The sequester may have been due to congressional indecisiveness, but Americans are unified in their feelings of economic recovery taking hold. Bankrate's monthly Financial Security Index surged for the month of March, hitting a new high of 101.5, up from 96.8 in February.
Bankrate's Financial Security Index gauges how Americans feel today versus a year ago on vital financial matters. An index value of less than 100 indicates declining levels of financial security; a value greater than 100 reveals higher levels of security compared to 12 months ago.
The upbeat attitude may have been guided by new stock market highs and continued job growth. All five components -- savings, job security, net worth, debt and overall financial situation -- saw improvements compared to February. This uptick was also seen in year-over-year stats, with consumers feeling more secure about their finances in every area but job security.
And all this, despite the end of the payroll tax cut?
While it might seem connected, our survey found more than half of working Americans said they either hadn't noticed or had been unaffected by the payroll tax cut expiration in January. Thirty percent of respondents said they cut back on spending as a result, 8 percent were putting less money into savings and 3 percent scaled down retirement contributions as a result.
The most interesting find was that the lowest-income households were least likely to have cut back on spending and most likely not to have noticed the change in the payroll tax.
"These results contradict the widely held assumption that lower-income households would feel the biggest squeeze from the payroll tax cut expiring," says Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Those most likely to have cut back on spending were households with income between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.
Let's hope this feeling of goodwill continues into spring when we'll look at the next Financial Security Index.
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