Ever since stimulus checks began rolling out to Americans, with 2020’s CARES Act, occasional surveys have looked at how Americans are spending their stimulus money. Ever since the passage earlier this year of the American Rescue Plan, most such surveys have shown that more Americans are spending their stimulus checks on paying down bills than on anything else.
Now, a new survey says that many Americans are using their stimulus checks to pay down debt.
LendingTree has published an analysis of Census Bureau data, showing that Americans have “turned towards” paying down debt.
According to the survey, 50 percent of those asked said that their most recent payment would go toward paying down debt, as of this spring. Last year, in the earlier part of the pandemic and at the time of the CARES Act, 70 percent of those asked said they would use their check mostly for expenses.
The three states where the most respondents said they would pay down debt were Louisiana, West Virginia, and New Jersey, while residents of South Dakota and Washington, D.C., were the only two that prioritized savings over paying down debt.
“Debt was the main target for Americans receiving stimulus checks in this latest round,” the LendingTree report said. “At the national level, 50% of people who received a stimulus check in March 2021 said they used or would use it on debt. In June 2020, when the first stimulus checks arrived, just 16% reported that they planned to use the stimulus to tackle debt. That equates to a 34-percentage point increase between last summer and this spring.”
Among those paying off debt, the most voluminous categories were paying down student loans, credit cards, and other such debts. Among those who mostly spend, food was listed first.
“Paying down debt should absolutely, positively be a priority for folks who are struggling with debt,” Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, said in the report. “People should continue to put stimulus money, if they can, toward paying down high-interest debt like credit cards.”
“That’s a huge difference, but it’s a good thing,” Schulz added. “Nine months ago, most Americans were terrified and had no idea what the future held, so they focused on basic expenses and building up savings. Fast-forward nine months, and things have changed a lot. Repeated stimulus and reduced spending means people have more cash in their pockets, and that — combined with the hope spurred by widespread vaccinations — has given them the luxury of paying down debts instead of solely squirreling away cash.”
The caveat applies that LendingTree is not a scientific polling outfit, but rather an online lending marketplace.
Stephen Silver is a technology writer for the National Interest.