New Year's Resolutions Center on Finances

Americans are more serious about increasing savings and paying down debt, a survey shows.
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) -- After years of a near-zero savings rate for most Americans, 2010 may mark a turning point in how we put away money.

A recent survey by financial-services firm

Edward Jones

found that a third of respondents, both men and women, chose "increase savings" as their top financial resolution for the new year. Other financially focused goals, such as paying down debt (30%) and setting aside more money for a child's or grandchild's education (13%), also topped the list.

Additional resolutions were contributing more money to a 401(k) or IRA plan (9%), paying down a mortgage faster (7%) and begin working with a financial adviser (3%). Nearly twice as many men than women are planning to contribute more money to a retirement plan in 2010 -- 11% compared with 6%.

The survey, which contacted 1,014 participants in early December, indicates that age plays a role in financial attitudes. Respondents between 18 and 34 and those over 65 were most concerned about increasing savings. Middle-aged Americans placed a higher priority on lowering debt. Those age 65 and over said they were most concerned with providing educational funding for their children and grandchildren.

In terms of geography, southern states had the highest share of people who want to increase savings, but the lowest percentage who plan to add more money to their retirement plan. Residents of the north-central region said cutting debt was a higher priority than putting money into their child's or grandchild's education.

Households with an income of less than $35,000 were more likely to choose increased savings as their top financial goal than those with an income between $75,000 and $100,000.

The survey showed little difference in opinion based on education level, yet household size significantly shaped respondents' views on contributing to a child's education or retirement. The bigger the family, the higher the emphasis on reducing debt.

-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.