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Recession's Legacy: Twice as Many Americans Saving

Friday, 15 Jul 2011 | 3:07 PM ET

Apparently, when it comes to personal finances, Americans have been "eating their peas."

Twice as many Americans are saving more money today than they did before the recession, according to a survey conducted by America's Research Group for CNBC.com.

Woman doing bills
Todd Warnock | Lifesize | Getty Images
Woman doing bills

While Americans were divided sharply between savers and non-savers, the majority of Americans are now saving.

According to the poll, 49.8 percent of those surveyed said they are saving more today, while 44.9 percent said they were not. The rest said they didn't know.

Ever since the financial crisis, Americans have been getting their financial houses in order. Much of that revolved around paying off their credit cards or learning to live without them.

Last week, a report from the Federal Reserve said consumers were borrowing more in May than they did in the same period a year ago. Although it was the eighth straight report that showed a gain in consumer credit, it was noteworthy because consumers began using their credit cards more than they did a year ago. This was only the second time in nearly three years that this occurred.

But despite this renewed level of credit card usage, saving is still front and center.

The vast majority—some 50.2 percent of those surveyed—said they were saving for retirement.

According to Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, that number was never more than 16 percent in similar surveys he's conducted in the past.

The latest survey polled a sample of 1,000 consumers between July 8 and 10, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.

"People were going like mad men to get out of debt, now we're seeing them save more and seeing them occasionally splurge." -Chairman, America's Research Group, Britt Beemer,

Even more noteworthy, the numbers don't vary all that much when the figures are broken down by age groups.

"The people in their twenties and thirties are saving as much as anyone else for retirement," Beemer said.

He attributes the shift in behavior to the ongoing debate over the budget deficit and the discussion about what may need to be done.

"When you ask them why they are saving for retirement, a number of them are saying they believe social security will be gone," Beemer said.

The rest of the savers say they are saving for the following: college (15.8 percent), a major purchase (9.1 percent), vacation (7.9 percent), back-to-school shopping (7.1 percent) or Christmas gifts (6.7 percent).

The number of people saving for college also is at a significantly higher level than in past surveys, Beemer said.

"College was never above a 10 or 11," he said. Beemer explained that about 40 percent of parents take out a second mortgage on their home to finance their children's college education.

"Many people found that they have no equity, and they can't use their home as a piggy bank any longer," Beemer said.

When one considers the sentiment behind the top two reasons for saving, there is the thought that Americans likely feel they have no other choice but to save more for their future. In the wake of the financial crisis, many Americans were cut off from sources of credit.

Fortunately, with each year, credit card debt is becoming less of an issue for many Americans.

According to Beemer, only 29.1 percent of Americans say they feel pressure from credit card bills. That's down from 35.6 percent of Americans in July 2010.

If you go back two years, 48.6 percent of Americans admitted to feeling pressured by their credit card debt.

"People were going like mad men to get out of debt, now we're seeing them save more and seeing them occasionally splurge," Beemer said.

As for the credit card usage, Beemer doesn't expect consumers to start piling up debt again.

"People want the points. They are using them to get something," he said. But he expects they will pay them off when the bill comes in.

Beemer even speculates that this may be why consumer confidence is continuing to decline.

"When you listen to the number of people complaining about paying off the bills and the debt, they get furious about the government's situation," he said.

Beemer said, "They're saying, 'I feel good about myself, but I don't feel good about where the country's going any longer.'"

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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