely to make investment decisions without consulting resources or taking advice. More than a third (37%) of those with investments reported making all investment decisions on their own, compared with a quarter (25%) of the Financially Healthy.
  • One-third (33%) of the Financially Coping who had an investment account reported only having an employer-provided retirement account such as a 401(k), compared with just 11% of Financially Healthy respondents with investments.
  • While some of the Financially Coping lacked the funds to invest, for others it was a perceived lack of funds, with only 20% of the Financially Coping who said they did not have enough money to invest knowing that an investment account could be started for less than $100.

A segmentation exercise was conducted that identified six distinct segments within the Financially Coping group. The segments are listed below, along with the requirements to support the long-term financial health of the group members.

  1. Up-and-coming investors – this group have few reported challenges, are satisfied with their approach, but need help outlining financial goals.
  2. Intimidated investors – These are a relatively high-income segment, who are held back by feeling overwhelmed. Step-by-step support is required to help plan financially.
  3. Struggling investors – This group face challenges managing everyday finances, and need support to help stabilise their finances in the short-term.
  4. Skilled but disinterested – This group are confident in their abilities and comfortable not investing. Would benefit from a greater understanding of how investing could fit into their lives.
  5. Seeking support – This group are overwhelmed by financial management issues, and would benefit from guidance to help build good habits and navigate options.
  6. Facing day-to-day challenges – This segment comprises older respondents focused on short term needs. They require foundational support to meet expenses.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: The methodology appears sound and uses a nationally representative probability-based online survey. However, there is no mention of significance testing which would add more robustness to the findings.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: This report is of significant interest to those looking to engage with the investment behaviour of the ‘Financially Coping’ group.
  • Relevance: While these findings are based on data from a US survey, some of the learning outcomes may be transferrable to a UK context.
Contact information

Financial Health Network