Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Will Debt-Free Retirement Be the Downturn's Biggest Casualty?

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumers are more concerned about short-term security than long-term financial goals. The 2009 Survey of Financial Values and Debt, sponsored by Securian Financial Group, indicated that saving for emergencies is among Americans' top financial priorities. And while they have found many ways to spend less, consumers are not reducing their debt. Eighty-two percent are carrying non-mortgage debt, a figure that is virtually undiminished since Securian's initial survey in 2007.

"Consumers are clutching cash and postponing debt reduction," said Kerry Geurkink, director of Individual Annuity Marketing, Securian Retirement. "They are wisely adjusting their spending and borrowing, but the ultimate goal of debt-free retirement will be more difficult to achieve without a better balance between saving and debt reduction."

Although consumers may be unable to expedite debt repayment right now, they are focused on the long-term consequences of debt. Three quarters of non-retirees are concerned about the amount of debt they may carry into retirement, a plausible worry for Baby Boomers who are accumulating new debt.

One-fifth of Boomers owe at least $50,000 in non-mortgage debt, a 10-point spike from the 2007 survey. Boomers were the only generation in the survey (which included Generations Y, X, and the Silent Generation) to add debt since 2007.

Only one in five of people polled for the Securian survey (22%) applied for credit or non-mortgage loans in the last 12 months, and they were less willing overall to take on debt for cars, vacations, gifts, home improvements or meals out. They also identified several ways to save money on everyday expenses, and eight out of 10 expressed pride in the ways they have cut back.

"It is encouraging that Americans are willing to shun new debt and adopt more cautious attitudes toward spending," Geurkink said. "But consumers need effective debt-reduction strategies to set themselves up for debt-free retirement."

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