Personal Finance

Struggling households would put off paying these loans or bills if necessary, survey finds

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Key Points
  • More than a third of households are continuing to experience financial hardship due to the pandemic, a TransUnion report shows.
  • Of them, 74% are struggling to pay bills or other financial obligations, with private student loans topping the list of bills people would consider putting off paying.

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Keeping up with bills and other financial obligations can be a balancing act, as many people know.

For some households, job loss or reduced work hours during the pandemic made the issue more acute — and the situation has yet to improve. The share of those still in financial hardship is 38%, according to TransUnion's recent Consumer Pulse survey, taken Feb. 26 to March 1.

"Within that subset 74% of them say they would struggle to pay bills," said Charlie Wise, head of global research and consulting at TransUnion.

While the share of negatively impacted households has dropped from 61% last April, the TransUnion survey shows, more than 18 million individuals were collecting some form of unemployment benefits as of mid-February, according to the Labor Department. About 41.5% of them have been out of a job for at least six months.

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The $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, which President Joe Biden signed into law last week, authorizes $1,400 stimulus checks for most adults (and their dependents) and extends unemployment aid to Labor Day, among other forms of financial help. More than a third (39%) of all middle- and low-income consumers plan to use their stimulus checks to pay their bills or loans, according to the TransUnion report.

Topping the list of payments that struggling households would put off is private student loans, with 44% of survey respondents who have that obligation saying they wouldn't pay. (Federal student loan repayment is paused through September.) Behind that is medical bills (40%) and personal loans (38%).

"This also speaks to the willingness to pay," Wise said. "If I have five bills to pay, which am I more likely to prioritize?"

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For instance, he said, the consequence of missing your student loan payment is different from not paying your mortgage or your car loan.

"You still have your degree," Wise said. "That can't be repossessed."

Likewise, medical bills are more likely to be a lower priority for payoff.

"They can't come and take back your treatments," Wise said.