A report by First Command Financial Services Inc. says Americans increased savings and slashed debt in the fourth quarter.
According to the First Command Financial Behaviors Index, which was released Tuesday, the number of middle-class consumers with a positive savings-to-debt ratio, or total savings compared to total debt, increased to 42% in December, the highest level since the index was launched in May 2008.
In addition, the percentage of survey respondents with a positive savings-to-debt ratio rose to 55% among families with a financial planner, an 11-point increase since July.
"Americans have made a New Year's resolution to ensure their financial security in 2010," said Scott Spiker, First Command's chief executive. "The commitment is particularly strong among those with a financial plan. These goal-oriented consumers are redoubling their efforts to secure a strong financial future and [are] achieving a greater sense of hope and security in the process."
The report highlighted that in December, 27% of Americans indicated they have cut back spending permanently, a figure almost double the amount at the beginning of last year. During the 2009 holiday shopping season, 58% of survey respondents indicated they would spend less than they did in 2008.
Other findings: 40% of respondents said they would cut back on excessive spending, 35% said they would get out of debt, 29% said they would use cash or debit more often instead of credit cards, 25% said they would learn not to live beyond their means, 23% said they would start saving money for retirement or put more money into current retirement savings, and 22% said they would learn to budget responsibly.
The First Command Financial Behaviors Index is a monthly survey of approximately 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. Results are reported quarterly.