By Chris Tomlinson
Money isn’t everything, but it apparently plays a bigger role in a person’s happiness and health than you might think.
Putting aside platitudes about love and faith, there is a bottom line for almost everything in our capitalist society, from the food we eat to where we live and to the health care we purchase. Two new studies bring the importance of what some call a person’s financial health into sharper focus.
For many, happiness is apparently having a good credit score, according to The Chase Slate 2016 Credit Outlook Survey. Almost 60 percent of Houstonians say a higher credit score will play an important role in making them happy, and 68 percent of area residents want to improve their scores. The poll was sponsored by Chase Card Services, the credit card arm of JPMorgan Chase and Co.
“Goals have price tags, and sometimes we can’t pay for them with cash, so we need some sort of credit or a loan to get there,” said Farnoosh Torabi, a Chase financial education partner involved in the survey. “You can feel stressed because your credit isn’t what it should be, and it can impact your ability to achieve your goals, whether it’s to finance a house, a car or a college education.
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Consumers said they were committed to doing what was necessary to improve their credit ratings. They promise to pay their debts on time, and many plan to pay off their credit cards. But only 39 percent say they have a personal budget.
Taking those steps, though, shows remarkable maturity and a willingness to accept delayed gratification. But it is part of a larger trend following the Great Recession, where Americans in general are paying down debt and increasing savings.
Women tend to be less satisfied with their credit scores and more interested in improving them at a rate of 36 percent, compared with 28 percent of men. A whole bunch of Americans, though, either don’t understand credit, don’t care or worry about what they may find.
Thirty-eight percent of Houstonians don’t know their scores, the survey found, and of those, 29 percent have never tried to improve their scores. Those rates are also in line with national results. People over 40 were much more worried about their credit than younger adults, 43 percent to 29 percent.
“As with many important matters, we don’t deal with financial issues until we have to,” Torabi said. “Our lives are busy, we have many responsibilities, and while money is important, it falls to the bottom of the list until there is a real immediate need.”
Young people’s sense of optimism and invincibility helps explain why they don’t worry about their credit scores. It also explains their low enrollment rates in health insurance.
Failing to pre-plan can lead to disappointment when you decide you need a new car, but it can also shorten your life if you fall ill.
Cancer patients facing bankruptcy are more likely to die than those with good finances. Researchers at the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington linked cancer registry files to federal bankruptcy court records and found that financial stress boosted mortality rates.
Researchers used health care records to compare patients with similar chances of survival and found that when all other factors are equal, those in bankruptcy are up to 2.5 times more likely to die. The study — by the National Institutes of Health and peer-reviewed in the Journal of Clinical Oncology — was first to link mortality rates with financial stress.
“Because financial distress appears to have a significant negative impact on health outcomes, we believe that cancer care facilities and oncology practitioners may need to consider the financial health of their patients as a matter of course,” lead researcher Dr. Scott Ramsey said. “Strategies that ensure access to and completion of recommended therapies should be an integral part of cancer care.”
Medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S., and cancer patients are 2.5 times more likely to file for bankruptcy than those diagnosed with other diseases, according to a study Ramsey led in 2013.
The importance of financial education and planning is abundantly clear. Happiness from achieving personal goals is dependent on our ability to finance those goals. Lacking good health insurance and financial wherewithal could significantly reduce your chances of surviving a health crisis.
Dozens of groups are fighting to change how we teach children about money, and how we ensure everyone has equal access to health care, but improvements will be slow in coming.
Personal responsibility is the only option currently available, and one we must all embrace.