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Equifax Survey, Early September Insights: Cautious Optimism About COVID-19, Economy

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The Equifax Consumer Credit Confidence Survey is a recurring survey that measures consumer sentiment about topics and behaviors related to personal finance and credit during the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic. More than 1,000 consumers were surveyed in Wave 10, which was conducted online September 11 - 15, 2020. The survey was balanced so that gender, age group, employment status and region represent those over 18 years of age in the U.S. per Census estimates for 2018.

Consumers were increasingly hopeful about the economy and their own financial and job prospects in mid-September, according to the latest wave of the Equifax Consumer Credit Confidence Survey. Additionally, more than two-thirds of respondents believe the presidential election will factor into their future financial decisions.

Most notably, “optimistic” continued to be the most popular descriptor of how households feel about their financial situation, with 33% of respondents selecting that option. Between Waves 9 and 10 of the survey, the positive descriptor “valued” jumped three percentage points to 15%, while the negative descriptors “confused” and “disappointed” dropped from 8% to 4% and from 12% to 9% respectively.

Health and lifestyle sentiments also trended positively. The percentage of consumers who feel they are still “dealing with social distancing” totaled 50%, down from a high of 59% in early April. Other categories such as “fear of getting ill from the virus,” “investments devalued” and “job insecurity” have also seen notable decreases from the earliest waves of the survey.

This positivity carried through to other consumer sentiments. With the academic year beginning in earnest, the survey revealed a drop in concern about sending children back to in-person education. The percentage of consumers with school-aged children who are “comfortable” sending their children to school jumped from 36% in Wave 9 to 46% in Wave 10. The subset of respondents who are definitely “not comfortable” with a return to in-person school dropped from 55% to 49%.

Although most sentiments trended favorably over Wave 9, there is still a good deal of concern about the Covid-19 pandemic and how it will ultimately affect the economy. As the data indicated, apprehension shifted away from the health ramifications of the virus to potentially long-lasting economic impact. Significantly, more consumers indicated that their economic concerns are greater than their medical concerns, rising from 41% in Wave 9 to 46% in the current survey.

And yet, 8% of respondents (down from 11% in Wave 9) reported an “inability to pay month-to-month bills,” and 56% indicated they feel confident that their finances will stabilize within six months, up from 52% in the previous survey.

While hope was a common theme in the survey results, an increased sense of caution accompanied it, including vigilance regarding credit security. Compared to Wave 9, consumers indicated it is now “more important” to check credit scores (35%, up from 30%), change online account passwords (34%, up from 33%), check their credit reports (33%, up from 31%) and shred mail (31%, up from 27%).

Finally, 69% of respondents said the presidential election is extremely or somewhat important when deciding their personal financial moves over the next six months. Digging deeper into the data, seniors and upper income Americans were more likely to say the election’s outcome is important to their short-term financial planning. Just 6% of consumers say the election is extremely or somewhat unimportant.

Despite this widespread concern over the presidential election, the percentage of people who plan to make a change in their investments has stayed relatively constant and almost equally divided throughout the 10 surveys conducted since April 2020. Twenty-seven percent of respondents are somewhat or very likely to make a change in their investments, up from 26% in Wave 1 but down from 29% in Wave 6. Twenty-five percent said they are somewhat or very unlikely to alter their investments, up from 22% in Wave 1 and down from 30% in Waves 4 and 5.

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