Do you have a question about the Survey of Consumer Finances? Answers to frequently asked questions are included below. For additional information, please contact us.

Survey Information

To understand the financial behavior of U.S. households, it is essential for policy-makers concerned with inflation, unemployment, interest rates, and national saving, to obtain detailed information about the finances of individual households. The Survey of Consumer Finances is the only unified source of such information. The survey is widely regarded as one of the Federal government's most useful surveys.

This study will also help policy-makers understand how households' finances have changed in response to stresses in the economy and how families make provisions for the future. Families' access to and use of credit plays a major role in this research, particularly how people obtain financing for major purchases or for starting and running businesses.

An important feature of the study is that it attempts to determine the future pension income that many people have in connection with their current and past jobs. For many people, pensions are now a much more important source of retirement income than they used to be. However, it is also important to learn about households with no pension coverage and how they manage their finances.

The survey is typically conducted every three years and was last conducted in 2016. Because the overall U.S. economy has experienced major restructuring since that time, it is very important to be aware of changes in the economic condition of individual families.

The study is being conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago under funding from the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C. NORC at the University of Chicago is one of the oldest and most respected social research organizations. NORC has been conducting research in the public interest for 75 years. The results from many NORC studies have been used to inform national decisions and are cited frequently in newspapers worldwide.

If selected, you will be contacted by a member of the professional staff of interviewers trained by NORC. Our interviewers wear photo ID badges. For security reasons, you may want to check the badge before admitting an interviewer into your home. Our employees will be happy to comply with your request.

Based on a variety of information, including the distribution of the population across the country in the 2010 Census, your household and others were randomly selected using a scientific procedure to represent the full range of types of households in the U.S. today. Because of the balanced nature of this process, every household is very important to the overall results of the study, and no substitutions are allowed for households that do not participate. At each household, the interviewer follows a set of rules to choose one person to participate in the study. We hope that about 6,100 adults, aged 18 and older, from all across the country, will be a part of this study. These people will include rich, middle class, poor, old, young, and every other type of group. The voices of everyone will come together in this study to provide a picture of what is happening in America today.

We encourage you to be certain of the legitimacy of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). We want every participant to be well informed. There are a number of ways you can check the legitimacy of this study.

If a field interviewer visits you at your home, ask to see his or her NORC ID badge. Online, you may visit the websites listed in the “Online” box on the Contact Us page. Instructions for reaching someone by e-mail or telephone are included on the same page.

Yes. For additional information about the Survey of Consumer Finances, NORC at the University of Chicago, the Federal Reserve Board, or related topics, please visit the Contact page.

Participating

If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call 1-800-609-2911. Your NORC interviewer will be happy to work around your schedule. The interview can be conducted entirely at your convenience, any time, day or night. You may choose to be interviewed in-person at the location of your choice or by telephone. If necessary, your interview can be completed over more than one session. In some instances, participants in past studies have chosen their interview completed by their financial advisor or a family member who has access to this information. Your interviewer will be happy to discuss a variety of options with you.

Interviewers from NORC at the University of Chicago will contact the list of specific addresses selected as part of the study's national sample. The interviewers will call on these addresses in person and select one person from among the household residents aged 18 and older, using a special rule to determine the person most appropriate for the study design. Once selected the person many choose to be interviewed right away, or may set up an appointment to be interviewed in the home (or elsewhere) at a more convenient time. A typical interview takes about 90 minutes. To guarantee the consistency of the survey data, interviewers will conduct the interview using laptop computers.

Yes - participation in this study is completely voluntary. Participants may refuse to answer any or all questions. However, we have found that people enjoy being interviewed and find the interviews themselves to be interesting. In the past, many respondents have told interviewers that the study gave them a new perspective on their finances.

Questions in this interview will cover a variety of topics. These include housing and other real estate, along with any associated mortgages or loans; business assets; cars and car loans; financial assets; education loans and other types of debts; employment and pension benefits; charitable contributions; expectations about the economy and personal finances; and various opinions.

Interviewers from NORC are trained to record participants' answers objectively and accurately into a laptop computer. This computer offers a high level of security. The information on the computer is encrypted. Once the interview is completed, the interviewer cannot access the information. The information is transmitted to NORC using very secure methods. The computer systems used by NORC have received the highest rating for data security by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an arm of the U.S. government.

Your name and address will be separated from your answers to the survey questions. At the end of the study, NORC is pledged to destroy all identifying information associated with your interview. Your name and address will never be shared with anyone. Your answers to the survey questions will be used only for statistical purposes.

The study hopes to provide the best picture of the situation of every participant. For that reason, we encourage participants to consult records during the interview when they do not know the answer to a question. In the past, many participants have found that the interview has been quicker and easier if they have their key financial documents available to reference during the interview. Please be assured that we will not ask for information such as account numbers.

It is natural to think that if the sample is random, we could just substitute "another random person" off the street for the people selected into the sample. It would be convenient for everyone if we could always simply find someone less busy. But this would not work for two reasons. First, the sample is scientifically designed so that the random selections are made in a way that is structured around groups of people defined in a precise, but impersonal, way. Once the sample is selected, there would be no way to find replacements that would maintain the correct balance without starting all over. Second, random sampling guarantees that the people selected into the sample are not the result of any sort of personal biases or opinions of anyone. Mathematically, this gives us the assurance that the sample as a group gives an unbiased picture of U.S. households today.

Privacy

Absolutely. NORC and the Federal Reserve Board place the highest value on maintaining the confidentiality of participants' information. The identity of the participants in the study will be known only to a very small number of people at NORC who are actively engaged in collecting the data. That information will never be given to anyone else. At the termination of the project, all records of the names and addresses of those people will be destroyed. Each NORC employee who interacts with you or your data in any way is covered by a legally binding agreement to protect your confidentiality not just during the survey, but for his or her entire life. Violation of the confidentiality agreement is a felony offense under the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002. NORC has 75 years of experience in collecting and maintaining the confidentiality of many types of private information. Earning and keeping the trust of our study participants is critical to the success of our organization; without it we could not exist.