The Financial Lives of Older Adults in the Era of COVID-19

Monday, June 8, 2020

By Jacquelyn Reineke, Manager and Heidi Johnson, Director, Financial Health Network

There is no denying that the COVID-19 crisis has turned the world upside down. Everyone has had to deal with daily changes to their routines and come to terms with a new normal, but vulnerable populations — in particular, aging Americans — have faced the most devastating consequences from this global pandemic, both to their health and to their finances.

Not only are individuals over the age of 65 more susceptible to the deadly virus, they’re also less likely to be familiar with the technology that has arisen to make life easier during this time, such as digital grocery shopping, online banking, and telemedicine (see sidebar for more). Furthermore, the uncertainty that has veiled the economy places an additional strain on those over 50 and approaching retirement age. That strain is even more pronounced among low-income households who are more likely to have lost income because of COVID-19, according to new data from the U.S. Financial Health Pulse.

Last year, our team met and followed 11 low- to moderate-income individuals over the age of 50 from across the country who generously shared how they are navigating their financial lives in their later years. Each person has faced or is facing some incredibly difficult challenges — from attempting to pay monthly bills and taking care of ailing family members to navigating multigenerational living and attempting to prepare for retirement — that are heightened by larger systemic and societal changes. They lead vibrant and complex lives that are often complicated by their lack of financial resources.

This group of 11 complex older adults is just a sample of the 56 million low- to moderate-income individuals over the age of 50 across the nation who are struggling to get by. This population is vast and growing, yet their voices are rarely heard. Their experiences of making ends meet during what are considered to be their golden years are seldom explored. While the interviews for this six-episode video series took place in 2019, current events are causing even more financial stress and squeezing resources for this group.

Now is the time to change that. This series, sponsored by AARP Foundation in collaboration with Chase, will bring the voices of older adults to the forefront in the hopes of engaging and fueling more individuals, companies, and organizations to develop much-needed, effective solutions to meet their needs.

The series will launch as part of EMERGE Live on June 25. Register here to be among the first to see it.

Designing Solutions for Older Adults

Our research has highlighted the many financial challenges that low- to moderate-income older adults face. Fintech solutions offered by banks, credit unions, startups, and other institutions can be helpful resources to older adults who seek tools for building their savings, managing their cash flow, and addressing other financial health needs. Recent research has shown that most older adults don’t use fintech tools, however, despite widespread use of devices such as smartphones and tablets.

To understand the barriers that older adults face in accessing fintech tools, we connected directly with members of this age group to understand their attitudes, preferences, and abilities to use technology to meet their financial health needs. Using a human-centered design approach, we identified design recommendations for creating financial health products that are appealing and useful for older adults. These recommendations, which are available in our report Fintech Over 50: Designing for Low- to Moderate-Income Older Adults, are grounded in the voices and financial lives of older adults to reflect the realities of their needs and preferences.

Providers of financial health solutions should include older adults in all stages of product design, including user testing, to rise above stereotypes and assumptions. Understanding their needs has never been more critical than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when both financial needs and access to support to meet those needs have rapidly shifted. Our research offers a starting point for financial health providers seeking to better understand and effectively design solutions for older adults.

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