Americans Run Down Checking Accounts as Aid Cutoff Approaches

Americans’ cash cushions have been declining for months, most acutely among low-income households, underscoring the already-precarious financial situation of the millions of people who may soon lose their jobless benefits.

The median household checking account balance surged by 65% after the arrival of stimulus checks in April, formally known as Economic Impact Payments, but balances have steadily declined since May, according to a report published Wednesday by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

Because lower-income families started with smaller balances, the initial boost from government aid in April had a bigger impact for them. But those balances have also fallen by the most in percent terms, indicating that if the trend continues, the lowest earners will deplete their gains faster than higher earners, the report showed.

Americans Run Down Checking Accounts as Aid Cutoff Approaches

While the typical checking account balance is still above where it was at the same time a year ago, the data provide a more nuanced picture than other national aggregate figures that suggest Americans’ wallets are in better shape. The analysis reflects the Chase checking account balances of 1.8 million families through October.

Job losses have also disproportionately impacted lower-income workers, and the expiration of a handful of pandemic aid programs at the end of the year may further exacerbate financial strain.

“With liquid assets falling across the board for American families, it’s evident that low-income families and jobless workers may become even more financially vulnerable should relief programs expire,” Fiona Greig, co-president of the Institute, said in a statement.

JPMorgan Chase Institute, part of the biggest U.S. bank, estimates 9.4 million people are on track to lose their unemployment benefits at the end of the month without congressional action. The vast majority of those people are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program that offers jobless benefits to those not traditionally eligible like gig workers.

And when families’ jobless benefits run out, their spending is expected to “drop sharply,” and they may fall behind on their mortgage payments, according to the institute.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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