Advisors trying to persuade prospects about the benefits of planning can point to a new study of household financial decision-makers that shows those who have taken the time to put together a plan feel more confident and report more success managing savings and investments.

"Some people believe that financial planning is only for the rich," CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller says. However, "those with a comprehensive plan, regardless of what their socioeconomic [status] may be, are both feeling better and doing better because of having that plan [whether or not] it's a plan they paid for or if it's something they did on their own."

According to a survey of 1,508 financial decision makers in households nationally, those with a financial plan report faring better than those without one.

The survey was part of a recent 60-page report from the Consumer Federation of America and CFP Board. Specific findings of the report include:

* Only 31% of respondents said they have a comprehensive financial plan, while 65% indicated they follow a plan for at least one of their savings goals.

* Those with plans are more likely to feel they are on pace to meet all of their financial goals, such as saving for retirement or emergencies, by a margin of 50% to 32%.

* Those with plans are more likely to describe themselves as living comfortably by a margin of 48% to 22%.

* Among respondents in the two highest income brackets, those with plans report saving a higher percentage of income and having built greater wealth than those without them.

* For those in the two lowest income brackets, people with plans who use credit cards report being much more likely to pay credit card bills in full.

"Our survey clearly shows that having a personal financial plan helps both rich and poor achieve their financial goals," Stephen Brobeck, the Consumer Federation's Executive Director, said in a statement. "Having a financial plan increases one's confidence and effectiveness in managing, borrowing and saving money.

The survey utilized a number of questions asked by a 1997 survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and NationsBank.

This made it possible to compare consumer attitudes and habits today-in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression-with those back in 1997, when unemployment was lower and consumers were more optimistic. Not surprisingly, enthusiasm has declined significantly.

Specific comparisons between the two surveys include the following:

* In 1997, only 31% of respondents said they lived paycheck to paycheck, compared to 38% this year.

* In 1997, only 38% fell behind in saving for retirement compared to 51% this year.

* In 1997, 50% said they thought they could retire by age 65 compared to only 34% this year. (However, the proportion of those who say they have a retirement investment plan in place is about the same: 51% in 1997 and 49% this year.)

The 2012 survey also revealed that slightly more than half of respondents, or 55%, said "it's hard for me to know who to trust for financial advice," and 52% said "to me investing seems complicated." More than half, 55% said, "I'm worried about losing my money if I invest it," which represents a significant increase from the 45% who said the same thing in 1997.

"Consumers understandably are more nervous about investing their money given recent revelations about financial fraud, manipulation and abuse of clients," Keller said in a statement. "This doesn't mean that people shouldn't create a financial plan and be prepared."

The Consumer Federation of America and CFP Board developed the survey with Princeton Survey.

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