While it's true that many positive trends point toward an improving economic environment (i.e. unemployment, bankruptcy filings and mortgage delinquencies are finally at pre-recession levels), the real-life financial health of American households tells a different story. Here are just a few of the challenges families face today:

  • The median household income is below pre-2000 levels;

  • One in four consumers do not pay their bills on time;

  • Sixty percent of households do not have a budget; and

  • National homeownership levels have fallen to 1993 levels.

There's also the shadow cast by a looming student loan crisis. With 37 million Americans owing more than $1.3 trillion in student loans (and climbing), we see parallels to the subprime market prior to the mortgage crisis.

At BALANCE, where we provide financial counseling to credit union members on topics such as home buying, bankruptcy and credit management, we see firsthand the effect student loan debt has on consumers. Roughly one in three phone calls we receive come from members asking for student loan repayment assistance. Often times it's the parents phoning because their Social Security is being garnished and they were unaware of what it meant to co-sign on a student loan.

Even the most basic gauge of financial health – a savings account – has taken a hit in the family home. According to research conducted by the Federal Reserve, 47% of respondents said they could not come up with $400 if a financial emergency arose.

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