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Americans are suffering from financial stress. Here’s what you can do about it

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc | DigitalVision | Getty Images

We are tasked today with making many financial decisions, from managing our student loans to contributing to retirement accounts.

Plus there’s paying credit card debt on time and keeping our credit score as high as possible.

All of these are important, because our financial future is at stake and we all want to be financially secure and healthy.

Some of the numbers in the larger economy are good for household finances; the unemployment rate is down and inflation is very low as well.

Yet the personal finances of Americans as revealed in the National Financial Capability Study tells a different story.

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Take a look at our measure of “financial anxiety.”

More than half of Americans (53%) agree that “thinking about my personal finances can make me feel anxious.” And drilling down gives an additional peek at financial stress: As many as 44% of Americans agreed that “discussing my finances can make my heart race or make me feel stressed.”

The numbers, while large, even hide sizeable differences among subgroups. A whopping 63% of millennials, defined as those 18 to 34 years old, said they are financially anxious, and 55% feel stressed. Women, as well, are a lot more financially anxious than men; 57% of women said they felt financially anxious, versus 47% of men. And 49% of women feel stressed when discussing their finances, versus 38% of men.

Other indicators in the study show that financial distress is still common among many households, irrespective of some of the good signs in the economy.

In a previous column for CNBC + Acorns Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow, I reported that 31% of Americans are financially fragile; they could not come up with $2,000 to address an unexpected need within a month.

Half of Americans said they are just getting by financially. Only 41% have tried to figure out their retirement savings needs. Many than half said they worry about running out of money in retirement.

Financial stress can take a toll on our heath, not to mention productivity. There are at least three initiatives that can be taken to address these numbers that will ensure individuals are better equipped to deal with their finances.

  • One is to teach personal finance in school and college so young people can familiarize themselves with money management as soon as possible. I wrote about that in another one of my columns.
  • Second, we need financial wellness programs in the workplace. In the same way employers provide a gym for worker fitness, they can make provisions for their financial health as well.
  • Technology, too, can be used to help people make good financial decisions, from apps to financial literacy games.

One thing is clear, we need to take the stress out of our finances.

— Lusardi is an economist and the Denit Trust Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Economics and Accountancy at The George Washington University School of Business, where she also serves as the Academic Director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. She is also a member of the CNBC Financial Wellness Council.

CHECK OUT: Suze Orman: ‘Do not let these markets scare you — you want these markets to go down’ via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.