The Federal Reserve Board is getting ready to take a statistical snapshot of Americans' spending and saving.

The nation's central bank said Wednesday it expects to start its Survey of Consumer Finances, a measure of U.S. households, in April.

The information, which the Fed has gathered in its current form every three years since 1983, gives policymakers a picture of what consumers own - from houses and cars to investments - as well as what they borrow and how they bank.

The Fed has used results from past surveys to gauge consumers' recovery from the recession, their use of retirement savings accounts and a host of other issues. Researchers from government agencies, companies, and academic institutions also draw on the data.

"This survey is one of the nation's primary sources of information on the financial condition of different types of households," Chairman Ben Bernanke writes in a letter to prospective survey participants that the Fed plans to mail in April to roughly 13,000 households. "Our previous surveys…have helped the Federal Reserve and other parts of the government make policy decisions and have also supported a wide variety of basic research, public discussion, and education."

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago will conduct the study, which is expected to run through December. NORC selects households from 127 urban and rural areas to take part. Roughly 6,500 families participated in the study three years ago.

The Fed expects to publish results in early 2015.

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