The paradox of the current 10-year economic expansion is that so many people haven’t seen much financial progress despite a generally favorable backdrop. Jobs are plentiful, but many people aren’t enjoying higher incomes — either that or they’re being squeezed by rising costs and increased debts.
Other Americans engage in poor financial behaviors that make increased affluence elusive. Here are some gauges that might indicate whether you have made financial progress over the past year:
You kept debts under control
The most obvious way to assess financial progress is by tracking whether you earned more money over the past year. But if you spent it all, and perhaps borrowed more, your increased income might not have helped much.
Whether it’s because of sluggish incomes, rising debts or something else, many people have had trouble building wealth.
The typical American household had a net worth — representing assets less liabilities — of about $110,000 at midyear, estimates JP Morgan Asset Management. That median or midpoint number is a record high, but it represents an only modest improvement over recent years. Nor have the gains been shared equally, partly because many Americans don’t own homes or stock-market investments that have appreciated over the past decade.
Then there’s debt, which remains troubling despite gains for the overall economy.
While mortgages still represent the bulk of overall consumer debt, credit-card balances, student loans and auto loans have become problems for many people. Given that interest rates are low, not all borrowing is bad. The question is whether you have become overextended.
If you spend a lot of time tracking account balances, moving money among accounts or delaying bill payments, those could be signs of trouble.
You kept personal ties separate from money matters
It’s understandable to want to help struggling friends or family members, but sometimes good intentions can backfire. Some 46% of adults who lent money to friends or relatives said they either lost it or suffered a damaged relationship with the recipient, according to a Bankrate.com survey.
Similarly, 37% who lent a credit card reported losing money, damaging the relationship or taking a hit to their credit score. Co-signing on loans is another practice that can have negative repercussions.
“Seeing the data on how often lending money to family and friends goes wrong and costs people money and relationships, I generally advise people against making these loans,” said Ted Rossman, a Bankrate analyst.
“If you do it, treat it as a gift and don’t lend more than you can afford to lose. It’s not worth ruining a close relationship.”