NEFE Poll on Personal Finance Shows How Americans Ended 2021

Adult person assessing their financial quality of life

NEFE Institute to Expand Polling Efforts in 2022 to Address More Issues in the Field

DENVER—New polling from the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) provides a snapshot of how U.S. adults viewed their financial quality of life at the end of 2021. This consumer research is a continuation of NEFE’s endeavor to report on the important financial topics facing citizens.

“Asking timely and relevant questions provides meaningful insight into how Americans are feeling about their financial circumstances,” says Billy Hensley, Ph.D., president and CEO of NEFE. “Our goal with polling is to provide our community of financial educators and advocates with an understanding of where people are in real time and what challenges they face. These data help educators design responsive curricula as well as assist financial counselors and coaches in their work.”

NEFE’s latest poll, conducted in partnership with AmeriSpeak, surveyed U.S. adults on financial setbacks, opinions on their own financial status and whether they live paycheck to paycheck as 2021 concluded. High-level results from this polling show that:

  • 65% experienced an unexpected major expense or financial setback in 2021.
  • 16% viewed the quality of their financial lives as better than expected.
  • 23% viewed the quality of their financial lives as worse than expected.
  • 47% said they were typically living paycheck to paycheck.

A demographic breakdown of the data includes these highlights:

  • The most common financial setbacks U.S. adults mentioned were transportation issues (26%), housing repairs/maintenance (25%), debt management or falling behind on bill payments (17%), medical care (16%) and job loss (13%).
  • Males (20%) were significantly more likely than females (13%) to say their financial quality of life is better than they expected.
  • Females (52%) are more likely to say that they are living paycheck to paycheck than males (43%).
  • Black, non-Hispanic adults (68%) and Hispanic adults (59%) are more likely than White, non-Hispanic adults (42%) to say they are living paycheck to paycheck.

“Last year offered its own unique financial well-being challenges for Americans, even compared to 2020 and prior years. The question everyone wants to know is how U.S. households are currently faring financially. NEFE is excited to continue offering snapshots of the U.S. household experiences and sentiment. We look forward to building on this work in 2022,” said Beth Bean, Ph.D., senior vice president, Research and Impact at NEFE.

More frequent consumer polling in 2022 is a key objective of the NEFE Institute, an arm of NEFE that will advance high-impact, scholarly research and facilitate collaboration with practitioners, advocates and policymakers.

Read more information on NEFE consumer polls.

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted Dec. 17-19, 2021, on behalf of NEFE, using the AmeriSpeak Omnibus Panel. The nationally representative sample included 1,101 adults age 18 and older. Funded and operated by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, AmeriSpeak® is a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. Randomly selected U.S. households are sampled using area probability and address-based sampling, with a known, non-zero probability of selection from the NORC National Sample Frame. These sampled households are then contacted by U.S. mail, telephone, and field interviewers (face to face). The panel provides sample coverage of approximately 97% of the U.S. household population. Those excluded from the sample include people with P.O. Box only addresses, some addresses not listed in the U.S. Postal Service Delivery Sequence File, and some newly constructed dwellings. While most AmeriSpeak households participate in surveys by web, non-internet households can participate in AmeriSpeak surveys by telephone. Households without conventional internet access but having web access via smartphones are allowed to participate in AmeriSpeak surveys by web. AmeriSpeak panelists participate in NORC studies or studies conducted by NORC on behalf of governmental agencies, academic researchers, and media and commercial organizations.

For more information, email [email protected] or visit

About NORC

NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society. Headquartered in downtown Chicago, NORC works in over 40 countries around the world, with additional offices on the University of Chicago campus, the Washington D.C. metro area, Atlanta, Boston, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Please visit for more information.

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