Poll: Americans Still Financially Stressed Out

April 1, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A healthier equity market hasn't significantly eased the financial burden for many Americans who are still feeling under great economic stress, according to a new survey.

American Express Retirement Services said its 2004 National Survey on Financial Stress and Retirement Savingfound that the majority (60%) of working Americans with access to a workplace retirement plan complained they were experiencing moderate to high financial stress. 

In fact, afifth of the respondents felt that their financial stress has gotten worse in the last 18 to 24 months. This compares to the 61% of working Americans who indicated in the most recent version of the survey in late 2002 that they were experiencing moderate to high levels of financial stress and a quarter felt that their financial stress had gotten worse in the last 18 to 24 months.

“A much improved stock market in 2003 belies the financial pressures that many Americans are living with,” said Rusty Field, vice president of American Express Financial Education and Planning Services, in the announcement. “Increased cost for health care benefits and a poor job outlook throughout the past 12 to 18 months hasn’t offered any respite from financial stress.”

Respondents indicated on a new question in the 2004 survey that the most frequently cited sources of stress were:

  • 44% retirement savings
  • 39% debt
  • 38% paying regular bills
  • 31% affording education expenses
  • 30% stressed by their current pay level.

Calls for Advice

The 2004 survey also found that, as in 2002, financial stress continues to prompt many workers to look for help including the more than half of workers with access to 401(k) retirement plans who said they could use a hand with their asset allocation chores.

Still, the marked improvement in the stock market may have contributed to a slight increase in financial self-confidence for some. While the 2004 survey still found a wide range of interest in getting financial advice, the level of interest declined slightly from 2002 in almost every category at an average 6% clip.

The 2004 survey found that 40% to 46% indicated an interest in comprehensive financial advice, advice on choosing among plan investment options, advice on accumulating money for retirement, and advice on how to use saved money for retirement income. One quarter to one third of the respondents were interested in advice on 401(k) rollovers, investing in stocks, managing their stock options and saving for education.  Interest in debt consolidation remained steady with the 2002 survey – 22% in 2004 wanted advice on dealing with debt.

As in 2002, the majority of 2004 survey respondents preferred receiving advice by talking one on one with an advisor who comes to the workplace, or by talking to an advisor outside the workplace. In total 53% preferred to receive advice directly from an advisor. Other preferences were online tools with 15% and group seminars at 14%.

The survey covered
a total of 674 qualified consumer responses: 472 were enrolled in a company sponsored retirement plan, and 202 had employers that offered a retirement plan but were not currently participating in the plan.