More than a third (39 percent) of American investors say they define “financial success” as being debt-free, according to a recent survey released by TD Ameritrade. And 29 percent define “financial success” as being able to save money for long-term goals such as education and retirement.

“These findings show the true impact the past few years have had on Americans and the way they think about money,” said Diane Young, director of retirement and goal planning for TD Ameritrade in a statement. “While it is promising that people understand the importance of eliminating debt, there is a big need to focus on saving for retirement and then, perhaps education. The idea is to find a way to control debt while saving.”

The tendency to rely on credit during down times and rising debt are forcing many Americans into short-term financial planning, as opposed to saving and investing for the future, the group concludes.

“Between job losses, declining home values and poor market conditions, it has become harder for many Americans to afford the lifestyle they were once accustomed to, or to simply make ends meet in some cases,” said Young.

Other key findings from the survey are:

- Fifty-one percent of those ages 65+ define “financial success” as being debt-free vs. 30 percent of those ages 18-34.

– Married respondents with no children were more likely to define “financial success” as being debt-free, with 46 percent reporting so, vs. 37 percent of those married with children.

The survey involved 1,058 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.