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stimulus check spendingPassed on March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided Americans with one-time economic impact payments, commonly referred to as stimulus checks. Under the bill, individuals and families are eligible for either a full or reduced benefit based on their adjusted gross income (AGI). There have been many questions surrounding the stimulus checks, including who is eligible, when payments will be received, how Americans will spend the money and if there may be a second round.


In this study, we dove into some of those questions by analyzing the results of a survey conducted on SmartAsset’s website between April 10, 2020 and April 20, 2020. In the survey we asked three questions:

  • Do you expect to receive a check from the COVID-19 stimulus bill?
  • How do you primarily plan to use your check?
  • Do you have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency savings fund?

We discuss trends in the responses generally and also examine them in a granular capacity according to gender and age. For more information on our survey, its results and how we put the findings together, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Many Americans are unsure whether they qualify for a stimulus check. A relatively high percentage of respondents to our survey did not know if they would receive a stimulus check. As a result, only 66.72% of individuals said that they expected to receive either the full or reduced benefit under the CARES Act – a percentage well below our estimate that nearly nine in 10 Americans would receive some kind of benefit from the COVID-19 stimulus package.
  • Survey respondents most commonly reported that they would primarily use stimulus checks to cover necessary expenses. More than half of adults – 52.09% – said they would primarily plan to use money received on needs such as rent and food. All other spending categories had much lower percentages. Putting the money into savings was the next most popular category, at 21.56%.
  • Less than a third of respondents who expect a stimulus check have enough saved in an emergency savings account. Though conventional financial wisdom suggests you should have savings that can cover three months’ worth of expenses, six months’ worth may be a better figure to shoot for during a recession. To gauge their preparedness for a potential recession, we asked survey respondents who expected a stimulus check if they had three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in case of an emergency. Only 32.47% of these adults replied that they had enough saved.

Uncertainty Under the CARES Act

A high percentage of Americans were – and perhaps may still be – uncertain of whether they were or are eligible to receive a stimulus check under the CARES Act. According to an online survey posted on SmartAsset’s website with more than 2,000 respondents, almost 18% of individuals did not know if they would receive a stimulus check.

Uncertainty about receiving a check varied more by age than gender. Approximately 17% of men and 18% of women did not know if they would receive a benefit. Meanwhile, more than 20% of respondents between the ages of 55 and 64 were uncertain as to whether they would receive a check, but less than 15% of individuals between the ages of 35 and 44 shared that uncertainty. The table below shows how, according to age, Americans responded to our first survey question: Do you expect to receive a check from the COVID-19 stimulus bill?

How Americans Are Spending Their Stimulus Checks

Of the roughly two-thirds of SmartAsset survey respondents who expected to receive either the full or reduced benefit, more than half said that they would use the money on needs such as rent and food. Saving and paying off loans or debt were the next most popular categories to which individuals planned to allocate their stimulus money. The chart below shows the full breakdown of responses.

Similar percentages of men and women (16.24% and 16.80%, respectively) responded that they planned to use the money to pay off loans or debt. However, responses from men and women diverged between the choices of spending the money on needs vs. investing it. A higher percentage of women said they would primarily use the money on needs (e.g. rent, food, etc.) while more men said they would invest the money. Women were also more likely than men to say they planned to save the money (22.13% of women vs. 20.10% of men).

These differences between male and female respondents are perhaps unsurprising given the breakdown of responses by gender to the third question in our survey: Do you have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency savings fund? More men than women responded yes. Specifically, of individuals expecting to receive a stimulus check, less than 30% of women had three to six months’ worth of expenses saved, but close to 40% of men had that amount at the ready in an emergency fund. Men, who responded as having more in savings than their female counterparts, would likely be able to invest their money more easily.

Beyond analyzing differences in how men and women expected to spend their stimulus checks, we looked at differences across age groups. Respondents between the ages of 35 and 54 were the most focused on using their stimulus checks to cover needs. About 59% of survey participants between the ages of 35 and 44 said they would primarily use the money they’d receive to cover essential expenses such as food and rent. A slightly lower percentage of participants between the ages of 45 and 54, 57%, responded in a similar fashion.

Though more than 19% of respondents ages 35 to 44 were also focused on saving, respondents aged 25 to 34 were most likely to say they would primarily save their stimulus money. More than a quarter of them – 27.31% – answered that saving would be their priority. Even younger adults between the ages of 18 and 24 followed closely behind – 24.51% of them planned to keep their money in a savings account. That age group (18 to 24) were also the most likely (at 7.84%) to say that they would invest the money, either in the stock market or through a retirement account. The full breakdown of responses by age is shown below.

A Second Round?

As previously noted, only 32.47% of survey respondents who expected to receive a stimulus check had three to sixth months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. With more than 22 million Americans filing for unemployment between mid-March and mid-April, many reporters, economists and politicians have questioned whether the one-time stimulus checks are enough to sustain Americans through the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, there has been some discussion about a second round of checks or some other program to help Americans during these trying times. Though no second bill has been passed as of yet, the second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan funding may put even more pressure on lawmakers to get more money to individuals along with businesses.

Data and Methodology

All figures in this report come from an online survey posted on SmartAsset’s site between April 10, 2020 and April 20, 2020. We asked the following three questions:

  • Do you expect to receive a check from the COVID-19 stimulus bill?
  • How do you primarily plan to use your check?
  • Do you have three to six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency savings fund?

The total sample size was 2,034 adults, including 1,357 who anticipated receiving a stimulus check. Of the 1,357 respondents who anticipated receiving a check, 1,127 responded to the second survey question and 1,047 responded to the third survey question. We used the largest survey size possible when discussing metrics in each section. Data on gender and age of respondents comes from Google Analytics.

Tips for Making Smart Financial Decisions During a Recession

  • Make sure you get your stimulus check if you expect one. Many stimulus check payments have been made already. As of April 17, 2020, close to 90 million payments had been distributed, according to IRS data. However, some Americans may still be waiting. If you expect a stimulus check but haven’t received one yet, take a look at the Get My Payment tool at irs.gov. There you can find information about your payment type and status. Additionally, if you are still not sure if you are eligible for the benefit, check out SmartAsset’s coronavirus stimulus calculator.
  • Keep your budget top of mind. One of the best ways to save more is through budgeting. Our budget calculator can help with this. Beyond letting you see how much you spend each month and what sixth months of expenses would look like, you can see how cutting back on discretionary expenses can increase your savings rate.
  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to ride out a financial downturn. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in just five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/mphillips007

Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.
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