Good economy or bad, Americans are still making financial New Year’s resolutions – and still not keeping them

Debt.com has asked the same questions every year for the past three years – and the majority of survey respondents say the same thing each time.

Do you have any financial resolutions for this year? Yes No
2020 73.54% 26.46%
2019 65.37% 34.63%
2018 77.28% 22.72%

“Save more money” has been Americans’ favorite financial resolution every year with the exception of 2018 – when the most selected response was to “pay off my credit card debt.”

What’s your financial resolution? 2020 2019 2018
Pay off my credit card debt 61.51% 58.35% 70.46%
Save more money 67.08% 65.74% 66.70%
Spend less to keep a balanced budget 44.99% 45.97% 47.49%
Stop using credit cards 23.39% 24.67% 30.89%
Start investing 20.54% 16.25% 15.64%
Buy a car 14.24% 16.18% 12.16%
Pay off student loans 16.51% 12.23% 12.45%
Buy a home 14.76% 13.54% 11.87%

It’s not surprising that Americans wanted to pay down their credit card debt most in 2018. That year, Debt.com had the most replies to “running up/maxing out my credit card balances” as the biggest financial regret from the prior year.

What’s your biggest financial regret from the last year? 2020 2019 2018
Running up/maxing out my credit card balances 35.12% 30.66% 44.43%
I don’t have any financial regrets 26.00% 30.02% 22.85%
Missing payments and damaging my credit score 23.16% 23.31% 23%
Letting a debt go into collections 17.79% 19.17% 18.56%
Draining all the money from my savings account 18.56% 17.42% 17.53%
Making a big purchase on a credit card because it didn’t fit my budget 11.43% 10.61% 13.48%
Using money out of my 401(k) or IRA 6.98% 7.45% 7.49%
Going overboard on a vacation because it cost too much 5.06% 4.04% 4.79%

Each year, the majority of survey respondents tell us they didn’t have a New Year’s resolution related to debt, money or credit in the past.

In years past have you made New Year’s resolutions related to debt, money or your credit? Yes No
2020 43.62% 56.38%
2019 38.72% 61.28%
2018 43.59% 56.41%

And most respondents probably don’t make financial resolutions, because most don’t think they work.

Why don’t you make financial resolution? 2020 2019 2018
I never make resolutions because I don’t think they work 51.03% 53.16% 49.60%
My finances are so bad that I can’t figure out where to start 25.44% 22.74% 25.94%
I have bigger fish to fry in my life right now 16.55% 17.05% 19.79%
My finances are perfect, so I don’t need financial resolutions 6.98% 7.05% 4.68%

And it looks like financial New Year’s resolutions don’t work for most Americans. Consistently for three years straight, the majority of our survey respondents have told us that they didn’t reach their goals.

Did you keep them and reach your goal? Yes No
2020 42.78% 57.22%
2019 39.17% 60.83%
2018 36.55% 63.45%

For those who do achieve their financial resolutions, it takes most survey respondents a full year to get it done.

How long did it take you to achieve your resolution? 2020 2019 2018
I worked the whole year to keep my resolution 46.91% 38.19% 42.92%
It took more than that year, but I finally reached my goal 30.45% 35.92% 31.60%
It took me about half a year 14.40% 16.83% 17.92%
I knocked it out within just a few months 8.23% 9.06% 7.55%

Conversely, it took those who stopped working on their financial New Year’s resolutions a full year before throwing in the towel. So they definitely gave it a try before saying making a resolution just doesn’t work for them.

How long was it before you stopped working on the resolution? 2020 2019 2018
I worked all year, but couldn’t make it happen 35.29% 38.41% 42.39%
I kept it up for a months, but then I got busy/distracted 32.51% 32.36% 29.62%
I made the resolution, but never made a plan to make it happen 21.67% 19.62% 19.29%
I started working, but forgot about it in less than a month 10.53% 9.60% 8.70%

Methodology: Debt.com surveyed 1,326 people and asked ten questions related to personal finance and the New Year to understand consumer behavior around their money resolutions. People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. The survey was conducted from Dec. 27, 2019 to Jan. 12, 2020. *In 2019 Debt.com surveyed 2,100 people using the same type of consumer-focused questions regarding personal finance New Year resolutions utilizing SurveyMoney. And in 2018 Debt.com surveyed 1,349 people with the same survey tool.