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Americans More Optimistic About Their Finances, but Less Prepared

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More Americans are optimistic about their financial future today than they were in 2011, according to the 2015 findings of Lincoln Financial Group’s “Measuring Optimism, Outlook and Direction” (M.O.O.D.) of America survey.

In an interview Friday, Kristen Phillips, head of marketing and strategy of insurance and retirement solutions at Lincoln, said Americans’ financial optimism has steadily improved over the last four years in which the MOOD survey was conducted.

“We started doing this survey in 2011, which was on the heels of the end of the financial crisis and a very difficult time in America,” Phillips told ThinkAdvisor. “That was a good time to start the survey, it was a good baseline for us. And we’ve seen slow and steady improvement in optimism and [Americans’] feeling like their financial picture is going to be better a year from now than it is today.”

According to this year’s findings, 81% of those surveyed said they feel optimistic about their financial future – up 13% since 2011.

Americans also feel their lives are headed in the right direction: 83% this year, which is a significant increase from the 66% who felt that way in 2011. Moreover, 59% report they are optimistic that their financial situation will improve in the next year, which is nearly twice the 33% that felt that way in 2011.

While financial optimism is clearly on the rise, the feeling of “preparedness” for the financial future has not improved. The survey found that only 1 in 5 Americans feel “very prepared” for their financial future, including retirement, protecting their wealth and “handling income disruptions of varying durations.”

What is stopping Americans from feeling more prepared for their future? The survey, which includes responses from 2,273 adults across the United States from March 31 to April 9, 2015, establishes what the roadblocks are and some potential solutions. “Some of the barriers that emerged in this survey were: Number one, Americans feel overwhelmed by their options, particularly related to insurance coverage and retirement planning,” Phillips said. According to this year’s survey, 70% of the Americans surveyed report feeling overwhelmed by insurance coverage options and 67% feel overwhelmed by retirement planning.

In addition, the survey found that 65% of the respondents felt the need to prioritize their short-term expenses over future needs. “How do I balance those options with my near-term expenses and near-term needs?” Phillips told ThinkAdvisor. “Many Americans struggle with the balancing act of the here and now with addressing the longer-term.”

Some of the disconnect between Americans’ optimism and their feeling of preparedness may be because only 37% of those surveyed say they use financial advisors, Phillips said.

“Working with a financial advisor can be a great way to productively get started along the path of planning and feeling more prepared,” Phillips said. Since Americans feel overwhelmed by their insurance and retirement-planning choices, “tey don’t know what they don’t know. That’s where an advisor can help sort through choices and priorities for them. Often when we have too many choices we get paralyzed with taking action.”

In a related story, see 4 Signs American Consumer Is Fine, and Poised to Spend More

—Read about last year’s results on ThinkAdvisor.