It’s a new year, and 64% of Americans are feeling anxious about their finances over the next 12 months, according to the 2022 Policygenius Financial Anxiety Survey.
In fact, 29% said they feel more anxious than they did last year, and 23% said they are just as anxious. Only 13% said they were less anxious than in 2021, and 36% said they don’t feel anxious about their finances in 2022 at all.
We asked money-anxious Americans to choose the factor contributing the most to their anxiety. From a list of nine choices, the top five factors were inflation (32%), job and career concerns (16%), COVID-19 (14%), medical/health expenses (10%), and debt (10%). We dug into each of these factors to explore why they’re causing anxiety — and how to reduce your own worries.
Inflation is the top source of financial anxiety for Americans in 2022 according to our survey, and it’s easy to see why: Consumer prices skyrocketed last year, resulting in the largest 12-month increase since 1982  .
“Inflation is scary because it's a change, and not the good kind of change,” says Justin Pritchard, a certified financial planner with Approach Financial. “When you have limited resources, higher costs mean you'll have to live with less or make sacrifices. Sometimes those sacrifices have serious consequences, such as delaying medical care or eating unhealthy foods. And if you're on a fixed income, such as someone in retirement, the prospect is terrifying.”
What you can do about inflation worries
“If inflation is eating into your purchasing power, it's crucial to get things under control,” Pritchard says. “Start by understanding exactly where your money goes. Scrutinize every automatic payment from your credit card and bank account, and decide if it makes sense to make some cuts. You don't need to cut spending permanently, but if you see things going down a path you don't like, some course corrections are in order.”
If your concerns are more about how inflation might affect your long-term savings and investments, staying the course is likely the right strategy. “Overall, I'd try to stick to a long-term strategy of diversified investing,” he says. “Over the long term, stocks have historically done a decent job of fending off inflation, although there's no guarantee that history will repeat.”
2. Job and career concerns
Record numbers of Americans quit their jobs last year — 4.5 million in November 2021 alone, which is more than any month in the 20 years the government has been tracking quit data  . But while the Great Resignation may conjure images of quitting for greener pastures, the reality is that the trend is tied to COVID-19 — and the pandemic’s uneven effect on different industries.
Our survey found that younger adults (18-34) reported job and career concerns as the biggest factor contributing to their financial anxiety (24%), more than any other age group. “The majority of people ages 18 to 34 haven't worked through an economic downturn,” says Vicki Salemi, Monster career expert. “Even during the financial collapse of 2009, the oldest within that cohort was most likely not working then. They don't know what to expect and are uncertain about the future. This uncertainty is creating anxiety about finances and work.”
What you can do about job and career concerns
If your job is causing anxiety, Salemi recommends digging into the source. “Identify the root cause of the stress,” she says. “Is it the unknown? Does your career path or current job feel uncertain? If your career feels like it's stuck, review job descriptions that not only pique your interest, but also highlight skills that you can transfer from your current job. If the stress is related to being underpaid, determine your worth and speak to your boss about being paid equitably or explore opportunities externally.”
Fourteen percent of Americans who are worried about their money say COVID-19 is the top factor contributing to their financial anxiety.
“The main way that COVID-19 has hurt Americans is disruption of industry or workplace,” says Erik Baskin, founder of Baskin Financial Planning. “Changing business models have meant an employee may not be needed or may be needed for less hours. And for those people who are still wary of coming into contact with other people, it can be problematic to find work if they do not have the skills, connections, or education to attain a job working remotely from home.”
What you can do about COVID-19 and finances
“The biggest realization [from COVID-19] is that the unexpected can happen,” says Richard Cooke, a financial planner with 2Point0 Financial. “Preparing for the unexpected would help to relieve some of those anxieties. When a client tells me they're anxious about their finances because of COVID-19, topics like emergency savings, life insurance planning, and estate planning go to the top of the list.”
Noah Damsky of Marina Wealth Advisors in Los Angeles was recently inspired by a client who had pivoted from an in-person job at an art gallery to a job doing graphic design. “She learned the necessary skills with evening courses at an adult school and free online resources at Khan Academy and Coursera,” he says.
4. Medical expenses
Our survey found that medical expenses were the number two factor for financial anxiety for Americans 55 and over (13%), after inflation, which tracks with the experience of advisor Katy Cook of Abacus Financial Planning. “Before COVID-19, many seniors who needed ongoing care moved into an assisted living center or retirement community,” she says. “COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, though, have led some people to pause on these decisions. As travel and family visits resume, adult children may find that their parents need more household and medical support than they did two years ago.”
What you can do about medical expenses
“If medical expenses are a burden, talk to the hospital or provider’s office,” says Cook. “Even for people with insurance, there may be financial assistance, payment plans, or charity care options. In a hospital, social workers can often connect patients and their families with local support and resources.”
The average American has $90,460 in consumer debt, including credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, and student debt.  Parents of children under 18 (14%) were especially likely to name debt as their number one worry. “Families with young children are struggling when daycare is closed unexpectedly due to an outbreak or a child needing to quarantine due to exposure,” Earhart says. “This domino then hits the working parents with the unexpected expense of finding backup childcare or taking time off without pay.”
What you can do about debt
“If you are not making enough money to survive or to pay your absolute basic needs from month to month, it is very difficult to pay off debt,” podcast host Berna Adat told Policygenius last month. “And the fastest way to pay off debt is to get paid more. Hard stop. None of the tips or tricks will work for you if you don't have extra money at the end of every month to put aggressively toward your debt.”
Another way of finding that extra money: budget, budget, budget.
“How much money [do you have] outside of what you need to survive at the end of the month?” she says. “That's the money that you're going to put extra towards your debt."
The 2022 Policygenius Financial Anxiety Survey was conducted by YouGov on Dec. 7-8, 2021. The total sample size for the online survey was 1,257 adults, among whom 816 have anxiety about their 2022 finances. The results have been weighted to be representative of all U.S. adults. The average margin of error was +/- 3%
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