More Than 47% of Americans Aren’t Investing Their Money

How do your investing habits compare to the rest of the country?

It’s a good time to be an investor. All three of the major stock indexes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite, have hit record highs lately. That means you’ve likely seen your fortune rise along with the market — but only if you’ve invested in stocks.

Many Americans aren’t taking advantage of this way to build wealth or any sort of investment, according to a new survey. GOBankingRates polled more than 1,000 adults to find out if they’re investing or saving money, and the results aren’t encouraging.

Nearly Half of Americans Aren’t Investing

When asked where they are currently investing or saving their money, over 47% of respondents said they weren’t taking advantage of any of the following investments:

  • Stocks (not including retirement accounts)
  • Bonds (not including retirement accounts)
  • Mutual funds (not including retirement accounts)
  • Exchange-traded funds, aka ETFs (not including retirement accounts)
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Real estate
  • Individual retirement account (including Roth IRAs)
  • 401(k)
  • Deposit accounts (savings, checking, etc.)

Many of those who are actually investing or saving seem to be playing it safe. The most common type of account among respondents was a deposit account, such as a savings or checking account. With these accounts, the risk of losing money is lower than it is with stocks and other investments — which makes them good short-term investments. But, compared to riskier investments, your money won’t grow nearly as much over the long run with deposit accounts because the interest rates are so low.

Survey Question: Where are you currently investing and/or saving your money?

Answer ChoicePercentage of Respondents
Deposit accounts (savings account, checking account, etc.)38.89%
401(k) (including Roth 401(k)s)17.36%
IRA (including Roth IRAs)15.16%
Stocks (not including retirement accounts)10.42%
Mutual funds (not including retirement accounts)

7.41%

Real estate5.56%
Bonds (not including retirement accounts)3.70%
ETFs (not including retirement accounts)2.31%
Cryptocurrency2.08%
None of the above47.69%

Although the survey found that the most common investing goal among respondents was saving for retirement, less than 20% said they are saving money in either a 401(k) or an IRA. The low percentage of Americans investing in retirement accounts is something to be concerned about, said Philip Weiss, a financial advisor and founder of Apprise Wealth Management. “If we don’t save and put some of our earnings to work to generate more income for us in retirement, our retirement life may be much less comfortable than we dreamed of,” he said.

When broken down by age and gender, the most popular response for nearly every group was “none of the above,” indicating that many Americans are not investing their money in some of the most common investment vehicles.

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Survey Question: Where are you currently investing and/or saving your money?

RespondentsMost Popular Answer ChoiceLeast Popular Answer Choice
Ages 18-2444.76% selected “None of the above”0.95% selected “ETFs”
Ages 25-3448.51% selected “Deposit Accounts”0.99% selected “Real Estate”
Ages 35-4448.91% selected “None of the above”4.38% selected “Cryptocurrency” and “Bonds” (tied)
Ages 45-5446.37% selected “None of the above”2.23% selected “Cryptocurrency”
Ages 55-6459.88% selected “None of the above”0.62% selected “Cryptocurrency”
Ages 65+43.33% selected “None of the above”0% selected “Cryptocurrency”
Female48.13% selected “None of the above”0.62% selected “Cryptocurrency”
Male47.12% selected “None of the above”3.14% selected “ETFs”

Not only are most Americans not putting their money in retirement accounts, but they’re also not investing outside of retirement accounts. The survey found that just 10% of respondents are investing in stocks outside of retirement accounts. Only 7% said they are investing in mutual funds — which are essentially baskets of investments, such as stocks and bonds — outside of retirement accounts. Less than 4% have investment bonds or are taking advantage of ETF investing. Investing in cryptocurrency was the least popular, with just 2% of respondents saying they are currently invested in digital currencies such as bitcoin.

investing survey

The survey found that older adults are more likely to not have any investing goals than adults ages 44 and younger. Older adults ages 55-64 are also the least likely of any age group to be investing or saving. Nearly 60% of this age group said they weren’t investing their money in any of the common investments and accounts listed in the survey. And, more women than men claimed they didn’t have any investing goals — 34% vs. 27%, respectively.

Also See: 13 Questions About Investing That People Ask the Most

A Majority of Investors Started Investing Before Age 45

When asked at what age they started investing in the stock market, 60% of respondents said they started before the age of 45. Of those, nearly 22% said they started investing between ages 18-24.

However, nearly 40% of respondents said they didn’t start investing until ages 45 and older. Of those, 12% of respondents said they didn’t start investing until ages 66 and older.

Survey Question: At what age did you start investing your money in the stock market (not including retirement accounts like a 401(k) or an IRA)?

AgesPercentage of Respondents
18-2421.95%
25-3117.21%
32-3811.11%
39-449.89%
45-5111.25%
52-589.62%
59-656.78%
66+12.20%

Men are much more likely to start investing at a young age, the survey found. Nearly 30% of men said they started investing between ages 18-24, while only 16% of women said they started investing in the stock market when they were in this age range. Instead, women revealed they were much more likely to wait until they were older to begin investing, with 45% saying they didn’t start until they were 45 and older, compared to 33% of men.

investing survey

Perhaps even more shocking was the high percentage of older adults who waited until later in life to start investing. The survey found that half of respondents ages 65 and older didn’t invest in the stock market until they were at least 66 years old.

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Nearly 1 in 4 Investors Have Less Than $500 Invested In Stocks

When asked to estimate how much they have invested in the stock market over a lifetime, the most common answer among respondents was “I don’t know.” The second-most common response after that was “less than $500,” with 24% of respondents choosing this amount.

