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What Americans Are Searching For During the Pandemic — And What This Tells Us About Their Finances

Whether it’s from the 24-hour news cycle or the abundance of people wearing face masks in public, the constant reminders of the impact of COVID-19 are unavoidable. The financial impact is especially prevalent, with millions relying on funding from the federal government.

While stuck inside, it’s only natural for people to turn to Google to answer some of their most pressing financial questions. We took a deep dive into what Americans are searching for to better understand how people are coping with their personal finances during the coronavirus pandemic — and what that means for their future.

Key Takeaways

  • Americans are concerned about their financial future and are turning to Google to answer their money-related questions.
  • Americans are in pursuit of financial literacy, with searches around “online finance courses” up by 200%.
  • Nearly one-third (68%) of the rising U.S. mortgage-related searches are related to payment relief or assistance.

Americans Feel Financially Unstable

We researched typical search terms related to finances to understand what questions Americans are asking during the coronavirus pandemic.

Uncertainty Around Affording Mortgage Payments

With unemployment rates in the U.S. reaching a record high since 1934, Americans are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments. While millions turn to the Internet to learn more about mortgages, as of May 2020, related questions have taken a turn.

Out of the top 25 rising topics searched in the U.S. related to mortgages, 17 of them pertain to the pandemic, including terms like “deferment,” “forbearance,” and “assistance.” Examples of those terms, and their month-over-month (MoM) search traffic growth, include:

  • Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act: ↑ 5,000% MoM
  • Forbearance on Mortgage: ↑ 500% MoM
  • Mortgage Deferment: ↑ 300% MoM

The search “rent and mortgage cancellation act” was a breakout term in early May 2020, meaning it was searched more than 5,000% more than the previous month. For some background, this bill would eliminate rental and mortgage payments on primary residences for the duration of the U.S. national emergency.

So, who’s most interested in if they will need to pay their mortgage or rent in the coming months?

Pandemic Searches Paying Mortgages

To determine which states are most interested in learning more about the act, we totaled the amount of search interest in each state for each related query. States that were considered most concerned showed the highest overall average interest in the topic.

Increased Need for Free Groceries

Feeding America, a nonprofit organization with a nationwide network of food banks, announced it was estimating needing $1.4 billion in additional resources over the next six months to provide for those struggling with hunger. North of the border, four of Canada’s largest companies partnered to produce 13,000 meals per day for newly food-insecure Torontonians.

Not only are grocery store shelves becoming bare during the COVID-19 crisis, but Feeding America estimates an additional 46% of Americans will experience food insecurity as a result. While the top food-related search queries are typically “food near me” or “delivery food,” trends have been much different as of May 2020.

  • Emergency Food Stamps: ↑ 130% MoM
  • How to Apply for Food Stamps: ↑ 50% MoM
  • Food Banks Near Me: ↑ 50% MoM
  • Apply for Food Stamps: ↑ 50% MoM
  • Food Pantry Near Me: ↑ 40% MoM

Recent searches reflect the demand for food across the U.S., but they also remind us that COVID-19 has impacted millions when it comes to affording basic necessities.

Americans Are Searching for Ways to Stay Afloat

Americans are searching for ways to cover regular expenses while coping with their new reality.

Increased Pursuit of Financial Literacy

There’s no doubt the pandemic has pushed financial talk to the forefront of millions of minds. Many of the rising searches were around the topic of improving financial literacy.

  • Online Finance Courses: ↑ 200% MoM
  • Foundational Finance: ↑ 170% MoM

The search term “online finance courses” saw an all-time high in mid-April 2020, up 200% from the previous month. Massachusetts, Tennessee, and North Carolina were the states most interested in the topic.

According to a 2020 study on economic and personal finance education in U.S. schools, only “21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance.” It’s no wonder, then, Americans are looking to educate themselves during a sudden shift in the economy.

One thing is for sure: The pandemic has proven the importance of having more than investments such as a 401(k). It’s shown how crucial it is to have an emergency savings fund as a safety net in times of need.

Increased Interest in Best Time to Invest

With the stock market taking tumultuous turns during the pandemic, we wanted to know what questions people had about investing during this time. We noticed an increase in interest in the stock market and if it was the time to invest:

  • Best Stocks to Buy During This Downturn: ↑ 800% MoM
  • Why Stocks Are Going Up: ↑ 450% MoM

Searchers in the U.S. were especially interested in investing in one category specifically: oil.

