In August, Bankrate's Financial Security Index climbed to 99.0 from 97.9 last month. While the nation's mood is not exactly jovial, it's a welcome sign that consumers' spirits have somewhat lifted.
"The stock market hitting a three-month high, a better-than-expected July jobs report and verbal assurance from the president of the European Central Bank that they'll do 'whatever it takes' to preserve the euro, all resonated with consumers," says Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
All five components -- job security, savings, debt, net worth and overall financial situation -- were up, but it was not enough to tip the Financial Security Index into positive territory. At 99.0, consumers still have a slightly downbeat reading of financial security, relative to one year ago. An index reading of less than 100 means consumers are feeling less secure than 12 months ago; more than 100 tips the sentiment into the positive zone.
Bankrate's Financial Security Index gauges how Americans feel today versus a year ago on vital financial matters. An index value of less than 100 indicates declining levels of financial security; a value greater than 100 reveals higher levels of security compared to 12 months ago.
"Interestingly, the highest-income households -- those at $75,000 per year and above -- actually feel a lower level of job security than the overall population. Just 21 percent of high-income households feel more secure in their job today, compared to 26 percent of all workers," says McBride. "But predictably, the highest-income households do feel better about the other four components of financial security -- savings, debt, net worth and overall financial situation -- than the general population."
This month, Bankrate's "wild card" question asked consumers again how their contribution levels to retirement savings accounts, such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts, changed relative to last year. Are they saving more for their retirement, saving less or saving about the same amount?
Bankrate's survey reveals that just 18 percent of working Americans are saving more for retirement in 2012 than they did in 2011. This compares to 15 percent last year, when this question was first asked.
The good news is that fewer people are saving less, 18 percent compared to 29 percent last year. Meanwhile, more than half -- 55 percent -- are saving about the same amount as last year. This year, 9 percent of survey respondents volunteered that they haven't contributed this year or last year. That's up from 6 percent last year.
"Those working Americans age 65 and up are the most likely age group to be saving less than last year and to not have contributed either year. Nearly half, 49 percent, fall into one of those two categories," says McBride. "This isn't just a reflection of seniors (who) are working out of necessity to supplement insufficient retirement savings. It can also be seniors (who) have adequate retirement savings and are working just to get out of the house."
In her story, "Retirement savings improve a tad," Sheyna Steiner explains that America's yawning retirement savings gap may force future seniors to continue to work out of necessity. But attaining an adequate nest egg is easier for younger people who begin saving early.