As the 10th annual America Saves Week kicks off, research shows Americans are making at least modest progress on their savings goals. Although only 40% of consumers say their progress in meeting savings goals is good or excellent, 70% said they’ve made some progress. Two-thirds are saving a portion of their income, and 63% said they have enough emergency savings to cover unexpected expenses like car repair or a doctor’s visit.

The America Saves initiative was launched in 2007 as an “annual opportunity for individuals to assess their savings and for organizations to provide support, encouragement and opportunity for their constituents to save successfully,” said Jack Gillis, director of consumer affairs for the Consumer Federation of America, on a media teleconference.

Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation, said more than 1,800 organizations participate in America Saves Week, including state and local governments, financial services providers, nonprofit groups and employers. The Department of Defense and the armed forces are especially active, backed by Military Saves Week, which is a concurrent initiative, he said.

CFA’s America Saves campaign and the American Savings Education Council, a program of the Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund, surveyed more than 1,000 adults in January about their savings habits and announced the results today.  

The theme for this year’s America Saves Week campaign is automated saving, and this year’s survey included a question about workplace savings plans for the first time. Most respondents (82%) said they would contribute more than 3% of their salary to a retirement savings plan with automatic escalation, and 40% said they would contribute 10% or more.

“This is a strong indication that employees may well be more open to higher-than-expected contribution default percentages, including auto-escalation, than many have generally believed,” Harry Conaway, chairman of ASEC and president and CEO of EBRI, said.

He said some employers may not offer automatic contributions because they’re afraid workers will resist them, but the more employees ask for those plan design features, the more comfortable sponsors will be with them.

Men tend to have more positive savings habits than women, the survey found. They were more likely to say they have made good or excellent progress in their savings goals, to know their net worth, to have no consumer debt or a plan to reduce it, and to have emergency savings.

Among pre-retirees who had a mortgage, 77% of men said they planned to pay it off before they retire, compared with 68% of women. Incomes frequently fall in retirement – not always, but usually – Brobeck said. “It’s very important to have paid off your mortgage by the time you retire because that greatly lowers your living expenses.”

Men were also more likely to say they were spending less than they made and saving the difference.

“This finding is not surprising, though, because overall, men have larger incomes and financial assets than do women, so they have a somewhat greater financial capacity to save and build wealth,” Brobeck said.

That relationship between income and savings behavior was seen across income levels. “The largest differences in savings behaviors were between low- and high-income households,” Brobeck said.

“Regardless of income level, all households can save more effectively with a plan with specific savings goals,” Brobeck said.

“Over the last decade there was really only one significant change” in survey respondents’ savings habits, Brobeck said. Before 2011, more than 70% of respondents said they spent less than they made and saved the difference, but fell to 66% in January 2012 and has remained “in that neighborhood” since.

Also up until 2011, 70% of respondents said they had sufficient emergency savings, with a drop the next year to 66%, where it remains.

“What might help explain the sharp drop is that median household income fell steadily between 2007 and 2011, dropped by about $4,000,” Brobeck said. “This is one reason an increasing number of households found it increasingly difficult to save.”

Conaway said that while respondents were less likely to say they were confident that they were saving enough for a desirable standard of living in retirement than they have been in the past, that’s not necessarily a bad trend. “There are strong indications that as individuals become more educated and begin planning and begin to understand their long-term retirement planning needs, they grow more realistic about where they are relative to those needs,” Conaway said.

— Read What Investors Want More of, Besides Performance on ThinkAdvisor.