Nearly half of Americans say COVID-19 made talking about money less taboo, survey finds

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In a Nutshell

Almost half of the respondents in Credit Karma’s latest survey feel that the taboo around money has decreased, but many have become less comfortable talking about their personal situations over the course of the pandemic.
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COVID-19 has changed how people talk about their finances.

According to a joint survey from Credit Karma and Qualtrics, 47% of Americans feel that the coronavirus pandemic has made talking about money less taboo. At the same time, many report feeling less comfortable sharing their personal situations with friends and family. Still, a majority of those who feel they became more open during the pandemic say they experienced stress relief after discussing their finances.

Nearly half (45%) of those surveyed felt that they understand their finances better than before the pandemic, which could be partially explained by a potential shift in cultural attitudes toward talking about money. People sharing their experiences could make it easier for others to access useful information about their personal situations.

Credit Karma also has some useful tips for how to start talking about money. Read on to learn more.

Key survey findings

47% of respondents believe that COVID-19 made talking about personal finances less taboo — and 30% of them say they became more open about their financial situations in 2020.
Of the 30% who say they became more open about their finances, 66% felt less stressed as a result and 89% plan to continue being more transparent about their finances, even after the pandemic is over.
Almost half (45%) of participants feel that they understand their finances better than before the pandemic.
Survey takers preferred to talk to family (66%) over friends (47%) when it comes to finances, but they became less comfortable talking to both family (48%) and friends (37%) over the course of the pandemic.

COVID-19 may have helped break the taboo around speaking about personal finance — but it’s complicated

Though 47% of survey takers think that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it less taboo to talk about personal finances, people say they became less comfortable discussing finances with people close to them. Before the pandemic, 66% of respondents felt comfortable openly discussing their finances with their family and 47% felt OK talking about the topic with friends. But during the pandemic, those numbers have dropped to 48% and 37%, respectively.

So why do so many Americans think that discussing finances is becoming less taboo? People may be seeing more discussion of personal finance in a few different places. The news media has  made the subject of widespread unemployment seemingly unavoidable since the pandemic began. Social media makes others’ struggles more visible than they would’ve been in the past. On a more personal level, 55% of survey takers feel that their financial stability relies on another round of stimulus checks.

When that many people are collectively suffering, it becomes more visible — and it could feel like more people are discussing finances openly as a result.

While the ubiquity of personal finance news during the pandemic may have made respondents feel that conversations about personal finances have become less forbidden in general, people say they’ve become less comfortable talking about their individual finances over time with friends and family. Regarding personal finance, it’s possible that people feel ashamed about having either too much or too little money.

People who are struggling to make ends meet might feel ashamed about their inability to provide, despite the highly unusual circumstances of this moment. On the other hand, folks who are comfortable or whose financial situations have dramatically improved during the pandemic might feel self-conscious about their stability or success amid so much financial devastation for others.

Society has also done a great job of convincing people that talking about money just isn’t done. So while some might feel like it’s OK for others to share their struggles, people might not want to participate themselves.

Talking about personal finances can be liberating

Roughly one-third of respondents (30%) said they became more willing to talk about their finances over the course of the last year. For that group, 66% agree that opening up has made them feel less stressed, and 89% plan to continue being more open in the future. Two groups were especially likely to feel relieved after telling others about their finances: Men and people with annual household incomes above $150,000.

Nearly three-quarters of male respondents (70%) felt better after sharing, compared to only 62% of women. This is potentially related to Western masculinity ideals — research suggests that society encourages men to suppress emotion. Perhaps sharing is a relief after overcoming a standard that often unfairly demands stoicism from men.

Interestingly, 83% of people with annual household incomes of $150,000 or higher agreed that talking about their personal finances helped them feel less stressed. A possible explanation for this is that people in lower income brackets might be more worried about survival when talking about personal finances, while people in higher income brackets could be more concerned with maximizing their finances. Getting advice for an overall positive situation might inspire more feelings of relief than talking about negative financial situations that aren’t easily resolved.


Tips for talking about money

It can be intimidating to talk about money with others if you’re not used to it. But you should never be ashamed to ask questions to learn more.

The first step is finding someone you trust. Maybe that person is family or a friend. Or maybe you’d rather see a financial professional or use an online community. Whatever you choose is OK — what’s most important is that you feel comfortable and heard.

Once you’ve found the right person to talk to, try one of these conversation starters.

  • I feel ________ about my financial situation, and I was hoping to talk to you about it.
  • I don’t know much about ________, and I’d like to learn about it from you.
  • I’m struggling with ________ right now. Can you help me figure out what to do next?

The survey shows that talking about money brings feelings of relief for most people, so it might help you even more than you expect.

Remember: Even while you’re opening up, you still need to protect your personal data. While it’s OK to share your situation with others if you feel comfortable, it’s important to keep your account details secret and safe.


Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in December 2020 and January 2021 among 1,025 American adults to understand peoples’ attitudes toward talking about money.


About the author: Gaby Lapera is a researcher and writer at Credit Karma and a personal finance expert. She also spends time working on investing and science communication. Gaby graduated with a master's … Read more.