Survey Uncovers Americans’ Biggest Regrets and Resolutions – How Do Yours Compare?


‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions … and maybe a few lingering regrets. If you’re like most Americans, you plan on tackling both this year.

Student Loan Hero conducted a survey to find out what the biggest New Year’s resolutions are for 2016, as well as the financial decisions Americans regret most from 2015.

Find out how you compare and what you can do to crush your 2016 goals.

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Top New Year’s Resolutions for 2016

If you had to choose, would you focus on your health, career, finances, or something entirely different this year? We asked, and America answered.

Which of the following most closely fits your most important 2016 resolution:

  • Get in shape/eat healthy: 37.7%
  • Travel more: 16.7%
  • Be more financially responsible: 15.8%
  • Create a better work/life balance: 14.6%
  • Do more charity work/volunteer: 7.7%
  • Get a promotion/change jobs: 7.5%

Health Is Top Resolution

Nearly 38 percent of Americans plan to put their health above everything else in 2016, selecting “get in shape/eat healthy” as their top New Year’s resolution. And it makes sense — about the same number of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are considered to be clinically obese. Here’s to more salads and cardio in 2016.

But America’s obesity rate is not the only frightening number we face today. We’re taking on way too much debt as a country.

Finances Take a Back Seat

Consider that the average U.S. adult carries a credit card balance of $5,540. According to the Federal Reserve, total outstanding consumer debt was a whopping $3.34 trillion as of February 2015 — excluding home loans! That number does, however, include the pesky $1.2 trillion in student loan debt that plagues more than 40 million Americans.

So, perhaps surprisingly, the resolution to “be more financially responsible” only made third place among all resolutions, also beat out by “travel more,” which got 16.7 percent of responses.

Interestingly, the least popular New Year’s resolution was “get a promotion/change jobs.” In fact, a greater number of people would rather give more of their time and money to charity than improve their job situations. Yet according to a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of U.S. workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Whether they simply have higher priorities, or don’t believe they can successfully climb the career ladder, it’s important to know that job growth is an important — and attainable — goal to pursue.

Biggest Money Regrets

Often, when setting goals for the future, it’s to correct mistakes from the past. And according to the respondents of our poll, a lot of people regret how little money they put towards savings and debt repayment last year.

What was your biggest financial regret of 2015?

  • Didn’t save or invest as much as I wanted: 34.9%
  • Didn’t pay off as much debt as I wanted: 21.8%
  • Spent frivolously (shopping, Netflix, meals): 18.3%
  • Didn’t pay my bills on time: 8.7%
  • Made a bad investment: 8.5%
  • Made a major purchase I couldn’t afford: 4.9%
  • Other: 2.8%

Lack of Savings

“Didn’t save or invest as much as I wanted” was by far the biggest money regret of 2015. Again, the results aren’t too surprising.

According to data from national nonprofit NeighborWorks America, about a third of Americans — or 72 million people — don’t have any emergency savings at all. Additionally, USA Today reported about 36 percent of workers have less than $1,000 in savings and investments that could be used for retirement (excluding primary residence or defined benefits plans).

Maybe that’s why those age 45-54 chose “didn’t save or invest” much more frequently than 35-44 year-olds. As Americans get older and closer to retirement age, they realize how important regularly saving and investing actually are — and how much catching up they need to do.

Deep in Debt

The second biggest regret of 2015 was “didn’t pay off as much debt as I wanted” at 21.8 percent. Given the U.S. debt figures mentioned earlier, it’s good to know Americans at least recognize their shortcomings when it comes to debt repayment. Plus, as you’ll see below, they’re making it a priority in 2016.

Financial Resolutions for 2016

U.S. debt might be at near-crisis levels, but close to a third of Americans have resolved to eliminate theirs in 2016. The only goal that rivals debt elimination is to have no goal at all.

What is your top financial resolution for 2016?

  • Pay off debt: 26.9%
  • I don’t have a financial resolution for 2016: 23.2%
  • Save for retirement: 17.3%
  • Build an emergency savings fund: 12.6%
  • Improve my credit: 10.3%
  • Buy a house: 8.4%
  • Other: 1.3%

Unfortunately, almost one in four Americans admits they do not have a financial resolution at all for 2016, with this being the top response among those age 18-24 and 65+.

The good news is that even though money might not be the number one priority for most Americans when setting New Year’s resolutions, about three quarters do have some sort of goal to improve their financial situation this year.

In addition to paying off debt, retirement savings will be a major focus. In fact, “save for retirement” was the most popular financial resolution among 45-54 and 55-64 year-olds. As they say, better late than never.

How to Accomplish Your Financial Goals in 2016

Whether you plan to hit the gym more often or pay off your student loans for good, congratulations — setting goals is both admirable and a healthy part of personal development.

But did you know only eight percent of people who set New Year’s resolutions actually accomplish them? Here are some ways to ensure you’ve achieved everything you want by next year:

  • Write it down: Those who physically write their goals out are 42 percent more likely to achieve them.
  • Tell someone: Sharing your goals with others adds accountability. Tell family and friends about your plans.
  • Be realistic: Goals should be challenging, yet attainable. Don’t burn yourself out chasing a resolution that’s near-impossible.
  • Be specific: Make sure your goals are specific and measurable, so you always know whether or not you’re on track to reach them.

Survey Methodology

Survey was conducted via Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of Student Loan Hero on December 23, 2015, with a nationally representative sample of 1,015 adults living in the United States and a margin of error of 2.6 percent or lower.

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