These were searches that grew in popularity:

  • Best Way to Invest in Oil: ↑ 4,750% MoM
  • Should I Invest in Oil: ↑ 500% MoM
  • How to Invest in Oil: ↑ 400% MoM
  • Oil Stocks to Invest In: ↑ 400% MoM
  • Oil Stocks: ↑ 400% MoM
  • Invest in Oil: ↑ 300% MoM
  • Oil Companies to Invest In: ↑ 300% MoM
  • How to Invest in Oil Futures: ↑ 300% MoM
  • How to Invest in Oil Stocks: ↑ 250% MoM

The search term “best way to invest in oil” has grown in popularity by 4,750% since April 2020. With the coronavirus pandemic pausing much of global transport, it’s brought oil demand down by 30%, which has tremendously devalued oil stocks. As a result, there’s been an increased interest in buying oil stocks while they’re down.

Pandemic Searches Investing In Oil

Similar to our previous approach for mortgage-related questions, we totaled the total amount of search interest in each state for each related term to find the states that were leading the charge behind questions regarding investing in oil.

Considering Tapping Into Their 401(k)s

Talk to any financial advisor, and they’ll agree that tapping into your 401(k) is harmful to your financial health for several reasons. In addition to losing the financial cushion for your future, you could endure an early withdrawal penalty, could be taxed twice, and will miss out on investment gains.

However, amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the CARES Act from Congress will temporarily waive the early withdrawal penalty and federal tax withholdings for retirement accounts. We used search queries to understand the interest around early 401K(k) withdrawals during the pandemic.

Pandemic Searches Cares Act

We reviewed search queries related to “401(k)” with the biggest increase from early April to May 2020 and found that the top five topics were related to early 401(k) withdrawal:

  • Cares Act 401(k) Withdrawal Rules: ↑ 5,000% MoM
  • Cares Act 401(k) Withdrawal: ↑ 3,000% MoM
  • 401(k) Withdrawal COVID: ↑ 850% MoM
  • 401(k) Cares Act: ↑ 650% MoM
  • Cares Act: ↑ 500% MoM

Financial experts encourage exploring all other avenues before tapping into your 401(k), such as using your emergency savings, temporarily using a credit card, or considering a loan. After all, you may rely on your retirement savings to hold you over in the future.

Increased Interest in Unemployment

As of May 4, 2020, 30 million Americans had filed for unemployment. So it’s no surprise that people are searching for topics around unemployment benefits and being furloughed:

  • What Does Furlough From Your Job Mean: ↑ 5,000% MoM
  • Supplemental Unemployment Benefits: ↑ 1,000% MoM
  • Federal Unemployment Benefits: ↑ 900% MoM

What surprised us was the increase of people looking for ways to get fired from their job – “how to get fired from your job” went up by 2,050% from April to May 2020. Reports show that about half of Americans make more money while they’re laid off than when they had jobs before the coronavirus pandemic.

The Takeaway

The search queries we analyzed during the COVID-19 crisis have told a story of financial unpreparedness for the current crisis. The good news is that what people search for today tells us what they will learn and take with them for the future.

Pandemic Searches Ig V2

Based on the search trends around housing, investing, retirement and affording necessities, we can see that Americans are concerned about their financial future and educating themselves on how to best prepare for “the new normal” in their lives.

Methodology: To see what topics were top of mind for Americans related to their finances, we used Google Trends to understand what was trending around niche topics such as paying for housing, investing, and income. As a result, those terms populated topics with the biggest increase in search queries within our date range on a scale ranging from 0 to 100.

To determine which states were the most and least concerned about each financial topic, we averaged the total amount of search interest each state had for each term. States with the highest averages were considered to have the most interest in each topic.

Sources: FeedingAmerica | Apartment List | CNN | NY1 | Forbes | Navit Money | Create and Cultivate | BLS

Sarah Archer
Sarah is a results-driven marketing manager and writer with expertise in leading content strategy and PR across diverse industries ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. When she’s not investigating personal finance strategies or travel rewards hacks, you’ll most likely find her outdoors hiking, biking or running.

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