Personal finance surveys show action lags behind good intentions

get financial house in order

Recent surveys show more Americans plan to get their personal finances in order, but fewer say they are acting on those plans. Image: CC bonnie-brown/Flickr

A pair of personal finance surveys show that Americans want to get their finances under control in 2011. Americans also want more knowledge about how to do that. But other data shows that when it comes to personal finance, concrete action has yet to catch up with good intentions.

Inside the personal finance numbers

An online poll commissioned by Northwestern Mutual showed that Americans are optimistic about their personal finances coming into the new year. The Harris Interactive poll found that about 70 percent of those surveyed rank getting their financial house in order a top priority for 2011. About the same percentage were confident they could get their personal finances under control. When it comes to making that happen, 39 percent ranked paying down debt as most important. About 30 percent said they would set aside money from their paycheck to save on a routine basis. Building an emergency fund was a priority for 28 percent, and 27 percent said they would create a budget and stick to it.

Most Americans could manage money better

A personal finance study conducted by the ING Retirement Research Institute found that 94 percent of American’s understood they could do a better job managing their money. This finding was supported by data found in the Northwestern Mutual survey. Just 16 percent said they would update their financial plan. Only 12 percent made arrangements to work with a financial professional, and just 13 percent planned to re-balance their portfolio. The ING study classified respondents as either excellent, good, basic or poor in certain categories. Data showed that happiness increased with financial literacy, a category in which 62 percent of Americans were ranked as basic.

Time to walk the walk

The two personal finance surveys also showed that talk is easier than action. The Northwestern Mutual poll showed that very few Americans plan to evaluate their risk when it comes to life insurance, long-term care or disability. In the ING study, only 53 percent of Americans were saving for retirement.


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