When asked whether “financial stability” or “moving up the income ladder” is more important, 77% of the participants in the U.S. Financial Diaries (USFD) research study chose “financial stability.” This response illustrates the high level of financial uncertainty and unpredictability that these households face. Many factors contribute to feelings of financial instability: insufficient income, unpredictable expenses, a lack of savings, inadequate financial management, and reliance on complicated or poorly designed financial products and services. This research note focuses on how people earn and receive income.

This note provides an early glimpse at USFD findings. At the time of this writing (October 2013), data collection for the USFD is complete in some regions of the country and ongoing in others. We are conducting an extensive process of data cleaning and validation that will continue over the next several months. As a result, the sample-wide data presented show patterns and trends that we believe to be accurate, but the specific numbers will likely change in the final data set. In addition to sample-wide data, we focus on a deeper analysis of data from Kentucky, where we have had more time to clean the data. All the data are self-reported.

USFD is a joint initiative of NYU Wagner’s Financial Access Initiative (FAI) and The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI). Leadership support for USFD is provided by the Ford Foundation and the Citi Foundation, with additional support and guidance from the Omidyar Network.