Here are some of the key areas in which Americans may be making some costly mistakes when it comes to money:
Not paying their bills on time. About one in five people have been more than 60 days late in paying their mortgage, credit card or other bills tracked on credit reports, according to the study, suggesting that a substantial share of consumers are struggling to keep up with their bills, Pelletier said. (Researchers looked at a year’s worth of credit data from 2014.) The mistake can have huge implications for other aspects of your finances, potentially damaging your credit score and affecting what you might pay for future loans. Payment history is the No. 1 factor that goes into calculating your FICO score, accounting for 35 percent of the equation. So if you stumble, focus rebuilding a positive track record by paying your bills on time — every bill, every month.
Carrying too much credit card debt. Some 63 percent of U.S. consumers use more than 30 percent of their revolving credit, according to the research. Ignoring the guideline can cause damage to your credit score. That’s because the so-called “credit utilization” ratio, or the share of credit a person is using, is the second most important factor that goes into determining your FICO score. People who are looking to apply for a mortgage or auto loan should prepare at least six months in advance by reducing the debt load on each card to below that 30 percent threshold.
The best approach to keeping your credit card debt in check is to pay the card off in full each month in order to avoid interest charges. If you can’t afford to do that, keeping the balance to below 30 percent of the total available credit can still give lenders the impression that you’re a responsible borrower.
Spending too much on housing. About 31 percent of U.S. homeowners were spending at least 30 percent of their income on monthly housing costs in 2014, according to the report. Among renters, 51 percent of them spent at least 30 percent of pay on housing costs that year.
A common rule of thumb is to spend no more than a third of your take-home pay on housing to leave room for other financial goals, such as paying down debt, saving and investing. In some areas, a shortage of affordable rental units makes it difficult for households to keep housing costs down. But any effort to reduce what is typically the largest monthly expense can go a long way to helping you meet other financial goals.
Living outside your means. Sixty percent of households said they spend more than their annual income, according to the study. About 60 percent of consumers could not come up with $2,000 to cover an emergency and half of adults said they have no emergency savings at all, according to the survey. That lack of cash can force consumers to turn to more costly options such as payday loans when unexpected costs come up. “If you don’t have an emergency fund, it can put you in a horrible cycle that can be hard to get out of,” Pelletier said.
Tapping their retirement accounts early. About 10.5 percent of Americans said they have taken a hardship withdrawal from their retirement accounts, according to the report. Some methods of accessing retirement funds, such as loans, need to be paid back with interest. But the move can still slow savers. For instance, a quarter of savers who took out 401(k) loans between 2007 and 2013 reduced how much they contributed to their retirement accounts, according to a study by Fidelity Investments.
It doesn’t help that many workers are not saving enough as it is. Some 54 percent of workers have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. About a quarter of workers have less than $1,000 saved. Once those savings run out, retirees will probably be left to rely on Social Security benefits, which may not bring in enough income for many households, Pelletier said.