New Payoff Study Finds Nearly 1 in 4 Americans and 1 in 3 Millennials Suffer From PTSD-Like Symptoms Caused by Financially Induced Stress

Company Expands Trials to Further Validate New Method Using Online
Therapeutic Techniques Initially Shown to Significantly Minimize Effects
of ‘Acute Financial Stress’

the leading financial wellness company innovating at the intersection of
psychology and finance, today released a first-of-its-kind study showing
23 percent of Americans – and 36 percent of Millennials – experience a
debilitating degree of stress surrounding their finances, resulting in
pathological effects on their thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are
most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Galen Buckwalter, world-renowned psychological research scientist
and Chief Science Officer at Payoff with more than 25 years of
experience and over 150 peer-reviewed published articles, identified
this profile of PTSD while studying how personality relates to financial
behaviors – a similarity with PTSD was not the initial focus of the
study. Dr. Buckwalter has spent years researching PTSD among members of
the military and front line humanitarian workers, which has uniquely
positioned him to identify symptoms resulting from financial stress that
are indistinguishable from symptoms of PTSD.

“As I analyzed our initial research on financial personality, I began to
realize people were reporting on a psychological and emotional level the
same symptoms I was familiar with from separate research I’ve done with
PTSD,” said Dr. Galen Buckwalter, chief science officer at Payoff. “When
we re-analyzed the research and conducted new studies focusing on PTSD
the similarities of financial stress and symptoms of PTSD were an
obvious and unfortunate reality.”

Despite years of anecdotal evidence of the detrimental effects of
financially induced stress, the study from Payoff’s
Science Team
is the first to examine the effects current economic
circumstances have on individual mental health. People suffering from
this condition have behavior grounded in denial and avoidance that isn’t
rational or by choice, and results in an increased inability to plan,
organize and manage one’s financial life, while simultaneously
experiencing a full range of symptoms associated with PTSD. These
include agitation, irritability, hypervigilance, self-destructive
behavior and isolation that can lead to an inability to have loving
feelings towards others. The Payoff team dubbed this new condition Acute
Financial Stress (AFS).

“There was a sense on the part of some mental health professionals who
were told about AFS that it must be ‘PTSD-lite’ and that study
participants must be exaggerating their symptoms,” continued Dr.
Buckwalter. “However, it was the universal experience of a variety of
experts who observed participant interviews, either live or on video,
that these people are living with a devastating condition and that their
symptoms are profound and life-altering, leaving each of them feeling
incapable of making even the smallest step toward positive change. This
is clearly not ‘PTSD-lite.’”

The psychological effect of this intense and pervasive stress was the
focus of a number of Payoff studies, including the largest one analyzing
data collected by Survey Sampling International (SSI). Acute financial
stress and associated symptoms were widely reported in the 2,011
respondents who completed Payoff’s survey. Twenty-three percent of
survey respondents met criteria as symptomatic for PTSD in the three
most important and required dimensions: 1) Intrusive thoughts, 2)
feelings of detachment and avoidance, and 3) behavioral arousal.

Payoff defines the 23.2 percent of responders who met the total criteria
for PTSD related to financial events as positive for Acute Financial
Stress. When considering only Millennials (22 to 29 years of age), 35.3
percent met the criteria for AFS. A clear pattern of statistical
associations was apparent between AFS and credit and financial

“When we consider today’s reality of stagnant incomes, limited savings
and high amounts of credit card and other debt, along with frequent
financial traumas such as defaults, evictions and aggressive debt
collection, these findings should trigger alarm bells for our society to
address the challenges with debt millions are facing,” said Scott
Saunders, founder and CEO of Payoff. “This research has added a level of
urgency to the work we are doing at Payoff to help our Members get ahead
financially by helping them understand the psychological effects of debt
and what steps can be taken to reduce this stress.”

In response to the discovery and significant prevalence of Acute
Financial Stress, Payoff has begun testing and validating a scalable
method to help people address the negative psychological effects of
debt. Early research has shown the program designed by Payoff’s Science
Team of clinical psychologists, neuroscientists, data scientists and
psychometricians can drastically reduce AFS symptoms by more than 70
percent. Payoff is expanding the study size to further validate the new
program, with plans to introduce it during the second half of 2016.

Payoff’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Galen Buckwalter discusses his
research into Acute Financial Stress and the impact this stress has on
people in this short video here:

For more information on Payoff’s Science Team please visit:
And for more information on the company please visit:

About Payoff (

Founded in 2009, Payoff, Inc. is a financial wellness company that
applies science, psychology and technology to help Members reinvent
their relationship with money – accelerating their journey to financial
well-being. Payoff empowers Members through an integrated package of
products and services that includes a loan to refinance past credit card
debt, support from dedicated Member Advocates, access to ongoing
education and the consistent application of psychometric research and
psychology to drive positive and sustained behavior change along the
path to financial wellness. Payoff’s Board of Directors includes Joe
Saunders (former Visa CEO), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post
Founder), Mohamed El-Erian (former Pimco CEO), Sean Park (Anthemis Group
Founder), and Jim Lane (former Goldman Sachs partner).


For Payoff, Inc.
Ronald Quintero, 323-761-6600