Households in which people live from paycheck to paycheck outnumber households in which people feel financially comfortable, according to a study released Tuesday by the Consumer Federation of America and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.
Thirty-eight percent of families are financially vulnerable vs. 30 percent who are more secure, the study found. Fifteen years ago, these percentages were reversed, a testament to the much more challenging economic landscape American families face in 2012.
The average family has no more wealth today than it did in the early 1990s, according to data from the Federal Reserve, meaning the economic collapse wiped out nearly two decades of economic gains. And yet, the study found, “the percentage of American families who have made a comprehensive financial plan—either on their own or with professional help—has not changed significantly from 15 years ago. Overall, 31 percent of household decision makers report having ever put together a financial plan, while 35 percent—down from 37 percent in 1997, report having a plan in place to save for emergencies.
As has gone the economy, so have people’s comfort level with financial matters. More than half (55 percent) say, “it’s hard for me to know who to trust for financial advice,” while 52 percent report, “to me investing seems complicated.” Fifty-five percent--up from 45 percent five years ago-- are more risk averse and agreed with the statement, “I’m worried about losing my money if I invest it.”
Twenty-six percent of households in the $100,000 and up category believe their income is insufficient to allow them to save on a regular basis. Fewer respondents as a whole report having saved toward one or more of their goals than did so 15 years ago (80 percent vs. 84 percent). This includes saving for emergencies (63 percent vs. 68 percent) and saving for college (48 percent vs. 56 percent).
The study found that if families have a financial plan in place, it is most likely for retirement. Only about half (49 percent) on non-retirees said they have begun saving for their senior years.
Not surprisingly, those with financial plans are significantly more likely to feel “very confident” about managing money, saving and investments (52 percent vs. 30 percent). They are also more likely than non-planners to describe themselves as “living comfortably” (48 percent vs. 22 percent
This new survey mirrors findings in Millionaire Corner's first quarter survey of households with a net worth between $100,000 and $1 million, which found that 72 percent—up from 62 percent the year before—said they are most concerned about maintaining their current financial condition. Sixty-seven percent—up four percentage points—are worried about having enough money set aside for retirement, while 58 percent are concerned about being able to retire as planned.
Almost half (48 percent) also believe that it is more important to protect their principal than grow their investments, a sentiment most strongly shared among seniors over 65 (53 percent).
The economic downturn has made these households weary over the investment process and money management. 41 percent—down from 67 percent in 2009—like to be actively involved in the day-to-day management of their investments, while 34 percent—down from 53 percent three years ago—enjoy investing and say it is something they do not want to give up.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.