By Christine Dugas, USA TODAY
One big change in the last 15 years is hardly a surprise: Americans face more economic uncertainty and financial challenges.
Many more households are struggling to make ends meet than in 1997, when consumer confidence was high and unemployment was low, says a survey released Monday by the Consumer Federation of America and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. "Today the economy is in a far different place, and Americans are worried about their financial future," says Kevin Keller, CEO of the CFP's Board.
And now they have to decide how to use their limited resources to save for retirement and fund their children's college education, while maintaining an emergency fund and keeping out of debt.
Although attitudes have changed and concerns have risen over time, there is one constant. "People who have a financial plan feel more confident about their financial future and report more success managing money, saving and investing," Keller says.
And when low-income families have a financial plan, they are more likely to pay their credit card bills in full and avoid debt, the survey found.
Yet only 31% of Americans have put together a financial plan, whether on their own or with a financial adviser, the survey says. And that was the same percentage as in 1997, when a similar survey was conducted. Among other findings:
•38% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, vs. 31% in 1997.
•48% of families with college-bound children are saving for their education, down from 56% in 1997.
•55% are worried about losing money if they invest it, compared with 45% in 1997.
•About half of Americans are behind in retirement savings, compared with 38% in 1997.
•34% of Americans say they can retire at 65, vs. 50% in 1997.
Older workers are in more dire financial straits. Another survey out today from Allianz Life found that 28% of Baby Boomers ages 55 to 65 are worried that they won't be able to cover basic living expenses in retirement, it found. And 43% of them don't plan to focus on retirement income strategies until they are fewer than five years away from retirement.
Although 30% expect to work part time after they retire, studies show that they may have difficulty doing so, says Allianz, adding that the lack of basic retirement financial information is alarming.
Financial planning "requires one to think seriously about their finances, and many Americans would prefer not to and then don't," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of CFA. "But having a personal financial plan helps both rich and poor achieve their financial goals."