The new year could prove to be painful on the wallet for many consumers, particularly some college graduates and young families.
Budget shocks could add up to shortfalls of several hundred dollars a month in 2022 for some, as monthly student loan bills are set to resume in May, the prices for food and other items remain high and the future of the child tax credit looks extremely dim.
Many people could be making tough choices on what bills to pay, and possibly looking for ways to work extra hours or find higher paying jobs to deal with essential bills, such as rent, the mortgage, car payments and, yes, student loans.
Here's a look at what to expect:
Student loan debt could get thrown back on the pile of bills
Millions of borrowers had faced a looming Feb. 1 date for when they'd have to restart making payments on federal student loan debt. On Dec. 22, though, the U.S. Department of Education announced a 90-day extension to May 1 of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections.
After the Build Back Better negotiations hit a major roadblock earlier in December, we began to hear more bantering about the possibility of another extension. The fear of the potential impact of the omicron variant on the economy also is coming into play here.
Once the moratorium ends, those federal student loans on pause would once again accrue interest.
About 18 million borrowers will have gone nearly two years without having to make a student loan payment.
Extra money from the child tax credit isn't guaranteed
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., cut a big hole in the financial safety net for many families when he declared on Dec. 19 that he's a definite no on the current Build Back Better Act. What happens going forward remains unknown. Families who face financial challenges will need to plan on what they'll do without the monthly payments.
On average, families are looking at losing roughly $444 a month from the expanded child tax credit, based on December data.
The monthly payments involving the child tax credit were introduced as part of the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law last March. The child tax credit also became fully refundable, so even families with no income could get the full benefit, which is key to fighting childhood poverty.
The monthly payments were to be temporary, and set to run from July 15 through Dec. 15.
Biden's Build Back Better package raised hopes for extending the monthly payments into 2022. And it would make permanent the full credit available to children in families with low or no earnings in a year.
But without action by Congress, the child tax credit goes back to $2,000 per child — and there is no provision for monthly payments. This is one of those cases where families must start the New Year prepared for the possibility that the child tax credit won't be as favorable as it was in 2021.
Plan to pay more
Many consumers anticipate that they need to factor rising prices into their budgets, according to a new KPMG Consumer Pulse Survey's Grocery Forecast for 2022.
According to the survey, consumers are expecting to spend an average of $611 a month on groceries in 2022, compared to $532 a month in 2021. Price hikes in the Midwest are even worse for consumers. In the Midwest, the consumer price index jumped by 7.3% in November from a year ago, outpacing the national gain of 6.8%.
Consumers have limited plans of attack here: Find lower cost alternatives, comparison shop, pay more attention to sales and coupons, stop buying some items entirely and, sometimes, just hand over more money to buy what you need.
"Inflation is probably already peaking at the end of 2021," said Bill Adams, senior economist for PNC Financial Services Group. He expects demand to cool for appliances, electronics and the like, putting a cap on price hikes there.
A recession isn't in the cards for 2022, according to many economists, but they acknowledge that our financial health will depend on the path of the virus.
Not all is bleak
We are looking at less stimulus in the economy if the child tax credit ends and student loan repayments restart — and many families facing financial challenges will feel that pull back the hardest.
But Adams noted that lots of stimulus money remains in the pipeline in state and local government accounts that have yet to go out the door. He also expects that supply chain problems will improve in 2022.
"Auto sales in particular are expected to be a bright spot in 2022 as the car makers put the chip shortage behind them and ramp up production," Adams said.
The rules of the game will definitely be different in 2022 than 2021 and families will need to adjust their budgets accordingly.
Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.