Fed Survey Shows Americans Are Optimistic About Their Finances Despite Generally Lacking Savings

The Federal Reserve has released a new study gauging Americans’ overall financial health. The results show that while Americans have become more optimistic about their financial situations, many remain unprepared for retirement or an emergency situation.

The Federal Reserve has released a new study gauging Americans’ overall financial health in a variety of areas such as debt, savings, spending, and retirement preparedness. The results show that while Americans have become more optimistic about their financial situations in the last five years, many remain unprepared for retirement or an emergency situation.

With regards to their current economic circumstances, 65% of respondents said they are either “living comfortably” or “doing okay” relative to where they were five years ago (see tables below from the report).

Image showing chart depicting Americans' overall financial health


2014 Federal Reserve survey on economic well being - economic health over 5 year period

Despite the optimistic feelings, there are some other numbers that paint a less rosy picture.

When asked if they had enough in emergency savings to cover a $400 unexpected expense, only 53% reported that they could fairly easily handle such an expense, paying for it entirely using cash, money currently in their checking/savings account, or on a credit card that they would pay in full at their next statement. The other remaining 47%, however, said that such an expense would be more challenging to handle. Just 45% said that they have an emergency fund of at least three months of household expenses.

On the subject of retirement, the Federal Reserve said that its survey results suggest that many people are failing to adequately prepare and save for retirement.

The majority of respondents (27%) said that their retirement plan is to “work as long as possible” while only 35% had given either “a fair amount” or “a lot” of thought to their retirement plans. As the table below shows, Social Security was named by the most respondents as a key source of income in retirement.

2014 Federal Reserve survey on economic well being - Sources of income in retirement

31% of respondents who are still working said they have no retirement savings whatsoever, including nearly a quarter of those older than 45. A lack of retirement savings was higher among younger age groups.

The survey did not delve into actual amounts of money that individuals had saved towards their retirement, but it did report that workers who are employed were more likely to have at least some retirement savings, usually through plans at work such as a 401(k). 51% of respondents said that they were either “not confident” or “slightly confident” in their ability to manage the money in their retirement accounts.

This is not the first of such surveys to paint a rather grim picture of Americans’ financial health. The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey dug into some actual savings amounts and found that 28% of the Americans it surveyed have less than $1,000 in retirement savings. While others were obviously doing much better with their savings, the results still presented an overall negative trend with respect to financial planning.

Federal employees have access to some excellent retirement benefits that can help them plan for their financial futures. The Thrift Savings Plan, for example, is a simple and low cost way to save over the course of your federal career, plus the government will match some of the contributions you make to your account. Learn from the mistakes of some of these other workers and be sure to take full advantage of the benefits at your disposal to make sure you have a fulfilling and financially secure retirement.

The full report from the Federal Reserve analyzing the survey results is included below.

Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2014

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.