Santander US Middle-Income Survey Finds Majority of Americans Remained Optimistic in 2023, See Headwinds Ahead in 2024

01/17/2024
  • Holiday gift giving seen as a reflection of financial prosperity, with seven in 10 spending more or above 2022 levels.
  • Two-thirds expect the United States to enter recession in 2024.
  • Auto demand remains strong with vehicles needed to support workers and U.S. economy.

Santander Holdings USA, Inc. (“Santander US”) today announced findings from a new survey that shows middle-income American consumers were feeling optimistic in the fourth quarter of 2023, with 70% of respondents believing they are on the right track toward achieving financial prosperity and 80% believing they would achieve financial prosperity in the next 10 years. Less than a quarter described themselves as “financially insecure,” down four percentage points from the first quarter. Meanwhile, seven in 10 said they were spending at least as much as the previous year if not more on holiday gift giving, and a majority said they believed their gift giving reflects their own financial prosperity.

Despite the optimistic view, middle-income Americans acknowledge there are headwinds with two-thirds reporting that they expect the United States will enter a recession in 2024. The majority of respondents (57%) say they have already delayed a major financial decision due to concerns about a recession. Inflation remains a primary concern along with rising healthcare premiums and student debt. In fact, while the majority of middle-income Americans (62%) are setting financially related goals, only one third are highly confident they can achieve their goals.

“While there are positive signals across the U.S. economy, American households continue to face financial challenges in their day-to-day lives that are contributing to their recession expectations. At Santander, we remain dedicated to supporting our customers by helping them to navigate these headwinds so they can achieve a financially prosperous future.”

Tim Wennes
Santander US CEO

To offset financial stressors in 2024, some consumers are taking advantage of higher interest rates on savings. According to the survey, 40% of middle-income Americans had moved money into higher-yielding accounts since interest rates began to increase in 2022. This is an improvement from 32% in the second quarter, but still six in 10 have not acted.

The study, which built upon previous research, assessed middle-income Americans’ current financial state and future aspirations, with a focus on how current economic conditions have impacted their households. It also explored their financial relationships with identified drivers of prosperity, including banking providers and vehicle access.

Vehicle Access

More than eight in 10 believe vehicle access is important for supporting the U.S. economy so workers can get to/from work. Job-related income remains the #1 source to support financial prosperity for middle-income Americans, and three in four of Americans rely on a vehicle to get to work. Only 45% of middle-income workers have daily access to public transportation. Overwhelmingly middle-income Americans are working in-person at least some of the time (84%), increasing demand for vehicles. This includes 73% who are working in-person three or more days a week. The survey also found 50% of middle-income Americans delayed purchasing a vehicle in 2023 due to cost, while 42% are considering purchasing a new or used vehicle in 2024.

2024 Financial Challenges

Inflation remained the top obstacle to financial prosperity (51%), though down from its peak of 57% in the second quarter. Inflation also was cited as the top reason why middle-income Americans believe a recession is looming in 2024. The survey also found 56% of these households will be impacted financially by higher health care premiums in 2024. Additionally, of those with responsibility for student-loan debt (36%), 67% say the resumption of federal student-loan payments in 2023 is having an impact on their ability to achieve financial prosperity.

This research on financial prosperity, conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of Santander US, surveyed 2,204 Americans who are bank and/or financial services customers, ages 18-70. Survey participants are employed or looking for work and own/use at least one financial product and are the primary or shared-decision maker on household finances with household income in the “middle-income” range of ~$47,000 to $142,000.  This fourth quarter study was conducted in December 2023. The interviews were conducted online, and the margin of error is +/- 2 percentage points for the total audience at a 95% confidence level. The data was weighted to target population proportions for a representative sample based on age, gender, ethnicity, region, and education.

The full report and more information about the Santander US survey is available here.
Santander US Paths to Prosperity
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