Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Consumer Reports Survey: 56 Percent of Americans Think U.S. Needs to Help Citizens More in Tough Economy

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumer Reports' latest national survey finds that more than half (56%) of respondents think that government hasn't done enough for them in these tough economic times.

Only 17 percent of those polled said the government needs to do more for banks and financial institutions. In the poll, 29 percent said the government went too far in bailing out the financial industry. Thirty-nine percent were unsure.

The Consumer Reports National Research center calculated results based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 2000 adults, conducted in late October 2008. The full report is available in the January issue of Consumer Reports on sale December 2 or at

"The results show that people largely think the bailout won't help average citizens," said Noreen Perrotta, Consumer Reports money editor. "We took a look at the responses and came up with dos and don'ts for consumers dealing with financial distress."

When asked which reforms could help Main Street the most, respondents to CR's poll cited these top actions:

-- Ensuring the financial health of the Social Security system. (88 %)
-- Reducing the national debt. (87%)
-- Protecting pensions and other retirement accounts when companies or
financial institutions go under. (85%)
-- Increase spending on energy exploration, energy efficiency, and
alternative energy sources. (84%)
-- Ensure affordable health care for all Americans. (82%)
-- Increase regulation of financial institutions to ensure responsible
practices. (78%)
-- Extend federal insurance to all deposits in savings and money market
accounts. (78%)
-- Cut taxes for working Americans. (77%)

The rescue plan enacted in October gave broad authority to the Secretary of the Treasury to use as much as $700 billion to shore up the ailing financial industry. Economists say that it will ultimately help millions of people of who are falling victim to the souring economy.

But back on Main Street, the rescue plan may seem like a bitter pill because the money is going to the financial institutions that many see as the cause of the problem. The people CR polled blamed several factors for the economic crisis, including poor lending practices by banks and mortgage companies (27 percent), lack of government oversight (26 percent), Wall Street greed (19 percent), and excessive borrowing by consumers (15 percent).

Lost jobs, lost health care

The top worry of poll respondents was the health of Social Security; 88 percent called the issue important or very important. It most likely looms large because of the increasing fragility of other sources of retirement income. Only about half of working Americans are enrolled in a pension or 401(k) plan. Americans have lost as much as $2 trillion in retirement savings over the past year and a half.

While retirees cope with diminished nest eggs, younger workers worry about unemployment increasing. It could reach 8 percent nationally, according to some estimates. With the loss of jobs comes the loss of health-care coverage. Twenty percent of respondents in CR's survey said they're unable to afford medical bills or drugs; 15 percent said they lost coverage or their benefits were reduced because of the downturn.

Seventy percent of poll respondents would like to see government regulation of mortgage lenders. Only 4 percent said they've missed a mortgage payment, but families stuck with subprime loans are at risk of falling behind.

Some economists fear that the credit-card defaults could be the next shoe to drop in the economy, as overextended borrowers can't meet their payments. Defaults are expected to reach record highs as unemployment increases. Fifty-seven percent of poll respondents said they've reduced their credit-card spending; Eighteen percent said they have had their interest rates increased, been hit with penalty fees, or had their credit lines reduced.

CR's Dos and Don'ts of Dealing with Financial Distress

DO contact your lender immediately if you can't pay your mortgage. You might be able to restructure your loan or get your lender to agree to a lesser amount to pay it off.

DON'T borrow against your 401(k). You'll probably need to repay the loan within five years or it will count as a withdrawal. If you leave your job before then, you'll owe federal and state income taxes on the outstanding loan, plus a ten percent penalty if you're younger than 59 1/2.

DO take advantage of your employer contribution to your 401(k). Put away at least as much as you need to get the maximum matching amount.

DON'T take a refund anticipation loan. They are short-term loans that you pay back with your tax refund. Interest rates can run into the triple digits on an annualized basis. Filing your taxes online and having the refund direct-deposited can get cash to you almost as fast.

DO consider raising your insurance deductibles. That will reduce your premiums. Home-insurance policies, for instance, typically carry a $250 deductible. If you're willing to bear more risk, you can save upward of 15 percent per year in premiums with a $500 deductible.

DON'T take cash advances. Credit-card advances can come with up-front charges of 2 to 4 percent and have a higher interest rate than regular card purchases. Payday loans, which are cash advances on your wages, can cost you $15 to $30 for every $100 you borrow.

DO cut what you can from your budget. You can save a lot on groceries by taking advantage of sales and buying less-expensive store brands. Look at your other monthly expenses to see what you can trim, including premium cable service or pricey coffee drinks.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center calculated results based on a telephone survey of a nationally representative probability of 2,000 adults, 18 years or older in the month of October 2008. The margin of error is +/- 2.2% among a 95% confidence level.

Fayette Front Page
Georgia Front Page

No comments: