BOSTON - Americans have grown more cautious and disciplined in handling their money since the financial crisis struck in 2008, a survey by a leading mutual fund company suggests.
People say they don't spend as much, save as little or embrace as much risk as they did before the crisis, according to a survey of nearly 1,200 people by Fidelity Investments.
As a group, people say they're saving more in 401(k) retirement plans and reducing debt.
Survey participants were interviewed over two weeks in February, nearly five years after a meltdown of risky mortgage investments caused home and stock prices to sink, sent unemployment soaring and nearly toppled the U.S. financial system. Not until last month did the Dow Jones industrial average regain its pre-crisis high.
Key survey findings include:
- Fifty-six percent of respondents said they've gone from being scared or confused about managing their money to confident or prepared five years later.
- Forty-two percent are now contributing more to workplace savings plans such as 401(k)s or to individual retirement accounts or health-savings accounts. Just 5 percent are contributing less, and 53 percent say they're making no changes.
- Fifty-five percent said they feel better prepared for retirement than they did before the crisis.
- Seventy-two percent have less personal debt than before the crisis. Among all survey participants, 49 percent said they had reduced debt in response to the crisis.
- Among those saying they went from being scared to confident, 42 percent have increased the size of an emergency fund they've created to meet unexpected expenses, and 32 percent made no changes to their fund. The rest have no emergency fund or have reduced it.
John Sweeney, an executive vice president on retirement and investing with Boston-based Fidelity, said the findings and Fidelity's own data on customer behavior during the financial crisis suggest that investors have become more engaged about managing their portfolios.
"We can't control the markets, but we can control how much we save and spend," Sweeney said. "It will help them better weather the next period of market volatility."
One of the most pronounced changes in investor behavior since the crisis has been the growth of savings invested in bonds and bond mutual funds. Bond funds have attracted more than $1 trillion in net deposits since 2008. By contrast, investors have pulled money out of stock funds for six straight years. Bonds typically generate smaller long-term returns than stocks but with less chance of short-term losses.