The financial recovery from the 2008-2009 recession is tepid from a consumer standpoint, with Americans only marginally better off in 2009 than they were one year earlier, according to a study by a financial education firm.

Debt-related phone calls that consumers placed to Financial Finesse Inc. decreased to 35% of calls in the fourth quarter of 2009, from 39% in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the study. This change is a sign that consumers are beginning to recover, says Financial Finesse, Manhattan Beach, Calif.

The study report analyzes direct calls to the company’s helpline and online data from employees of over 300 employers across the country.

Among the report’s other findings:

–Retirement planning calls remained unchanged from fourth quarter 2008 to fourth quarter 2009 at a dismal 8% of total calls. There was a decline in most other financial planning calls as consumers focused instead on managing their day-to-day finances in response to the crisis.

–Consumers are cutting costs, reducing debts and increasing savings. Budgeting and savings calls increased to 34% in fourth quarter 2009 from 25% in the same period a year earlier. As 2009 progressed, more employees reported that they were paying off their credit card debt.

–In the short run, consumer caution is likely to delay gross domestic product growth and forestall a full recovery, Financial Finesse observes. But this trend has positive economic implications in the long run because Americans will have more savings to invest in the market and real estate.

In the fourth quarter, 34% of calls were on budgeting, nearly equaling the 35% of calls on debt. This was the first time these two figures mirrored each other so closely since the company began analyzing consumer financial issues nearly a decade ago.

In previous years, debt calls outnumbered budget calls, often by 2-1. The fact that they are now close means consumers are becoming more responsible purchasers, savers and investors, Financial Finesse concludes.