Americans Growing More Fearful of Their Finances

Looking for more evidence that stock market volatility and economic uncertainty are taking a toll on consumer confidence?

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Well, you might just take a look at a gauge from Principal Financial Group which says more Americans are reporting concerns about their long-term financial future—driving this component of Principal's Well-Being Indexto its highest level since the third quarter of 2005.

Seventy-five percent of workers and 61 percent of retirees said they were concerned about the future of their finances.

In addition, a third of workers and 22 percent of retirees said their stress level related to their personal financial situation is much higher than at the same time last year.

Their outlook for the future has also darkened, with about two out of five workers and retirees thinking the economy will worsen to some extent over the next year. That's worse than in the second quarter of 2010, when about 24 percent of workers and 16 percent of retirees felt that way.

"What I think we're seeing is that financial concerns continued to persist and there is a sense that the recovery will be longer than people had hoped," said Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and investor services at Principal.

What's encouraging is these concerns have not forced consumers into a catatonic state, it's at least providing consumers with the motivation to act, Vandermillen said.

Nearly one in five told Principal they have increased their retirement savings. The number of workers creating a financial plan has also risen by 17 percent from the third quarter of 2009.

With these steps, consumers are looking to address the some of the factors that are making them panic. But it doesn't hurt to get a nudge.

Vandermillen said he's seen more employers switch to an "opt-out" retirement plans that require an employee to make a deliberate decision to opt out of contributing to their 401(k) or other retirement plan. When this occurs employees are more likely to save.

About 27 percent of workers now have this option, up from 21 percent in 2008.

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