Do you have a retirement account? Enough money in savings?

Many Americans don’t, according to the Federal Reserve’s annual household survey, which found that nearly a third of workers have put away nothing for old age and that almost half of individuals would struggle to meet emergency expenses of $400 or more.

The survey shows encouraging developments, too: Compared with the past two years, more people today forecast short-term pay increases and register satisfaction with the state of their personal finances.

But much of the news remains mixed, especially as it relates to savings and retirement. Twenty percent of individuals acknowledged having spent more than they earned over the course of the year. Only 63 percent said they had put away money in the same period. And 39 percent of workers reported not having given any thought to retirement plans.

Economic hardship appears to be the main culprit behind these problems; not surprisingly, low-income individuals reported the greatest difficulties in saving. But poor financial literacy also seems to be a factor.

Fourteen percent of those who borrowed to pay for their education said they put debt on their credit card. Twenty percent of individuals did not have a bank account, and instead used other methods to transact business. These are foolhardy choices considering the high interest rates on credit-card debt and alternative financial services, such as payday lending.

Given these troubling statistics, banks and schools should do more to educate Americans about long-term financial planning. To its credit, the Social Security Administration already does so with online tools that enable workers to gauge their benefits upon retirement.

But people also need to take greater control of their financial futures. For too many, the money choices that seem convenient today could prove catastrophic tomorrow.

Editorial by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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