Jan 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy
Axios Vibes

Why renters are feeling worse about their finances than homeowners

Data: Moody's Analytics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Moody's Analytics; Chart: Axios Visuals

Renters are among the most likely to describe their current financial situation as poor, while homeowners have a rosier take, according to the Axios Vibes survey by The Harris Poll.

Why it matters: Americans who rent their home have been through the wringer over the past few years, dealing with double-digit rent increases, while soaring home prices and mortgage rates pushed homeownership increasingly out of reach.

Axios Vibe Check: Renters feel 😒 about their finances; homeowners feel 🤑.

  • The data lines up with the vibes: The affordability of renting has plunged (😒), while most homeowners have seen the value of their homes surge (🤑).

By the numbers: 57% of renters in our poll described their current financial situation as "poor," compared with just 29% of homeowners.

  • Homeowners are nearly twice as likely to say they're getting ahead financially, compared to renters.
  • Nearly half of all renters (46%) said they didn't have the money at the time a bill was due over the past month compared to 29% of homeowners.
  • How they did it: The survey's findings were based on a nationally representative sample of 2,120 U.S. adults conducted online between Dec. 15-17, 2023. (More on the methodology.)

The big picture: The median asking rent in the U.S. is up 40% from the first quarter of 2020 — i.e., before the pandemic — according to the latest census data from the third quarter of 2023. In some regions, increases were higher.

  • Wages did not keep up. Average hourly earnings rose 20% from February 2020 to December 2023, per government data.
  • That means renters didn't keep pace with housing costs — with lots of variation by region and individual, of course — while inflation was pressuring the costs of everything else.

Key stat: In 2022, Americans crossed the "rent burdened" threshold — meaning the share of a typical household income needed to rent an average-price apartment went above 30%, per Moody's. (See the chart above.)

  • Last year, as income growth picked up and rent increases slowed, things improved — but only a smidge, leaving renters still burdened.

On the flip side: Homeowners were in a different boat. The value of their homes soared, while their monthly mortgage payments mostly did not.

  • The average rate on all the existing mortgages Americans hold right now is 3.5%, according to Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi. That's around half the going rate for a new mortgage.

The upshot: "Renters have a very thin financial buffer," said Lu Chen, a senior economist at Moody's. "While homeowners continue to build their wealth."

Flashback: The situation is markedly different from what happened after the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Back then, rents held fairly steady while home prices plummeted — putting a lot of mortgage holders underwater on their loans (owing more to the bank than their house was worth) and in precarious financial shape.
  • Bankruptcy data bears this out: The share of individual bankruptcies (known as Chapter 7) that were filed by homeowners was 54% in 2010, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.
  • But in 2023, homeowners were just 23.4% of bankruptcies — even though they made up 66% of the population.

The bottom line: According to the Axios Vibes poll, renters have a lot more angst about the economy than homeowners do — and based on the numbers we crunched, renters have a point.

Go deeper: Axios Vibes: America's unhappiest people

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