As the COVID-19 pandemic took over the United States in 2020 and through 2021, fewer consumers — by and large — had problems paying their bills, but those who did have problems doing so had more problems than usual, according to data that was released last week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB issued another report as part of its “Making Ends Meet” project, which surveys consumers about the state of their finances.
Overall, 34% of consumers had difficulty paying a bill or expense in February 2021, compared with 35% in June 2020 and 39% in June 2019. But the percentage of people who had problems paying bills between five and 12 times increased to 24% from 15% and those who had problems more than 12 times increased to 11% from 8.5%.
The report includes data on the amount of credit card debt that people have carried before and during the pandemic, household financial challenges, the types of bills that people have had the most difficulty paying, and changes in saving and spending habits.
Consumers seemed to manage their finances well until things fell apart, and when they fell apart, they fell apart, according to the report. Three quarters of consumers started having problems paying their mortgage, rent, credit card, or other bills when they experienced a drop in income, and nearly half of consumers who missed a mortgage payment, rent payment, cable or Internet bill, cell phone bill, or utility bill also missed a medical payment.
More than one-third of participants said they skipped or delayed seeking medical treatment during the pandemic, and 41% of those who did said they did so because of the cost.
“The pandemic reshaped many consumers’ finances,” according to the report. “But despite high unemployment and new economic disruptions, the average consumers’ financial status improved sharply at the beginning of the pandemic and continued to improve through June 2021.”