Everybody’s under stress about their finances — in fact, we’re all stressed at the highest level in five years, according to consulting firm PwC’s 2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey.

But, depending on the monetary challenges they face, people are most worried about different things.

A new survey from GOBankingRates.com sought to uncover the top causes of financial stress across the country, and found seven money issues about which people are really worried.

How those seven issues ranked varied, depending on where people live — and also depending on respondents’ age and other demographics.

More than 7,000 respondents were asked to choose their top financial stress from among the following seven causes: “paying off my debt (i.e. credit cards)”; “not being able to retire”; “not having enough money to fund an emergency”; “wanting a nicer lifestyle”; “paying for education”; “lack of stable income”; or “paying my mortgage or rent.”

Here’s a look at how things shake out across the country with the seven top financial stressors:


Residents of Vermont may find paying mortgage bills tough, as the cost of living is high there. (Photo: iStock)

7. Paying mortgage or rent

With 9.4 percent of respondents citing this as their top cause of financial stress, Vermonters chose this in a tie with not being able to retire and paying for education.

Residents of the state may find it difficult to choose among financial stressors because the cost of living in Vermont is one of the highest in the country.

That makes it tough to pay for everything — particularly such high-ticket items as mortgages, tuition and retirement expenses — for which people don’t save enough anyway. 

Walking a tightrope

Rhode Island residents indicated they found a stable income a big stressor. (Photo: iStock)

6. Lack of stable income

Chosen as the top financial stressor by 11.7 percent of respondents, this was tied for first place in Rhode Island with paying off debt — something that’s hard to do in states with a high unemployment rate.

In Georgia, this ran a close second to paying off debt.

And with the rise of the “gig economy,” a stable income is becoming more and more challenging to sustain — an unfortunate trend that appears likely to continue.

College education

Paying for a college education is stressful for many, especially survey respondents in Idaho and Hawaii. (Photo: iStock)

5. Paying for education

This was the top choice of 13.1 percent of respondents, with adults aged 18-24 years putting it at the top of their list.

It was also the leading cause of financial stress in Hawaii, of all places, despite the fact that College Board data don’t find in-state costs for the state’s public four-year college to be among the most expensive in the country.

Idaho also chose this as its top financial stressor, even though its tuition costs are even lower than Hawaii’s — but then, so is its median income, which can make paying for anything a challenge. 


Washington, D.C., residents noted that upgrading their style of living was especially important. (Photo: iStock)

4. Wanting a nicer lifestyle

Coming in at 14 percent, “wanting a nicer lifestyle” was the top choice of two places as their No. 1 cause of financial stress.

Predictably, the first is Washington, D.C., which has the second-highest cost of living in the nation. The other is Delaware, where it tied with “not being able to retire” for first place. 

Money stress

The top stressor for many is raising money in an emergency. (Photo: iStock)

3. Not having enough money to fund an emergency

This was not only the third most common choice, tied percentage-wise with the second largest financial stressor at 15.6 percent, it was the top worry for those 65 years old and older: the demographic most likely to encounter major medical costs during retirement.

It was also the top financial stressor in low median income states such as Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma. 

Photo: Getty

Many people ages 45 and above were concerned about not having enough saved to retire. (Photo: Getty)

2. Not being able to retire

This worry was the second-greatest financial stressor overall, with 15.6 percent of respondents choosing it as their main worry — and, as might be expected, it was the top concern of adults aged 45-64.

This was the top fear of New Jerseyans and Iowans, while Vermonters chose this in a three-way tie with paying for education and paying mortgage or rent as their top stressor, it tied in Delaware for the top spot with wanting a nicer lifestyle and in Massachusetts with paying for education.

It tied for second place in Montana with not having enough for an emergency — and what’s surprising is that more people in more states didn’t choose it, considering how many people have saved little or nothing toward the day when they’ll leave the workplace for good. 

Photo: Getty

The top choice of people in 32 states was not having enough to pay off their debts. (Photo: Getty)

1. Paying off debt

From Alaska to Wyoming, this was the overall top answer, with 20.6 percent choosing it as their chief financial stressor. And it was the top choice of both sexes.

In fact, it was the top choice of people in 32 states, and tied for the top in Rhode Island (with lack of stable income), Maine (with not being able to retire) and New Hampshire (tied with not having enough money to fund an emergency).

In Florida, although people have smaller total debt balances per capita, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that they owe more on credit cards and auto loans per capita than the rest of the country. And in Texas, according to the New York Fed, people owe more on auto loans than they do on student loans — per capita.