Financial Security Index
Financial Security Index
smart spending
Financial Security Index: Americans wary

The coziness drops precipitously with age, however. More than half of Americans, 52 percent, between the ages of 50 and 64 say they are less comfortable with the amount they have saved. Only 9 percent of those over 65 are more comfortable.

The prolonged yield drought afflicting savings vehicles, such as certificates of deposit, likely contributes to that feeling of unease. At today's interest rates, it could take a lifetime for compound interest to grow significantly. Similarly, older people who live on interest have seen that income stream shrivel.

Debt

If there is a silver lining to the Great Recession, it's that Americans have been reducing their debt loads. That trend was reflected in the survey's findings.

In October, the most recent data available, revolving credit decreased at an annualized rate of 8.5 percent, according to the Federal Reserve. So it's perhaps not surprising that 48 percent of respondents said they have about the same comfort level with their debt as a year ago. Another 24 percent said they were more comfortable than a year ago.

But slightly more people -- 26 percent -- said they were less comfortable with their debt loads today.

Not surprisingly, lower-income earners were more likely to feel uncomfortable about debt levels: 31 percent of earners making less than $50,000 reported being less comfortable, compared to 20 percent of people earning $75,000 or more.

Net worth

When questioned about their net worth, a predominant number -- 48 percent -- said it remained roughly the same over the last year.

But over a quarter of the population, 28 percent, felt their net worth declined in the last 12 months, while 23 percent thought it had risen.

Net worth for most households, of course, is highly dependent on home values, and they continue to fall at dizzying rates.

According to Zillow, the real estate research organization, 23.2 percent of homes were underwater in the third quarter of 2010. In 2010, Zillow predicts, more than $1.7 trillion in home value will be lost.

Financial security

Finally, the survey's most important finding may be this: Many more Americans feel their overall financial situation is worse today compared to those who feel it's better -- 32 percent versus 21 percent. The remaining 46 percent feel their situation is about the same.

Unfortunately, running in place is rarely anyone's financial goal.

Results are based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults, ages 18 and older. The interviews were conducted from Dec. 2 to Dec. 5, 2010, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.6 percentage points.

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