New Pulse Data Shows Stimulus Payments Jump Started Spending But Funds Slowest to Reach Low-Income Individuals

Lag in fund receipt highlights opportunity for innovation, provides lessons for future payments

Chicago, IL, May 20, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Financial Health Network, the nation’s authority on financial health, with support from the Citi Foundation, today released its first Financial Health Pulse Points brief featuring transactional data that highlights the effects of the two federal stimulus payments and tax refunds issued in early 2021 on account liquidity. The findings show that millions of people benefited from the federal stimulus and tax refunds between January and March of this year. Additionally, the data offers insights into how stimulus checks were utilized, the timeline of use, and changes in account balances by income level.

Top-line findings:

  • Stimulus payments and tax refunds caused account inflows to spike 33% in January and 42% in March.
  • Two weeks following the January stimulus payment, median outflows from liquid accounts increased by 31% ($1,288).
  • Two weeks following the March stimulus payment, median outflows from liquid accounts increased by roughly 31% ($1,791).
  • Spending increased in response to the stimulus payments in both January and March. The largest spikes in March were seen on dining, which increased 32% ($76) and healthcare and pharmacy, which increased 27% ($10).
  • A greater share of March stimulus payments remained in accounts two weeks after receipt of the funds, as the median increase in outflows as a percentage of stimulus payments was higher in January (93%) than in March (60%).
  • Income played a role in account balances due to stimulus payments and tax refunds. Households with incomes less than $30,000 saw a 143% increase in balances, a 79% increase for those with incomes $30,000-$59,999, and a 72% increase for those with incomes $60,000-$99,000. 

“The data clearly show that millions of people, particularly those with low incomes, benefited from stimulus payments and tax refunds in early 2021, but many saw a lag in receiving their payments,” said Thea Garon, senior director of the Financial Health Pulse at the Financial Health Network. “Policymakers can use these insights to inform how future relief policies are designed and delivered to get funds as quickly as possible to those who need them most.”

Pulse Points offers regular, timely updates on financial health in America using account and transaction data from the Financial Health Pulse. These briefs supplement the annual Pulse Trends Reports released each fall, which highlight broad trends on the financial health of Americans and how they spend, save, borrow and plan. Analysis for the Pulse Points is based on transactional and account data from approximately 500 members of USC's consumer panel who agreed to share their data through a secure platform that leverages Plaid’s API

About the Financial Health Network

The Financial Health Network is the leading authority on financial health. We are a trusted resource for business leaders, policymakers and innovators united in a mission to improve the financial health of their customers, employees and communities. Through research, advisory services, measurement tools, and opportunities for cross-sector collaboration, we advance awareness, understanding and proven best practices in support of improved financial health for all. For more on the Financial Health Network, go to and follow us on Twitter at @FinHealthNet.

About the Financial Health Pulse 

The Financial Health Pulse is supported by the Citi Foundation. Since the inception of the initiative in 2018, the Financial Health Network has collaborated with USC’s Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research to field the study to their online panel, the Understanding America Study. Study participants who agree to share their transactional and account data use Plaid’s data connectivity services to authorize their data for analysis. 



Graph of Balances in Liquid Accounts by Household Income Graph of Inflows and Outflows in Liquid Accounts by Household Income

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