Americans who use the services of a financial professional are significantly more likely to have taken steps toward preparing for retirement than those who do not, finds the first quarterly results of a Principal Financial Well-Being Index.

Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and investor services for The Principal, can’t emphasize enough how important it is for workers to have a financial adviser.

“Whether you’re looking at the level of confidence or people who have done a calculation and realize how much they have to save for retirement, etc., you see much better results if they work with a financial adviser or not,” he says. “There are too many people out there that are trying to go it alone and use a self-serve model of planning for their financial future.”

Workers report a sharp increase in optimism for the 2012 economic outlook overall. Only 12% of workers who use a financial professional have not yet begun to plan for retirement savings, compared to 32% of workers who do not.

Confidence is also on the rise among Americans when it comes to making financial dreams a reality and planning for the future. Forty-three percent of workers indicate some level of confidence in their ability to achieve their financial dreams, a 10% increase from the previous quarter.

Pessimism, Vandermillen says, is also dwindling, with just 17% indicating they are pessimistic in their outlook for the year, down from 28% third quarter last year.

While employees’ views on the economy and their financial future are improving, more than half of the respondents rate their personal financial situation as “about the same” compared to this time last year.

The index shows that many are still holding back on major expenditures: 41% report they are delaying any long-term financial commitments, such as buying a home or car, due to economic uncertainty.

“Things are starting to look a little brighter for a growing number of Americans, but the economy still creates some hesitation, causing many to hold off making any long-term financial commitments,” says Vandermillen. “While we share workers’ optimism, it’s also refreshing to see they’re approaching their financial future with some caution.”  

Typically a first quarter question, he adds, is what will workers do with their income tax refunds this year? The index suggests their top plans include saving or investing the refund (44%), paying down/off short-term debts (37%) or paying down/off longer-term debts (25%).

“This is just another indicator of maybe a little bit of an uptick in a better sense of financial responsibility that people have coming out of a financial crisis a couple of year ago,” he adds.

Those who use a financial professional (53%) are more likely to say they will save or invest their refund than those who do not use a financial professional (41%).

The index finds male workers are significantly more confident than females that they are adequately preparing for retirement. Forty-three percent of male workers believe they are saving enough money in order to live comfortably in retirement compared to 26% of female workers. .

The index surveys American workers at growing businesses with 10 to 1,000 workers and is released quarterly by the Principal Financial Group and is conducted online by Harris Interactive. 

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