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Even rich people are living paycheck to paycheck

June 2, 2022, 3:52 PM UTC

Inflation at a 40-year high is making life difficult for everyone, even the country’s highest earners.

A surge in prices for everything from gasoline to groceries is burning a hole in every American’s wallet, and forcing many to cut back on expenses and dip into their savings. And while inflation is hitting the nation’s poorest hardest, even people with the largest salaries are being hit by the economy.

More than one-third of paycheck-to-paycheck consumers in the U.S. earn at least $250,000, according to a new report by loan issuer LendingClub and commerce media platform PYMNTS, suggesting that inflation is affecting how Americans of all income levels handle their budgets.

“Inflation will most likely be part of the economic picture for many months to come, and consumers living paycheck to paycheck of all income brackets will need to review their financial situations and plan their spending accordingly,” the report reads. 

The report analyzed the finances of over 3,000 consumers of all income levels across the U.S. The survey was conducted in April, and reports on the finances of the country’s highest income earners for the first time in the study’s history.

“Earning a quarter of a million dollars a year is more than five times the national median and is clearly high income. The fact that a third of them are living paycheck to paycheck should surprise you,” Anuj Nayar, LendingClub’s financial health officer, said in a statement. Nayar added that the expensive lifestyles of high income earners were behind their adjusted spending patterns.

Around 61.3% of Americans—157 million people—are living paycheck to paycheck and devoting all of their salaries to expenses with little to nothing left over at the end of the month, according to the report. That number is nine percentage points higher than a year ago.

But there are big differences between how people in different income brackets pay their bills, and the report clarifies that most high income earners who are living paycheck to paycheck still have no issues covering their expenses—only 10% to 12% are running into problems paying their bills. 

Unlike working-class people, high income earners generally have good credit scores and the option to use credit cards to make payments. Only 48% of all paycheck-to-paycheck consumers who are struggling to make ends meet have recently made a credit card payment.

“[High income earners] are creditworthy but they have higher financial obligations and are more likely to leverage their capital to finance their lives,” Nayar said.

The majority of Americans have been living paycheck to paycheck for years, but inflation has made finances even tighter. Prices for fuel, food, and housing are rising fast, but average wage growth has so far failed to keep up.

Inflation has also rocked what was on track to be an epic financial recovery for most Americans after the pandemic. Between multiple stimulus payments, higher savings, and lower expenses, most Americans’ finances actually improved during the pandemic, and a recent analysis by the Federal Reserve found that Americans’ financial health last year was the highest it’s been in nearly a decade.

But that was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent prices for food and fuel soaring and inflation began to take hold of most Americans’ lives, even the high earners. 

A March survey by the American Psychological Association found that inflation and rising costs had become the biggest sources of stress for Americans, with economic stress reaching record highs. Another April study by U.S. News & World Report found that over two-thirds of Americans are now anxious about their finances and worried about their financial future.

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