However, nearly one-third of respondents said they have invested at least $1,000 in the stock market during their lifetime. Of those, 8% said they have invested more than $50,000.

Survey Question: To your best estimate, how much of your money have you invested over your lifetime in the stock market (not including retirement accounts)?

Answer ChoicePercentage of Respondents
Less than $50023.61%
$500-$9994.63%
$1,000-$2,4994.63%
$2,500-$4,9994.28%
$5,000-$9,9994.17%
$10,000-$49,9998.22%
More than $50,0008.22%
I don’t know42.45%

Not surprisingly, adults 65 and older are the most likely of any age group to have invested more than $50,000 in the stock market. About 16% of the 65-and-older age group said they have invested this much — likely because they’ve had the benefit of time to set more aside. Younger adults, on the other hand, are more likely to have invested less than $500.

Women and men were equally likely to say they have invested less than $500. However, men were more likely than women to say that they have invested $50,000 or more in the stock market — 10% vs. 6%, respectively.

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Few Americans Seek Investing Help

The survey found that only 14% of respondents consult with a financial advisor when investing in the stock market. An almost equal percentage take a do-it-yourself approach. About 5% said they use a mobile investing app, and 4% said they use an online broker. Just 2% said they use a robo-advisor.

However, the majority of respondents — 65% — said they don’t use any of these methods to invest.

investing survey

The survey found that adults 65 and older are more likely to consult with a financial advisor about their investments, with nearly 27% of this age group saying they invest with help from an advisor. On the other hand, young adults ages 18-24 are more likely than any other age group to use a robo-advisor or mobile app to invest.

Men were more likely to consult with a financial advisor than women — or to use any method, for that matter. Seventy-one percent of women claimed they didn’t use any of the survey options when investing.

Many Americans Say They Don’t Have Enough Money To Invest

The survey asked respondents who aren’t investing in the stock market to share why they’re not doing it. The top reason — with 34% of respondents choosing it — was “I don’t have enough money to invest.”

If you don’t think there’s enough room in your budget to invest, review your spending for the past year and categorize your expenses, said Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth. “Be honest with where you can change spending habits for the sake of additional savings,” he said. “If things are so tight there’s nothing to squeeze, or you’re just not willing to sacrifice your lifestyle, consider allocating any free time to things that can generate income.”

One way you can lower your risk is by investing in an exchange-traded fund rather than individual stocks. An ETF trades like a stock on the stock market. Unlike a stock, though, the performance of an ETF isn’t tied to the performance of an individual company. Instead, it’s a collection of many stocks, bonds or other securities.

Related: What is a Savings Bond?

Survey Question: If you’re not investing your money in the stock market (not including retirement accounts like a 401(k) or an IRA), why not?

Answer ChoicePercentage of Respondents
I don’t have enough money to invest34.03%
I have no interest in investing20.02%
I’m afraid I’ll lose money18.52%
I am investing in the stock market18.52%
I don’t know how to invest14%
I don’t need to invest — I have an IRA or 401(k)8.68%
I don’t have enough time to invest7.87%
Other1.85%

Another common reason why respondents said they aren’t investing was that they’re afraid to lose money. However, avoiding stocks altogether can be even riskier.

“If the goal is to save for retirement and you’ve chosen to put savings for it away in something like a savings account, you’re missing out on the opportunity to grow your money at a much faster rate,” Boneparth said. “While there are no guarantees when it comes to investing, typically disciplined and diversified investors do a lot better than what risk-free rates can do in a savings account, especially over longer periods of time.”

You could consider investing in an index fund, which tracks the performance of a particular stock market index. The fees for index funds tend to be lower than for other mutual funds, but slightly higher than for ETFs.

If you’re too afraid to invest in the stock market, look for safe investments with higher returns. For example, you could grow your money faster with a certificate of deposit or money market account because their interest rates tend to be higher than the rates on traditional savings accounts.

Additionally, real estate investing can be an alternative to investing in stocks — or another avenue to diversify your investments beyond stocks and deposit accounts. If you’re trying to figure out how to invest in real estate with no money, consider a real estate investment trust. A REIT is like a portfolio of investment properties. You can buy shares of REITs through a broker for a fraction of the cost of buying or making a down payment on investment properties.

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Start Investing Today

The best way to invest — regardless of the investment you choose — is to pay yourself first. That means having a certain amount from each paycheck automatically deposited into a savings or investment account.

“Paying yourself first helps remove the temptation to skip a contribution and spend funds on expenses other than savings,” Weiss said. “Contributing to your savings account on a consistent basis can play a significant role in helping you build a long-term nest egg.” It also can help you secure your future and create a cushion for financial emergencies.

The key to investing success is creating a plan and sticking to it. “Avoid trying to capitalize on the latest fad or trend,” Weiss said. And be careful about emotions that can cause you to sell a falling investment out of fear and buy a rising investment out of greed. Instead, focus on the long term and stay the course.

Click through to learn more about whether to invest during a recession.

More on Investing

Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 1,026 Americans from across the country between June 26 and July 9, 2019, asking six questions: 1) Where are you currently investing and/or saving your money? Select all that apply; 2) At what age did you start investing your money in the stock market (not including retirement accounts like an IRA or 401(k))?; 3) Which of the following reasons most closely matches your investing goals?; 4) To your best estimate, how much of your money have you invested over your lifetime in the stock market (not including retirement accounts)?; 5) If you’re not investing your money in the stock market (not including retirement accounts like a 401(k) or IRA), why not? Select all that apply; 6) Do you use any of the following when investing in the stock market? Select all that apply. GOBankingRates used Survata’s survey platform to conduct the poll.

About the Author

Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.

U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.

She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.