Stress can come from everywhere – career, school, family, relationships, health – and especially money.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recently reported that money remains the number one stressor for 72 percent of Americans. In fact, money has led the APA's annual stress survey since its debut in 2007, the year before the financial crash that took the U.S. economy into its worst slump since the Great Depression.
Are you financially stressed? Here are 10 major signs of financial stress and ways to take action.
1. You wonder if your job is secure. Even though the economy has improved in recent years, employers still cut and reassign workers and make occasional adjustments in pay and benefits. If you've spotted changes in other departments or news accounts suggest a shift in your industry, start thinking ahead. Action Plan: Build up your emergency fund to cover six months or more of basic living expenses, update your resume and get organized for a potential job search.
2. There's no money to save or invest. If meeting basic expenses is a struggle and you have no savings or investments at all, it's time for a serious review of where your money is going. Action plan: Making a basic budget is the first step to tracking every penny spent. Figure out extras you can cut and set more aside for savings and debt payoff.
3. You have disagreements with a spouse or partner about money. A 2013 University of Kansas study noted that arguments about money are the top predictor of divorce. Action plan: Share information about all debt and legal issues and exchange respective credit reports and credit score data as you plan to solve all money problems together.
4. You are paying bills late. Late payments can hurt your credit score (http://www.myfico.com). Action plan: Set up a physical or digital calendar to keep track of payment dates and budget in order to put more money toward debt and eventually savings.
5. You imagine a windfall. Waiting for a bonus, an inheritance or even a winning lotto ticket to ease your financial stress indicates you have a tendency toward financial denial. Action plan: If your current efforts at budgeting, saving money or paying off debt aren't working, consider a reality check with a qualified financial advisor.
6. You use your home equity like a cash register. Home equity loans or lines of credit can provide an interest-deductible solution for a variety of important needs, but a down housing market can wipe out your equity. Action plan: Either refinance if you qualify or stop using the line entirely until you can pay down the balance.
7. You're considering drawing from retirement funds to solve money problems. Think twice before taking out loans against these funds. Interrupting your retirement planning, particularly over the age of 50, can have significant financial consequences. Action plan: Re-budget your finances and seek qualified advice to help you find another solution.
8. Late and overdraft fees are piling up. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the average bank overdraft fee is $35; credit card late fees are similar. Action plan: Schedule bill payments and opt for online billing when possible to save time on mailing. If you have to pay additional late fees, ask your bank or credit card company if it might forgive the fee; many will remove one fee a year.
9. You're late on student loan payments. It is difficult to have student loans (https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/) forgiven, cancelled or discharged (eliminated) in bankruptcy if you can't pay. Paying late can also hurt your credit score. Action Plan: Seek qualified financial advice that specifically addresses the type of student debt you have and resolve to pay bills on time.
10. Your accounts are disorganized. It's difficult to reach important financial goals when you really can't track your finances. Action plan: Get some advice from a trusted friend or a qualified financial professional about how to best organize your accounts and whether online account management may be right for you.
Bottom line: Reducing your financial stress is a healthy decision. Review your money habits and get qualified help if necessary to lessen this burden.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.